Trump’s Newest Adviser Wants to Mine the Moon

Every time America gets a new president, NASA undergoes an upheaval. The agency gets new leadership, and sometimes major programs get cut.

Donald Trump’s plans for NASA are still largely up-in-the-air (well, maybe except for its climate change research, which is probably in trouble), but one thing seems certain: the partnerships that the space agency has been developing with private companies won’t suffer during a Trump administration. Yesterday, the president-elect appointed private space advocate and businessman Charles Miller to the NASA transition team.

Miller formerly advised NASA on its strategies for working with the commercial space industry. He co-founded NanoRacks, a company that helps others conduct research on the International Space Station, among other services. Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, and the European Space Agency are on the company’s list of clients. Miller is also the president of the consulting company NextGen Space LLC, and has a host of other qualifications.

Read more at: Popsci

NASA’s Next Stop—Mars or the Moon?

Possessed of slight build and modest height, John Grunsfeld is not an imposing man. But this appearance belies a brilliant mind and a considerable resume. A quarter-century ago, Grunsfeld worked as a physicist at the California Institute of Technology, studying X-ray and gamma ray astronomy, before becoming an astronaut. He flew in space five times and made three trips to the Hubble Space Telescope where he performed eight spacewalks to repair and upgrade the iconic instrument.

In 2012, Grunsfeld assumed responsibility for all of NASA’s science missions. He oversaw the dramatic landing of Curiosity on the surface of Mars, and he was in charge during the exploration of Pluto. He wrangled the James Webb Space Telescope toward the launch pad, and he plotted a pair of ambitious flights to Jupiter’s moon Europa.

On a gray day in early December, I met Grunsfeld—who left NASA earlier this year—at a Starbucks across the street from Johnson Space Center. In the shadow of the buildings where he spent nearly 20 years training to fly in space, we spoke for two hours about all areas of spaceflight, from the intriguing oceans of Europa to human destinations.

Read more at: Arstechnica

SAIC Recommends Civil Agency for Orbital Traffic Management, But Not Which One

In a report for NASA required by the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (CSLCA), SAIC is recommending that a civil government agency take responsibility for orbital traffic management, but it does not specify which agency that should be. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and its parent, the Department of Transportation (DOT), are often the center of attention in orbital — or space — traffic management discussions, but SAIC explained that the terms of reference for its study did not ask for such a recommendation.

Section 109 of CSLCA makes a sense of Congress statement that an “improved framework” may be needed for “space traffic management” of U.S. government and private sector assets in outer space and orbital debris mitigation.  It then directs that NASA, in consultation with DOT, DOD, the FCC, and the Department of Commerce, contract with an independent systems engineering and technical assistance organization to “study alternate frameworks for the management of space traffic and orbital activities.”  It goes on to specify what the study should consider and asks for recommendations on “the appropriate framework for the protection of the health, safety, and welfare of the public and economic vitality of the space industry.”

Read more at: Space Policy Online

NASA Readies for Major Orion Milestones in 2017

From the beginning of assembly work on the Orion crew module at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to testing a range of the spacecraft systems, engineers made headway in 2016 in advance of the spacecraft’s 2018 mission beyond the moon.

A look at the important milestones that lie ahead in the next year give a glimpse into how NASA is pressing ahead to develop, build, test and fly the spacecraft that will enable human missions far into deep space.

The NASA and Lockheed Martin team at Kennedy spent much of 2016 integrating structural elements into the spacecraft, and then began incorporating critical systems such as avionics components and propulsion tubing. In the spring of 2017, computers in the Orion crew module for the spacecraft’s first mission with NASA’s Space Launch System will be turned on for the first time to verify the spacecraft can route power and send commands. It’s an essential integrated test that will verify Orion’s systems are connected and responding as planned.

Read more at: Space Daily

Wind Tunnel Testing Underway for Next, More Powerful Version of NASA’s Space Launch System

As engines are fired, software written and hardware welded to prepare for the first flight of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), engineers are already running tests in supersonic wind tunnels to develop the next, more powerful version of the world’s most advanced launch vehicle capable of carrying humans to deep space destinations.

“Aeronautics leads the way in the design of a new rocket,” said Jeff Bland, SLS discipline lead engineer for Integrated Vehicle Structures & Environments at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “The first leg any journey for spacecraft launched from Earth is a flight through our atmosphere.”

Manufacturing is well underway on the initial configuration of SLS. It is 322 feet tall and able to lift 70 metric tons (77 tons). For the first test flight of SLS, the rocket will carry an uncrewed Orion spacecraft beyond the moon and then return to Earth, deploying 13 small science and technology satellites in deep space during the journey.

Read more at: Technology.org

Astronaut Piers Sellers Dies of Pancreatic Cancer

Former NASA astronaut Piers Sellers, a veteran of three Space Shuttle missions, died on Friday, Dec. 23, 2016, in Houston after more than a year of battling pancreatic cancer. He was 61.

Sellers was diagnosed in October 2015. He only revealed he was battling Stage 4 pancreatic cancer in January of this year (2016) in a New York Times column where he wrote he hoped to see solutions to climate change in his lifetime and would continue to work on climate research until he died. Overseeing scientists researching climate and weather, Sellers was serving as the deputy director of sciences and exploration at Goddard Space Flight Center. It was a position he held since 2011.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, the current head of the U.S. Space Agency, said in a statement that Sellers was dedicated to all forms of exploration.

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

China Claims Success with New ‘Reactionless Engine’ EmDrive

In what appears to be the latest breakthrough in space travel technology, China claims it has made a great leap forward with its ‘reactionless’ Electromagnetic Drive, or simply, EmDrive – an engine that uses only the power of electromagnetic radiation contained within a microwave cavity. The EmDrive flies in the face of physics – going against the law of conservation of movement; producing mechanical movement but without an exchange of matter.

Originally thought up by Roger Shawyer, the EmDrive is designed to have a microwave cavity which is asymmetrical, like a truncated cone shape. The narrower end of the cone should house an electromagnetic power source; namely a magnetron which would then expel microwaves, hitting the inside of the cavity. As these waves are contained, they bounce off the walls of the cavity and in doing so creating electromagnetic resonance.

By doing so, the EmDrive’s electromagnetic field creates a force that ‘pushes’ away from the larger end of the cone, creating thrust. This opposes the idea of the conventional engine which ejects mass from within to create thrust.

Read more at: Red Orbit

Proton Rocket’s Next Flight Moved Back to Next Year

The first launch of a Russian Proton rocket since June has been delayed until at least January to conduct additional checks on the three-stage booster and its Breeze M upper stage, Russian space officials said.

The rocket was supposed to take off Dec. 28 with the EchoStar 21 communications satellite for EchoStar Mobile Ltd., headquartered in Ireland, to provide mobile S-band connectivity for Internet phone and data users across Europe.

Managed by International Launch Services, the U.S.-based marketing and sales firm responsible for commercial Proton missions, the launch has been pushed back several times this year. The EchoStar 21 spacecraft was put into storage at its Space Systems/Loral factory in California after Proton rocket issues delayed its original launch date in early 2016.

The telecom satellite was shipped to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in November for a December launch. Technicians at Baikonur have fueled the more than 15,000-pound (6,871-kilogram) craft for flight, and then attached the satellite to its Breeze M upper stage and enclosed it within the Proton rocket’s payload fairing.

Read more at: Spaceflight Now

Re-Entry: Molniya 3-51 Military Communications Satellite

The Molniya 3-51 (Molniya-3K-1)  Military Communications Satellite re-entered the atmosphere on December 19, 2016 after over 15 years in orbit. Launched from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in July 2001 atop a Molniya rocket, the 1,750-Kilogram satellite operated from a highly elliptical orbit with its high point over the northern hemisphere to deliver secure communications to the Russian military and government users up into the high latitudes where Geostationary Satellites are not sufficient for full coverage.

Read more at: Spaceflight 101

Team Indus Joins Google Lunar X-Prize Finalists, Astrobotic Drops Out

One of the prerequisites of staying in the Google Lunar XPRIZE (GLXP) is securing a contract with a launch service provider. India-based Team Indus has successfully done that by contracting with the manufacturer of the country’s PSLV rocket. At the same time, Astrobotic, the first team to secure a contract back in 2011, announced that it is dropping out of the competition after losing its launch window with SpaceX’s Falcon 9.

Astrobotic was quoted in Space News Magazine stating that the team doesn’t plan to rush into another launch opportunity and it would fly when ready. It is currently targeting a launch date sometime in 2019.

GLXP is a competition, started in 2007, to spur private development of low-cost spacecraft and launch systems to land robotic spacecraft on the Moon, travel 1,640 feet (500 meters), and transmit high-definition video and images back to Earth. Sixteen teams are competing as part of GLXP. First prize is $20 million. Second prize is $5 million.

In order to win the competition, teams must also gain 90 percent of their mission’s cost from private funding. As mentioned, GLXP teams have until the end of 2016 to announce a verified launch contract and until the end of 2017 to launch their mission.

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

ADAPT Membership Yields Dividends for Reaction Systems

The Alliance for the Development of Additive Processing Technologies (ADAPT), a research consortium focused on developing technologies to accelerate the certification and qualification of 3D printed metal parts, has helped member company Reaction Systems win a two-year, $750K SBIR contract extension.

“This early success shows the value of collaboration between ADAPT members,” said ADAPT Technical Director Aaron Stebner.

With a Phase II SBIR project with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) to develop a hypersonic jet engine part and a need for specialized additive manufacturing expertise, Reaction Systems turned to founding member company Faustson and ADAPT to create a prototype and keep moving the project forward.

Read more at: Colorado Spacenews

UK’s First Muslim Astronaut Aims to Put Focus on Mental Health

For most people who go into space it is a dream come true, but for the man set to be the UK’s first Muslim astronaut his priority is making the world a better place. Hussain Manawer, 25, from Ilford, Essex, is due to blast off in 2018 after seeing off thousands of other entrants from more than 90 countries in a competition.

The poet, charity fundraiser and founder of his own creative agency dedicated his victory to everyone who has suffered mental health problems, and said he had an important mission in life.

“It’s never really been an ambition of mine [to go into space], but I felt I wasn’t contributing enough to the world,” he said. “I got to the point where I thought we are failing the world so much in so many different ways. When I saw the competition I thought: let me go for it, let me see what happens.

Read more at: Guardian

Technicians Prep Space Launch System Booster Structures for First Deep Space Mission

When NASA’s new heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), soars from its launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in 2018 with the Orion spacecraft, its powerful solid rocket boosters will generate more than 75 percent of the thrust at liftoff to help the massive launch vehicle escape Earth’s gravity. Several major structures of the five-segment solid rocket boosters — the largest ever built for flight — are being prepared for the rocket’s first mission with Orion.

SLS booster prime contractor Orbital ATK is performing the work for the first flight of the rocket at the Hangar AF complex at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, as well as at several other specialized facilities at the Kennedy Space Center. The large hangar and several support buildings provide the capabilities required to reuse previously flown booster flight hardware.

Read more at: Technology.org

Virgin Galactic Closes 2016 with SpaceShipTwo Glide Flight Tests

Virgin Galactic’s second SpaceShipTwo rocket plane closed out 2016 with a pair of free flights over California’s Mojave Desert to continue a test program taking the company to the start of operational tourist missions to the edge of Space and back.

2016 marked a year dedicated to rebuilding, getting SpaceShipTwo off the ground again after a stand-down of nearly two years to return onto a path toward commercial services in the next two years. Building on the achievement of SpaceShipOne that became the world’s first private spacecraft to reach space, SpaceShipTwo has the goal of advancing space flight systems to make sub-orbital travel available for tourists.

Read more at: Spaceflight 101

Christmas Solar Storm to Batter Earth as Flare Blasts from Massive Hole in the Sun

EARTH is being blasted by a flare soaring from a hole in the sun’s atmosphere — and it’s bringing huge geomagnetic storms with it. The Sun reports, the super-fast stream of solar wind hit the Earth’s magnetic field just in time for the winter solstice on Wednesday. And it’s whipped up a “moderately” strong geomagnetic storm that could last for several days, according to the US’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Geomagnetic storms are behind the awe-inspiring natural phenomenon the Northern Lights.

Read more at: AU News

Meet a ‘Spacecraft Dressmaker’

Lien Pham sometimes thinks of herself as a “spacecraft dressmaker.” She’s been making thermal blankets at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, for 16 years. Just as clothing can be sewn too tight or too loose, thermal blankets – the glinting material each spacecraft is wrapped in to regulate its temperature – have to be cut to form. A thermal blanket has to provide just the right amount of heat – not too much and not too little – for the spacecraft to operate correctly.

Pham is a member of Flight Technicians Services, a group at JPL that contributes to all stages of spacecraft assembly. Her particular team, which designs and fabricates the protective thermal blankets, is called the shield shop.

Read more at: Space Daily

From Outer Space to Inner Eye

Contact lenses, spectacles and eye implants are now being made more accurately thanks to research instruments flying on the International Space Station. With the competitive lens market offering increasingly complex products such as varifocal and high-definition contact lenses, precisely shaping a lens is critical.

Every lens must be thoroughly checked to ensure it has been made according to the patient’s prescription. Belgian company Lambda-X came up with a space-inspired device to do just that. A long-term partner of ESA, they converted an instrument they had developed for space use into a quality-control tool that has significantly improved the products.

Sitting at the end of the production line, it precisely checks the whole lens – including the inside. It can even inspect lenses that surgeons implant to improve the vision of patients with cataracts. “One of the biggest challenges when making any kind of lens is getting the shape right every time,” says Marc Halbach from Lambda-X customer PhysIOL.

Read more at: ESA

Space Cucumbers Reveal Secrets of Plant Survival

Plants are experts in survival and can control the direction of their roots to maximize the use of resources around them. Using specialized cells, they can sense gravity and redistribute hormones, called auxins, to stimulate growth and allow vital features of the plant to develop. However, a big puzzle is how this transport process occurs at a cellular level. To learn more, researchers in Japan examined cucumber seedlings germinated under the very weak gravity — or microgravity — conditions of the International Space Station.

Cucumbers were chosen for the study as they — like other “cucurbitaceous” seedlings such as melons, pumpkins and squash — feature specialized protuberances, or pegs, whose formation is regulated by gravity. These pegs form during the plant’s early growth stage to help the seedlings emerge from their hard seed coat and anchor the developing plant in the soil while its roots form.

Read more at: Science Daily

China’s Race to ‘Dominate’ Space – Analysis

60 years ago China set out on its space program with the establishment of the 5th Academy of the Ministry of National Defense. At its helm was rocket scientist Qian Xuesen – also known as Tsien Hsue-shen – who is now regarded as the father of China’s space and missile programs. 14 years later, Beijing sent its very first satellite (the Dongfanghong-1) into space and its first astronaut followed on October 15, 2003.

40 years after Apollo 11 embarked upon the first spaceflight that led to the lunar module landing with commanders Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, China successfully launched its very own space lab module called Tiangong-1. Not long afterward, Tiangong-2 made its way into orbit.

For decades, China appeared to be trailing behind or merely catching-up to the world’s two major space pioneers – the United States (US) and Russia – until this past August 2016, when China assumed its position as the world’s first country to launch a quantum satellite called “Micius.”

Read more at: Eurasia Review

How John Glenn Became an Astronaut, as Told in 1962

Astronaut John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth and the third in space, died Thursday. A former U.S. Senator from Ohio, he was 95. Glenn landed on the cover of the March 2, 1962, issue of TIME after circling the globe three times in 4 hours and 56 minutes—at speeds of more than 17,000 mph—on Feb. 20, 1962.

The achievement came 10 months after Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space and made one full orbit around Earth (April 12, 1961) and nine months after Alan Shepard became the first American in space (May 5, 1961), followed by Gus Grissom (July 21, 1961). Thus, his mission was a critical step in the American mission to win the Cold War in space

Read more at: TIME

Commemorative Coin to Honor Apollo 11 50th Anniversary

Numismatists and space enthusiasts in 2019 will be able to buy U.S. Mint-made commemorative coins celebrating the 50th anniversary of NASA’s historic Apollo 11 moon landing.

“It’s a chance for the United States to recognize and honor the heroes and legends who made this achievement possible,” said Tammy Sudler, executive director of the Titusville-based Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, one of two local nonprofits that will receive a portion of coin sale proceeds. It took a last-minute surge of support in the U.S. Senate, before it recessed this month, to ensure the coin will be minted and available for purchase in January 2019.

Read more at: Florida Today

NASA isn’t Getting Back the Priceless Moon Bag it Accidentally Sold

A bag used to collect lunar samples during the first manned mission to the moon legally belongs to an Illinois woman who bought it for $995 when it was mistakenly sold during a government auction, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Judge J. Thomas Marten, of the U.S. District Court in Wichita, said he doesn’t have the authority to reverse the sale of the bag used during the Apollo 11 moon mission in July 1969, even though it shouldn’t have gone up for auction.

The white bag, which has lunar material embedded in its fabric and which the government considers “a rare artifact, if not a national treasure,” was mistakenly sold as part of a criminal case against Max Ary, the former director of the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center, a museum in Hutchinson. Ary was convicted in November 2005 of stealing and selling museum artifacts, including some that were on loan from NASA.

Read more at: Popular Mechanics

Purdue Analyzes Environmental Impact of Space-based ADS-B

A new report, based on research from Purdue University’s School of Aeronautics and Astronautics, analyzes the potential impact of space-based automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) technology on global aviation carbon emissions in remote and oceanic airspace.

Authored by Dr. Karen Marais, the report titled Environmental Benefits of Space-based ADS-B, indicates that the implementation of this technology can offer benefits preventing approximately 14.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) from being released into the atmosphere between 2020 and 2030. This is equivalent to removing more than 300,000 cars from U.S. roads each of those years, while making no changes to aircraft design or fuel.

According to 2015 estimates from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), commercial aviation contributes about 2 percent of global manmade CO2 emissions annually.

Read more at: Space Daily

‘Passengers’ Movie and the Real-life Science of Deep Space Travel

From Aliens to Interstellar, Hollywood has long used suspended animation to overcome the difficulties of deep space travel, but the once-fanciful sci-fi staple is becoming scientific fact. The theory is that a hibernating crew could stay alive over vast cosmic distances, requiring little food, hydration or living space, potentially slashing the costs of interstellar missions and eradicating the boredom of space travel. But the technology has always been unattainable outside the fertile imaginations of filmmakers from Woody Allen and Ridley Scott to James Cameron and Christopher Nolan — until now.

Atlanta-based Spaceworks Enterprises is using a $US500,000 ($A689,000) grant from NASA to leverage techniques used on brain trauma and heart attack patients to develop “low metabolic stasis” for missions to Mars and the asteroid belt.

Read more at: AU News

Manned V-2s

While the V-2 rocket could not achieve orbit, it was capable of putting a man into space on a suborbital trajectory. The space race might have been very different if the Russians had put their first cosmonaut in space in 1948! But in four countries, prior to Sputnik in 1957, there was resistance to the idea.

In the early 1940’s von Braun’s team studied evolution of the A4/V-2 into a manned rocketplane. The A9 version would have used wings to extend the range of the basic V-2 from 250 km to 550 km. A manned version was also proposed. This boost-glide concept was not strictly a spacecraft — it would only reach an altitude of 30 km before levelling out for a sustained supersonic glide at 20 km. But it would also be a true spacecraft as the second stage of the A9/A10 manned ICBM and A9/A10/A11/A12 manned orbital launch vehicles. The government prohibited all further such work in 1943 in order to concentrate on war production of the V-2.

Read more at: Astronautix

Trump’s $440 Billion Weapon

On Thursday afternoon, President-elect Donald Trump dropped a bombshell on the defense industry: He asked Boeing to price out an alternative to Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jets, a hugely valuable contract that Trump has criticized as too expensive. Lockheed’s share price plunged almost 2 percent in after-hours trading.

It was the culmination of weeks of interference by the president-elect in the arcane, bureaucratic function of federal procurement. In early December, it was Boeing on the receiving end of Trump’s wrath, when he tweeted that the costs of the new Air Force One planes are “out of control” and told reporters, “Boeing is doing a little bit of a number.” A few days later, he criticized the cost of the F-35 contract. And earlier this week, he convened top military officials and the CEOs of Boeing and Lockheed at his Mar-a-Lago estate to discuss how to bring costs down. Trump told reporters afterward, “We’re just beginning, it’s a dance.”

Read more at: Politico

US Military Test-Fires SM-6 Weapons in Missile Defense Test

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency and U.S. Navy have launched their latest missile defense test in the Pacific Ocean in a successful demonstration that hurled two interceptors at an incoming medium-range ballistic missile.

The test occurred Dec. 14 and launched two Raytheon-built Standard Missile-6 Dual 1 (SM-6) missiles from the Navy destroyer USS John Paul Jones from just off the coast of Hawaii, MDA officials said in a statement. The two SM-6 projectiles were launched against a medium-range ballistic missile target as part of the MDA’s Sea-Based Terminal Program, using Navy ships equipped with the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System.

“This test demonstrated the capabilities MDA and the Navy are delivering to our fleet commanders,” MDA Director Vice Adm. Jim Syring said in a Dec. 14 statement.

Read more at: Space.com

Military Looks to Make Reagan’s ‘Star Wars’ a Reality by 2021

The U.S. military thinks that the future of defending against incoming nuclear missiles could be giant lasers floating in space.

The military is developing sensors that could combat incredibly fast nuclear missiles and target them with lasers when they’re most vulnerable, but that can only work from space. The technology to zap missiles with space lasers could be online as soon as 2021.

“It’s so important that we make this broader shift from a terrestrial-based system to a system that primarily plays from space in the next couple of years,” Richard Matlock, executive for advanced technology at the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA), said in a statement.

Read more at: Daily Caller

Space Safety Careers

Space Debris Mitigation and Re-Entry Safety Engineer

Read more at: Space-careers