Falcon 9’s Return-to-Flight Launch Delayed 24 Hours

SpaceX called off a try Sunday to launch a package of Orbcomm communications satellites from Cape Canaveral, eyeing a better chance to land the Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage booster Monday, according to Elon Musk, the company’s billionaire founder.

Launch crews were preparing for liftoff Sunday evening, but Musk tweeted a few hours before the scheduled launch time that the mission would slip until Monday. Musk said a Monte Carlo simulation run, a type of probabilistic computerized mathematic model, showed a 10 percent better chance of nailing the Falcon 9’s first stage landing at Cape Canaveral on Monday.

When it blasts off, the launch will mark the first time an the booster stage of an orbital rocket will attempt to return to a landing site near its origin.

Read more at: SpaceFlight Now

Insight Shipped to California for March Launch to Mars

NASA’s next Mars spacecraft has arrived at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, for final preparations before a launch scheduled in March 2016 and a landing on Mars six months later.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built and tested the spacecraft and delivered it on Dec. 16 from Buckley Air Force Base in Denver to Vandenberg, on the central California Coast.

Preparations are on a tight schedule for launch during the period March 4 through March 30. The work ahead includes installation and testing of one of the mission’s key science instruments, its seismometer, which is scheduled for delivery to Vandenberg in January.

Read more at: Mars Daily

G2 (Moderate) Geomagnetic Storms Observed on 20 December

An enhanced solar wind environment and prolonged period of southward magnetic field, associated with the passage of a coronal mass ejection, has caused planetary G2 (Moderate) geomagnetic storms.  G2 storm levels were first observed at 20/0519 UTC (0019 EDT) and G2 (Moderate) geomagnetic storm conditions are expected to persist until 1000 UTC (0500 EDT) on 20 December as this event continues.

Read more at: BeforeitsNews.com

Bus-Size Asteroid ‘The Flea’ Buzzes Earth

A newly discovered asteroid the size of a city bus gave Earth a close shave this morning (Dec. 19), zipping well within the orbit of the moon.

The near-Earth asteroid 2015 YB, which is about 34 feet (10 meters) wide, cruised within a mere 36,800 miles (59,220 kilometers) of the planet at around 7 a.m. EST (1200 GMT) today, just two days after the space rock was first spotted. To put that near miss in perspective: The moon orbits Earth at an average distance of 239,000 miles (384,600 km), and geosynchronous satellites fly about 22,000 miles (35,400 km) from the planet’s surface.

Read more at: Space.com

Emergency Spacewalk Planned for Space Station

The International Space Station (ISS) has had a rough go of late, with no fewer than three launch pad accidents that prevented cargo vehicles from getting to orbit in the past year alone. Now another problem aboard the ISS itself may prevent the vehicles that do get to space from actually docking with the station—and one of those vehicles is on its way soon. That could necessitate an emergency spacewalk by commander Scott Kelly and astronaut Tim Kopra on Monday or Tuesday.

The problem involves the space station’s robotic arm, which moves from place to place along the station’s central truss aboard a sort of miniature rail car. When an uncrewed cargo vehicle arrives, it’s the job of the arm to reach out and grab it, then ease it in for a docking. But two days ago, as the arm was moving along the truss, it got stuck just four inches (1o cm) from where it needs to be to grapple an incoming ship.

Read more at: Time

NASA Orders Second Boeing Crew Mission to International Space Station

NASA took an important step Friday to establish regular crew missions that will launch from the United States to the International Space Station with the order of its second post-certification mission from Boeing Space Exploration of Houston.

“Once certified by NASA, the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon each will be capable of two crew launches to the station per year,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “Placing orders for those missions now really sets us up for a sustainable future aboard the International Space Station.”

This is the third in a series of four guaranteed orders NASA will make under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts. Boeing and SpaceX received their first orders in May and November, respectively, and have started planning for, building and procuring the necessary hardware and assets to carry out their first missions for the agency. NASA will identify at a later time which company will fly a mission to the station first.

Read more at: Spaceref

NASA Reviving Effort To Put Spare Orbiting Carbon Observatory Sensor on ISS

With funding in the 2016 omnibus spending bill approved by House and Senate appropriators, NASA will be able to revive Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3, a dormant effort to measure carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere.

The OCO-3 program,  using an instrument leftover from NASA’s campaign to build the free-flying Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 launched in 2014, will track carbon dioxide from its perch on the exterior of the International Space Station.

The project, which was on hold due to a lack of funding, is back in the budget because NASA’s Earth Science Division will receive nearly eight percent more money in 2016 than it did in 2015 if the congressional budget pact is signed by President Barack Obama.

Read more at: Space News

Life on ‘Mars’ by Way of Hawaii: Q. and A.

On a rocky, sloping terrain near the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii, Christiane Heinicke, a 30-year-old German physicist and engineer, is one of six researchers conducting a yearlong simulation of life on Mars.

The group, part of the NASA-funded HI-SEAS project, began living at the habitat in August. They are the fourth group to take up residence there, and will be staying longer than any before them. The work requires Ms. Heinicke to live in a 1,000-square-foot domed structure with five other people. Escaping cabin fever is possible, but it requires wearing a mock spacesuit outside.

Life in the habitat can be isolating: During the attacks in Paris in November, Ms. Heinicke said she and her colleagues tried to keep up with the news on a delayed Internet connection. But the group hopes that its work will be helpful for any real missions to the red planet, and can be found actively documenting daily life on Twitter.

Read more at: NY Times

XCOR Engineers Announce Major Breakthrough in Engine Technology

XCOR Director of Engineering and acting CTO Michael Valant announced today that his team has reached an important milestone in the development of the reusable 5K18 Lynx main propulsion rocket engine.

His engineers were able to ‘close the loop’ of the thermodynamic system under test conditions, a key technology for the Lynx sub-orbital vehicle. This technology includes a novel method to drive essential engine parts using waste heat from the rocket engine, thus eliminating the need for adding large, heavy compressed gas tanks to the vehicle. This propulsion system is an essential part of the Lynx “instant reusability” because it allows the vehicle to be flown multiple times per day without costly servicing of components. In addition, XCOR engine technology could be used to benefit other rocket-propelled vehicles in the same way.

Read more at: XCOR

Rare Full Cold Moon on Christmas Day

December’s full moon, the last of the year, is called the Full Cold Moon because it occurs during the beginning of winter. The moon’s peak this year will occur at 6:11 a.m. EST. This rare event won’t happen again until 2034. That’s a long time to wait, so make sure to look up to the skies on Christmas Day.

As you gaze up at the Christmas moon, take note that NASA has a spacecraft currently orbiting Earth’s moon. NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission has been investigating the lunar surface since 2009.

Read more at: Scitech Daily

Canada Takes Aim at an Asteroid

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has delivered a sophisticated laser-based mapping system, its contribution to a NASA mission that will be Canada’s first international attempt to bring a sample of an asteroid to Earth. NASA’s Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission will study Bennu, an asteroid that has the potential to impact the Earth in the late 2100s.

The Canadian-built OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA) has arrived at the Lockheed Martin Space Systems facilities near Denver, Colorado. In the coming months, OLA will be integrated onto the spacecraft and undergo spacecraft-level testing in preparation for launch in September 2016.

Built for the CSA by MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. and their partner, Optech, OLA will create unprecedented 3D maps of Bennu to help the mission team select a site from which to collect a sample.The CSA will own a portion of the returned sample, which will be studied by Canadian scientists.

Read more at: Newswire

Small Satellites to Pave Way for Future Space-borne Weather Observations

A typical environmental monitoring satellite is a big deal, literally. These satellites contain thousands of kilograms of remote sensing equipment, hurtling through space, making critical observations.

Colorado State University researchers are creating the next generation of such monitoring satellites. They are doing it at a hundredth the size and weight scale, though, by using not just one, but a constellation of satellites.

Supported by an $8.2 million NASA award managed by the Earth Science Technology Office, a team led by Steven Reising, professor of electrical and computer engineering, is developing instrumentation for satellites about the size of a hardback dictionary, called CubeSats, that can observe, in real time, a storm as it grows and progresses. They will demonstrate their technology aboard a launch awarded by NASA earlier this year.

Their project is called the Temporal Experiment of Storms and Tropical Systems – Demonstrator, or TEMPEST-D.

Read more at: Phys.org

Magnetic Reconnection: Magnetic Explosions in Northern Lights and Solar Flares

Just under four months into the science phase of the mission, NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale, or MMS, is delivering promising early results on a process called magnetic reconnection — a kind of magnetic explosion that’s related to everything from the northern lights to solar flares.

The unprecedented set of MMS measurements will open up our understanding of the space environment surrounding Earth, allowing us to better understand what drives magnetic reconnection events. These giant magnetic bursts can send particles hurtling at near the speed of light and create oscillations in Earth’s magnetic fields, affecting technology in space and interfering with radio communications. Scientists from the Southwest Research Institute, NASA, the University of Colorado Boulder and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory presented an overview of MMS science and early results on Dec. 17, 2015, at the American Geophysical Union’s Fall Meeting in San Francisco.

Read more at: Science Daily

3D Printed Rocket Engine to Propel NASA Missions Soon

A team of NASA engineers has inched closer to building a completely 3D printed, high performance rocket engine by manufacturing complex engine parts and test firing them together with cryogenic liquid hydrogen and oxygen to produce 20,000 pounds of thrust.

The team from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Centre in Huntsville, Alabama tested 3D printed rocket engine parts connected together in the same fashion that they would work in a rocket engine.

The parts performance rivalled that of traditionally manufactured engine parts. During six separate tests, the engine generated up to 20,000 pounds of thrust.

Read more at: Zee News

ISRO’s Experiment to Re-start PSLV Stage-IV a Success

Indian Space Research Organisation has successfully reignited the fourth stage of its workhorse Polar rocket during the PSLV-C29 mission after putting in orbit sixSingapore satellites, agency officials said on Thursday.

The engine in the upper stage of the PSLV was shut off and re-started after placing the satellites in orbit yesterday, ISRO’s Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC) Director S Somanath said. “We tried it for the first time and it was a success,” Somnath said, adding that the technique would be useful when launching multiple satellites in different orbits.

Read more at: DNA India

‘The Force Awakens’ in Space: Astronauts to Watch Star Wars on Station

The cultural impact of Star Wars, including episode 7 “The Force Awakens,” premiering in theaters on Thursday (Dec. 17), has escaped the Earth and extended all the way into outer space.

“I am told that ‘Star Wars’ will be waiting for us up there,” British astronaut Tim Peake wrote on Twitter on the eve of his launch to the International Space Station on Tuesday (Dec. 15). “What a place to watch it!” The space station’s six-person crew, which includes the newly-arrived trio of Peake, cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and NASA’s Tim Kopra, as well as commander Scott Kelly of NASA and cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Sergei Volkov, will be able to watch “The Force Awakens” thanks to Mission Control and a recently-installed theater system on board the orbiting outpost.

Read more at: Collect Space

Sky for All: Air Mobility for 2035 and Beyond

Experts predict the skies of 2035 and beyond will be a complex and, at times, crowded space, populated with diverse vehicles piloted by both humans and machine intelligence. The estimates are that, twenty years from now, 10 million manned and unmanned vehicles may traverse the U.S. airspace every day. Our current system is not equipped to handle this volume or variety of aircraft.

To overcome the limitations of the current system and ensure safe access for all travelers and users of airspace, the Ab Initio Design (AbI) element of the NASA Safe Autonomous Operations Systems (SASO) Project is researching a new airspace design and concept of operations that will allow the air vehicles of 2035, including autonomous vehicles, to safely and efficiently participate in dense and diverse traffic.  Clean-slate airspace architecture and operations, not constrained in the current system, are the overarching “Big Picture” target.

Given the great complexity and scale of the of the overall objective, NASA is reaching out to the problem-solving community, asking innovators to cast aside the restraints of the current transportation model and develop component concepts and technologies that will enable the transition from the present system to the airspace of the future.

Read more at: HeroX

Could a War in Space Really Happen?

In the past the nuclear balance between the US and the USSR helped to prevent war in space. The modern world is more complex and already some 60 countries are active in space. So is a war involving attacks on satellites now becoming more likely?

Millions have been enjoying the Hollywood version of conflict in distant parts of the universe as the new Star Wars film is released. It’s enjoyable escapism – space conflict is, after all, nothing to do with reality. Or is it? According to military analyst Peter Singer of the New America Foundation, “the idea of… fighting in space was once science fiction and now it’s real”.

Space wars may not involve intergalactic empires or spacecraft zapping each other. If they occur they are likely to be focused on things that matter hugely to all of us – satellites.

Read more at: BBC

Star Wars: How Future World Conflicts will be Decided in Space

Future conflicts will be fought in space as rival nations compete to plunge each other into a ‘technological Dark Ages’ by destroying communications satellites, leading defence experts and academics have predicted.

Much of modern life is now entirely dependent on satellite technology with maps, banks, road systems, airlines, weather forecasting, power grids and mobile phones all reliant on the global network of ‘eyes-in-the sky’. The Gulf War was the first major conflict to be fought using GPS, which allowed US military forces to operate in previously unnavigable desert regions.

But many superpowers now have the capability to blast satellites out of the sky as China demonstrated in 2013 when it used a missile to destroy a satellite in geostationary orbit – a part of space 22,000 miles up which was viewed as an untouchable sanctuary for space technology. Experts said the strike created a ‘new echelon of concern’ for the world’s superpowers.

Read more at: Telegraph

Schriever Wargame Concludes

The Schriever Wargame 2015 concluded at Schriever Air Force Base today. Set in the year 2025, Schriever Wargame 2015 explored critical space issues in depth.

The objectives of the Wargame centered on:

-Identifying ways to increase the resilience of space that include our Intelligence Community, civil, commercial, and Allied partners;
-Exploring how to provide optimized effects to the warfighter in support of coalition operations; and
-Examining how to apply future capabilities to protect the space enterprise in a multi-domain conflict.

Read more at: Colorado Spacenews

US Air Force’s X-37B Space Plane Wings Past 200 Days in Orbit

Mum’s the word: The U.S. Air Force’s secretive X-37B space plane has winged its way past the 200 day mark, carrying out a classified agenda for the American military.

The unmanned X-37B space plane rocketed into orbit on May 20 on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket launching from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station back. The reusable robotic space plane mission, also dubbed OTV-4 (short for Orbital Test Vehicle-4), is the fourth spacecraft of its kind for the U.S. Air Force.

OTV-4 also marks the second flight of the second X-37B vehicle built for the Air Force by Boeing Space & Intelligence Systems. Only two reusable X-37B vehicles have been confirmed as constituting the fleet.

Read more at: Live Science

Moscow Confirms Suspension of Russian-Ukrainian ‘Dnepr’ Rocket Launches

Launches of Russian-Ukrainian carrier rockets have been suspended in accordance with President Vladimir Putin’s decree, Russia’s Strategic Missile Forces (SMF) Commander Col. Gen. Sergei Karakaev said Wednesday.

“An April 15 decision by the President of the Russian Federation suspended the ‘Dnepr’ conversion program,” Karakaev said.

Dnepr is a three-stage space delivery vehicle based on the family of R-36M intercontinental ballistic missiles (NATO reporting name SS-18 Satan, designated RS-20 by the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty START).

Read more at: Space Daily

National Security in Space: Cleaning up a Mess

Putting aside all the difficult-to-follow “ins and outs” of how the future of space launch will be configured, who will launch on what rockets with which engines at what times and with what political support, there seems to be an issue that is front and center. It is not very exciting, but exciting enough that we should all pay attention — it does, after all, concern our national security. Congress has made a mess of national security in space, and the issue is getting quite clear. So, get out the mops.

Summing up, it seems that the U.S. Air Force may lose heavy-lift launch ability in a couple of short years. Why? Congress appears to have clipped their wings. At a time when one would think we were focused on sustained access to space — to watch China, Russia, ISIS and radical Islam — Congress is fighting with itself, and average Americans appear to be the victims. How could this be?

Read more at: Space News