NASA Approves Space Plane For Future Missions To The ISS

A miniature space plane designed to take cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) has been approved by NASA to begin production, with a possible first flight in late 2020.

Called the Dream Chaser, the vehicle is being built by the Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) from Sparks, Nevada as part of a NASA Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) 2 contract. Yesterday, Tuesday December 18, SNC revealed their spacecraft had passed a key review, and development could now move forward in earnest.

“NASA’s acknowledgement that SNC has completed this critical milestone and its approval of full production of the first Dream Chaser spacecraft is a major indication we are on the right path toward increasing vital science return for the industry,” John Curry, the program director for CRS-2 at SNC, said in a statement.

Read more at: Forbes

Soyuz Crew Returns To Earth After Memorable 6 Months In Space

Three space station crewmembers returned to Earth Dec. 20 after a remarkably eventful stay aboard the orbiting laboratory.

NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor, German astronaut Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency and Russian cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev safely touched down on the snowy steppe of Kazakhstan at 12:02 a.m. EST (0502 GMT), one minute ahead of schedule. The trio spent a total of 197 days in space working as part of Expeditions 56 and 57.

“The Soyuz MS-09 stuck the landing on the eve of the 50th anniversary of humankind’s first voyage to the moon,” NASA TV commentator Rob Navias said during a live webcast of the landing, referring to the Apollo 8 mission that launched on Dec. 21, 1968.

Read more at: Spacenews

Russian Cosmonaut Kononenko Assumes Command Aboard Orbital Outpost

Astronaut of the European Space Agency (ESA) Alexander Gerst has transferred the command of the International Space Station (ISS) to Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, Russia’s State Space Corporation Roscosmos said on its VKontakte social network page on Wednesday.

“Astronaut Alexander Gerst has transferred the powers of the station’s control and the symbolic key to commander of the ISS-58 expedition Oleg Kononenko,” the statement says.

As Roscosmos said, “the crew always marks the change of ‘power’ on the station by ringing the bell – this is an old maritime tradition.”

Read more at: TASS

Samples From Hole In Soyuz MS-09 Spacecraft To Be Delivered To Investigators On Dec. 24

The containers with the materials from the manned Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft where a hole had been found, and also samples of the spaceship’s meteorite shield will be transferred to the investigative bodies on December 24, a source in the domestic space industry told TASS on Thursday.

The descent capsule of the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft with three crewmembers of the International Space Station (ISS) successfully landed in the Kazakh steppe early on Thursday. The crewmembers also brought with them to Earth the containers with the probes gathered from the hole found in the craft’s habitation module.

“In the coming days, the descent capsule of the Soyuz MS-09 will be transferred from Kazakhstan to Energia Space Rocket Corporation [the developer of Soyuz MS spaceships] but work with it will start only on Monday. On this day, all the materials will also be transferred to the competent bodies, including the FSB [Federal Security Service],” the source said.

Read more at: TASS

Defazio Succeeds In Killing Space Frontier Act

The surprise defeat of the Space Frontier Act in the House yesterday can be traced to Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon), the likely incoming chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee. The bill, S. 3277, was brought before the House under a procedure that requires a two-thirds majority to pass. It did not achieve that threshold after DeFazio circulated a memo warning that it could negatively impact the safety and efficiency of the National Airspace System (NAS).

DeFazio is currently the Ranking Member of the House T&I committee.  The House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee has recommended that he chair the committee when Democrats take control of the House on January 3.

Read more at: Spacepolicy online

SpaceX’s 1st Crew Dragon Spaceship Gets Ready for Debut Mission (Photos)

SpaceX’s astronaut taxi is getting ready for its first-ever trip to orbit, with the mission less than a month away.

SpaceX just released two new photos of a completed Crew Dragon capsule inside a hangar at Launch Complex 39A, part of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. One of the images also shows the Falcon 9 rocket that will loft the Crew Dragon on its debut flight, which is currently targeted for Jan. 17.

On that uncrewed mission, known as Demo-1, the reusable capsule will visit the International Space Station (ISS) for a few weeks and then make a parachute-aided splashdown back here on Earth. The goal is to prove out Crew Dragon’s abilities before putting astronauts aboard for an ISS trip, which could happen as early as June if everything goes well.

Read more at: Space.com

Blue Origin Delays Next New Shepard Launch to Early 2019

Blue Origin’s 10th New Shepard flight — scheduled to launch earlier this week before being delayed to no earlier than Friday (Dec. 21) — has now been pushed to early 2019, company representatives said.

The first launch scrub on Tuesday (Dec. 18) was caused by “a ground infrastructure issue” at the company’s launch site in West Texas, according to announcements made at the time. But as Blue Origin was working to address that problem, something else appears to have raised red flags.

“Through fixing the ground infrastructure issue, we have determined additional systems need to be addressed. We have changed our target to early 2019 for next launch attempt. Stay tuned for updates,” the company wrote in a Twitter update late Wednesday (Dec. 19).

Read more at: Space.com

With First-Ever Landing on Moon’s Farside, China Enters “Luna Incognita”

China is once again on the threshold of a historic first in its fast-paced exploration of Earth’s moon.

Having sent three previous missions moonward since 2007, including one that hosted the nation’s first-ever robotic lander and rover, China’s latest lunar foray began in the early hours of December 8, 2018, when a Long March-3B carrier rocket launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China’s Sichuan Province, carrying the Chang’e-4 spacecraft. Consisting of a lander and a rover, Chang’e-4 is targeting the moon’s farside, the lunar hemisphere that is always facing away from Earth. No spacecraft has ever achieved a soft landing there before, although in 1962 NASA crashed its Ranger 4 probe into the farside surface.

Read more at: Scientific American

European Space Agency Overhauls Satellite Servicer Program

A European Space Agency satellite-deorbiting program that’s been struggling to gain traction with its member states and with industry has been redesigned to be more appealing.

ESA is seeking to revive its e.Deorbit program from 2013 by expanding the mission beyond deorbiting a single satellite. Furthermore, the agency is not stipulating that the mission deorbit Envisat, an ESA Earth-observation satellite that shut down unexpectedly in 2012.

In a Dec. 21 website post, ESA said a series of studies concluded that widening the scope of the e.Deorbit mission to include more functions such as in-orbit refuel or repair would make it more feasible.

Read more at: Spacenews

FCC Levies $900,000 Fine Against Swarm Technologies For Unlawful Satellite Launch

The Federal Communications Commission says Swarm Technologies must pay a $900,000 fine and be subject to increased scrutiny for having a tiny set of satellites launched without authorization.

The penalties were laid out in a consent decree issued today.

“We will aggressively enforce the FCC’s requirements that companies seek FCC authorization prior to deploying and operating communications satellites and earth stations,” Rosemary Harold, chief of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, said in a news release.  “These important obligations protect other operators against radio interference and collisions, making space a safer place to operate.”

Read more at: Geekwire

Brilliant Fireball in California Leaves Twisted Trail Over San Francisco (Photos)

A brilliant fireball lit up the sky over the San Francisco Bay Area shortly after sunset Wednesday (Dec. 19), leaving an odd, wind-twisted trail in its violent wake.

The meteor, which was visible across a wide swath of California, blazed up around 5:30 p.m. local time (8:30 p.m. EST; 0130 GMT on Dec. 20), first appearing as a bright-white point of light. As it streaked through the air on its high-speed death dive, the space rock sprouted a tail composed of tiny pieces of its own disintegrating body.

This “smoke trail” glowed silvery-white against the darkening sky, lit up from below by the sinking sun. It was very cool; I saw it from my apartment’s deck.

Read more at: Space.com

Fireball That Exploded Over Greenland Shook Earth, Triggering Seismic Sensors

When a blazing fireball from space exploded over Earth on July 25, scientists captured the first-ever seismic recordings of a meteor impact on ice in Greenland.

At approximately 8 p.m. local time on that day, residents of the town of Qaanaaq on Greenland’s northwestern coast reported seeing a bright light in the sky and feeling the ground shake as a meteor combusted over the nearby Thule Air Base.

But the fleeting event was detected by more than just human observers, according to unpublished research presented Dec. 12 here at the annual conference of the American Geophysical Union (AGU).

Read more at: Space.com

NASA Astronaut: Jeff Bezos Is Making The ‘Most Important Rocket Engine Of The 21st Century’ (Not Elon Musk)

Elon Musk has SpaceX. Richard Branson has Virgin Galactic. And Jeff Bezos has Blue Origin. These titans of entrepreneurship are ushering in a new generation of human spaceflight.

So who’s the most important space entrepreneur? “There are different levels of importance,” Terry Virts — a NASA astronaut who has spent seven months living in space, commanded the International Space Station and completed three spacewalks — tells CNBC Make It via Skype video conversation in Dec.

As far as getting the public excited about space, “Elon has done a great job with that,” Virts says. “[Musk] has lots of big visions.”

Read more at: CNBC

Fisherman: Waterway Closures For Spaceport Disrupt Fishing

The closures of waterways during launches at the spaceport on Kodiak Island are disrupting commercial fishing operations, fishermen claim.

Fishermen voiced their concerns at a meeting Wednesday of the Kodiak Fisheries Workgroup, seeking for officials to rein in the closures related to the Pacific Spaceport Complex, the Kodiak Daily Mirror reported .

The Alaska Aerospace Corporation temporarily shuts down public road access to the Narrow Cape area and nearby waterways when launches are planned. Some closures in the past have lasted for days as the corporation waits for optimal launch conditions.

“Obviously the economic effect of closing those areas is pretty huge on not only the trawl fleet but also possibly the salmon fleet,” said Jake Everich, the owner of a fishing vessel.

Read more at: Fresnobee

NZ-Dutch Startup Dawn Aerospace Raises $3.35m Round Led By Tuhua Ventures

Dawn Aerospace, a New Zealand-Dutch startup that builds reusable rockets for satellite delivery, has raised $3.35 million in a funding round led by New Zealand-focused Tuhua Ventures, according to an announcement. The financing round was joined by Aera VC and Erik Swan, founder of Splunk, a company that provides software and cloud services and is valued at more than $20 billion. Swan will join Dawn Aerospace’s board after the round. The satellite maker plans to use the latest funding to commercialize its satellite propulsion systems and begin development of its Mk-II Spaceplane, said co-founder Stefan Powell said.

Read more at: Dealstreet asia

Spacecraft Repo Operations

Soon, the number of active satellites in low-Earth orbits (LEO) will likely increase by a factor of 10. Several entrepreneurial companies are planning to launch huge new constellations, each containing hundreds or thousands of broadband and other satellites, and all in the most active zone of space.

Many of these constellations will be financed by banks and capital investment firms. Of course, some constellation operators will fail due to competition, evolving technologies and other issues. When they fail, investors lose their investments. Thus, this is a high-risk business.

On the other hand, if the on-orbit assets of a failed company can be repossessed, the investors may be able to recoup some of their capital. Recapturing and removing valuable satellites has not yet been seriously considered.

Read more at: Space daily

Huge Martian Crater ‘Korolev’ Appears Topped With Miles Of Pristine Snow

New images of Mars show an enormous crater that measures nearly 51 miles across and is filled with ice year-round, the European Space Agency reported.

Known as the Korolev Crater, located near the Martian north pole, it’s topped by “what appears to be a large patch of fresh, untrodden snow – a dream for any lover of the holiday season,” said a statement by ESA, which released the images Thursday.

But the space agency noted that the red planet is “a little too distant for a last-minute winter getaway.” (Mars is about 140 million miles from Earth, according to NASA. The distance can vary considerably, because each planet moves in its own orbit around the sun.)

Read more at: NPR

Winning Ideas for New Space Transport Services

Imagine moving satellites to higher orbits, collecting space debris, and dedicated launches for small satellites. These are the winning entries of ESA’s call for ideas on new commercial space transportation services.

This campaign aimed to foster open innovation and offer encouragement to those with new ideas within the privately-funded space sector.

It has given ESA a valuable insight into commercial space transportation proposals in Europe which will guide decisions on future space transportation programmes when the ESA Council at Ministerial Level meet at Space19+.

Read more at: ESA

European Space Policy Programme To Launch

The new European space policy programme regulation, first proposed by the European Commission in June 2018, will cover the provision of:

  • Secure, high quality, up-to-date data and services pertaining to space;
  • Increased growth and job creation as an effect of the use of these data and services;
  • Enhanced strategic autonomy and regional security within the EU; and
  • A more prominent place for the EU in the global space technology sector.

The text on the European space policy programme does not cover the financial or horizontal issues involved in establishing a fully functional space studies scheme. These will be addressed separately, during negotiations for the next multiannual financial framework for the period from 2021 and 2030.

Read more at: Government europa

Space Force Will Have Seat On Joint Chiefs, Not Full Independence; Costs TBD

The Air Force has eked out a victory in the Pentagon’s latest proposal for a Space Force. While many in the Air Force would prefer to keep their current preeminent role in space operations and not create a new service at all, the current plan — to be submitted by year’s end for inclusion in the 2020 budget request — keeps the Space Force under the Air Force Department, rather than making it fully independent.

The plan calls for the force to be led by a chief of staff who would also serve on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, giving space operations a major seat at the table in strategic deliberations by the powerful chiefs.

Read more at: Breaking Defense

Trump’s New Space Force To Reside Under Department Of The Air Force

After months of deliberating how to stand up a Space Force, a sixth branch of the military proposed by President Donald Trump, Pentagon leaders have decided to funnel the new organization under the Department of the Air Force, Defense News has learned.

“There is established a United States Space Force as an armed force within the Department of the Air Force,” states a draft of the legislative proposal due to be put forward alongside the fiscal year 2020 budget early next year, which was viewed by Defense News on Dec. 20.

The new service will be overseen by the newly created undersecretary of the Air Force for the Space Force and a Space Force chief of staff, who will sit on the Joint Chiefs.

Read more at: Defense news

U.S. Air Force Releasing More Data On Orbits Of Military Satellites

As the Commerce Department works on plans to take over civilian space traffic management responsibilities, the U.S. Air Force is making more data available on the positions of military satellites.

Satellite observers recently noticed that Space Track, the online service operated by U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) to provide data on the orbits of satellites and other objects, was now including information on some U.S. military satellites that were previously excluded from the service. Such satellites include the AEHF, MUOS and WGS military communications satellites in geostationary orbit.

Read more at: Spacenews

Chinese Hackers Charged With Stealing Data From NASA, IBM, And Others

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has charged two Chinese nationals with being part of a decade-long, government-sponsored global hacking campaign that included the alleged theft of information from 45 US tech companies and government agencies, including NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Goddard Space Flight Center.

The charges, announced after the US government unsealed an indictment against the two individuals on Thursday, come at a time of high tension between the US and China. In the middle of a detente in the trade war between the two countries, the US recently coordinated with Canada to arrest the CFO of Huawei, one of China’s biggest companies. The Chinese government has detained three Canadian citizens in response while demanding the executive’s release. The indictment is also just the latest in a long line of accusations that the Chinese government has sponsored or sought the theft of American technology.

Read more at: Verge

NASA Astronauts Descend on Monte Carlo

While many Americans were celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday, a cadre of American astronauts descended on Monaco to celebrate the 60th anniversary of NASA, the impending landing of the Insight Mars rover, and the country’s plans to send one of its own into space.

Known for its glamour and glitz, and a casino that redefined the term “high roller,” the tiny Mediterranean nation isn’t new to space exploration. Space Systems International-Monaco (SSI-Monaco) launched its first communications satellite MonacoSat-1 with SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launcher in 2015, and is planning to launch MonacoSat-2 within the next few years. A new agreement between Houston-based Axiom Space, which runs the world’s first commercial space station, and SSI-Monaco will jointly train one or more Monaco citizens or residents as private or professional astronauts, and fly them on an orbital space mission.

Read more at: Diplomatic Courier

Here’s Why Space Travel Will Be Even More Amazing (And Important) In 2019

It’s well known that if something goes out of style, you only need to wait several decades for it to return. That certainly applies to manned space exploration, which, after fading from the headlines in the late eighties, is poised to roar back to life in 2019. But there is one glaring difference I see in the comeback and one huge reason why it matters.

In the space program’s original heyday, I was but a young Baby Boomer whose bedroom walls were covered with photos of the Saturn V – which, to this day, I maintain is the most beautiful, old-school rocket ever built – and of astronauts, cosmonauts, planets, nebulae … You get the picture. I was (and still am) a geek.

Read more at: Fox news

Tom Saler: Moon Program Demonstrated What Can Be Achieved When People Pull Together

“There is perhaps no better a demonstration of the folly of human conceits,” the astronomer Carl Sagan once noted, “than this distant image of our tiny world.”

Sagan was referring to the same world captured in history’s most famous photograph, taken 50 years ago Monday of the blue marble Earth floating above a pockmarked moon in the eternal blackness of space. It was snapped by astronaut Bill Anders as the crew of Apollo 8 became the first humans to leave their homeport and circumnavigate another celestial body.

Read more at: jsonline

Rona Ramon, Widow Of Ilan, Dies Of Cancer At 54

Rona Ramon, widow of Israel’s pioneer astronaut Ilan Ramon and the mother of IAF pilot Assaf Ramon, who at age 21 was killed in a training accident, succumbed to pancreatic cancer on Monday. She was 54.

She and her late husband had always told their four children – Assaf, Tal, Yiftah and Noa – to follow their dreams. Since he was a small boy, Assaf had wanted to be a pilot like his father, who was killed in 2003 in the fatal Columbia space shuttle mission, when the spacecraft disintegrated over Texas as it was re-entering Earth.

When Assaf wanted to join the IAF she could not deny it to him, she told The Jerusalem Post in May 2016, because she had always told her own children and other children to follow their dreams. In fact, three of her children served in the IAF

Read more at: jpost