Russia Inaugurates Vostochny Cosmodrome With Semi-Commercial Soyuz Launch

With an exasperated hiss and engulfing roar, the sounds of a Soyuz rocket pierced the wild, windswept expanse of Russia’s far eastern taiga in a dramatic signal that Russia’s newest cosmodrome has finally opened for business. 

After years of delays, construction mishaps and outrageous corruption scandals, Russia’s new premier space launch facility — the Vostochny Cosmodrome — saw the first successful flight of commercial payloads aboard a Soyuz 2.1A rocket Thursday (Dec. 27) at 11:07 a.m. local time (9:07 p.m. EST, Dec. 26 ).

Thirty seconds into a vertical climb up from the cosmodrome, the Soyuz booster began to arc away toward the horizon, flashing viewers gathered at an observation post 1.5 kilometers away from the launch pad with its engines and subjecting them to a rapid-fire, concussive pounding.

Read more at: Spacenews

What You Need to Know About Russia’s Vostochny Cosmodrome

The Soyuz-2.1a rocket with two Russian and 26 foreign satellites lifted off from the Vostochny space center in Russia’s Far East on Thursday, which became the fourth launch from the cosmodrome.

The Vostochny cosmodrome is the first civilian spaceport in Russia, designed to prepare and launch spacecraft for scientific, socio-economic and commercial purposes.

It ensures Russia’s independent access to space. Before its construction, there was only the Plesetsk military space center. Civilian launches had to be carried out from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, which Moscow leases from Astana.

Read more at: Space daily

Work In Space Does Not Seem To Shorten Astronauts’ Lives

Although space travel exposes astronauts to forms of radiation that are uncommon on Earth, and that are linked to cancers and heart problems, a U.S. study suggests this doesn’t significantly shorten their lives.

Researchers compared nearly 60 years of data on U.S. male astronauts and a group of men who are similarly extra-fit, affluent and receive elite healthcare – pro athletes. They found that neither group has higher rates than the other of death overall or of early deaths. Both groups do tend to outlast the rest of us, however.

Astronauts are generally well-educated, more affluent and more physically fit than the typical American, and some previous research has linked this career to a lower risk of premature death, the study team notes in Occupational & Environmental Medicine.

Read more at: Reuters

Russia: Hole Drilled From Inside Int’l Space Station Capsule

A Russian cosmonaut who explored a mysterious hole in a capsule docked to the International Space Station said Monday that the opening was drilled from inside the spacecraft and Russian law enforcement agencies are investigating what caused it.

Sergei Prokopyev said investigators were looking at samples he and crewmate Oleg Kononenko collected during a Dec. 12 spacewalk. Prokopyev and two other astronauts returned to Earth last week from a 197-day space station mission.

The hole in the Russian Soyuz spacecraft attached to the station was spotted on Aug. 30. The crew discovered a leak that was creating a slight loss of pressure and plugged the hole with epoxy and gauze.

Read more at: ABC News

Russian Cosmonaut Dismisses Rumours About ISS Crew, Hole in Soyuz Spaceship

Russian cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev on Monday dismissed rumours on social networks about the ISS crew in the light of the situation with the hole in the Soyuz MS-09 spaceship.

“A lot has already been said about it on social networks, but I want to assure you that everything that is written on social networks, almost everything is not true and you should not think badly about the crew. Everything is fine, we interacted very well, including in the process of getting out of this emergency operation. The crew worked so well that we really can’t complain,” Prokopyev said at the post-flight press conference.

The comment was made after on December 11, Russian cosmonauts on board the ISS, Oleg Kononenko and Sergey Prokopyev, carried out a spacewalk to examine the hole in the spacecraft, found in late August. The cosmonauts cut off three pieces of micrometeoroid protection to take samples of the sealer and the surface surrounding the microfracture. The samples were delivered to Earth, where they should be handed over to investigators to determine the causes of the hole on the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft.

Read more at: Sputnik news

Urban Planning For The Moon Village

The first thing to remember about Moon Village is that it’s not a village on the moon. That disclaimer comes up in nearly every presentation about the concept of an open partnership supporting lunar exploration.

“I’m not looking at building some houses, a church, a cinema, all of this. It’s not that,” said Jan Woerner, director general of the European Space Agency, during a news conference at the International Astronautical Congress in Bremen, Germany, in October.

Woerner, who has advocated for the concept since before he took the reins of ESA, said the idea is not about human spaceflight at all, really. “Moon Village is not the colonization of the moon,” he said. “I don’t want to move people away from the Earth to live on the moon.”

Read more at: Space news

Commerce Department Seeks To Encourage More Space Industry Investment

Even amid growing venture capital investment in space companies, the Commerce Department is making efforts to encourage more institutional investment into the industry.

In a speech earlier this month, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said that improving financing and insurance for the space industry was one of the major priorities for the department’s efforts to grow the overall space economy.

“How do we get to the trillion-dollar space economy?” Ross said in a Dec. 6 speech at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce space industry event in Washington. “We must seize this moment.”

One of the ways to do so, he said, was to encourage “better financing and insurance” for the industry. “There continues to be strong and growing venture capital equity funding for the space industry,” he said. “But missing from space finance are the bigger institutions, especially banks. Their participation will be necessary to execute longer-term commercial plans.”

Read more at: Spacenews

The Quiet Rocket Startup That Doesn’t Want To Be The New SpaceX

You’ve probably never heard of Orbex, but if all goes to plan, this company might just make history. They want to launch the UK’s first rocket in more than four decades, and they’re steadily making progress towards doing just that. But despite those lofty ambitions, they’re keeping their feet firmly on the ground.

“People often tout little companies like Orbex as being the new SpaceX,” Chris Larmour, the company’s CEO, tells me in an interview. “I don’t personally see that. We don’t have those ambitions. And I’m certainly not Elon Musk.”

Orbex is a UK-based rocket launch company that quietly came out of stealth mode in July 2018. “Quiet” is most certainly the word here, because while Orbex hopes to start launching rockets by 2021 at the earliest, it’s doing so on its own terms and at its own pace.

Read more at: Forbes

Entering A Crowded Market, Japan’s New Rocket Scores An Early Win

Japan’s largest rocket company, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), has received a vote of confidence as it seeks to compete for commercial launches in an increasingly crowded market. Earlier this month, the company announced an agreement with satellite operator Inmarsat for a launch in 2022 or later.

Significantly, the flight will take place on Mitsubishi’s new H3 rocket, which was designed and developed to fly at a lower cost in order to attract more commercial business. It was the first commercial contract for the rocket, which is set to debut in 2020 by launching a satellite payload for Japan’s space agency, JAXA.

JAXA and MHI want to increase the country’s number of orbital launches annually from the current average of four to about eight. The only realistic way to do this is to increase launch orders from commercial companies. And as MHI has sought to do this, it seems to have found a good partner in Inmarsat. Already, in September 2017, Inmarsat selected MHI’s H-2A rocket for the launch of its Inmarsat-6 F1 satellite in 2020.

Read more at: Ars technica

With Virgin Galactic’s Latest Flight, Has Space Tourism Finally Arrived?

On Thursday, pilots Mark Stucky and Frederick Sturckow became the first humans to reach outer space from an American launch since the last space shuttle mission in 2011. It was a major milestone for Virgin Galactic, which has been aiming for this day since it was founded in 2004.

Though more test flights remain, the company looks on track to carry its first paying customers into suborbital space in 2019. Those customers would be the first space tourists since 2009, when the Russian space agency took billionaire Cirque du Soleil cofounder Guy Laliberté to the International Space Station. In the year that followed, the Russian agency canceled its tourism program due to expanded crew sizes on the ISS. Virgin’s customers won’t need to be billionaires, but they will need to have access to a good amount of cash, as it’s been selling tickets for $250,000.

Read more at: Forbes

Musk’s Mars Rocket Is Trading Carbon Fiber For Stainless Steel

Elon Musk has a plan to get to Mars, but how he’s going to get there keeps changing.

Over the weekend, the SpaceX CEO said the company had “radically redesigned” its Raptor engine, casting a new steel alloy to contain the hellish engine temperatures during liftoff, and swapping out carbon-fiber components for ”mirror-finish” stainless steel.

Read more  at: QZ

Sending Astronauts To Mars Would Be Stupid, Astronaut Says

Bill Anders, lunar module pilot of Apollo 8, the first human spaceflight to leave Earth’s orbit, said sending crews to Mars was “almost ridiculous”.

Nasa is currently planning new human missions to the Moon. It wants to learn the skills and develop the technology to enable a future human landing on Mars.

Anders, 85, said he’s a “big supporter” of the “remarkable” unmanned programmes, “mainly because they’re much cheaper”. But he says the public support simply isn’t there to fund vastly more expensive human missions. “What’s the imperative? What’s pushing us to go to Mars?” he said, adding “I don’t think the public is that interested”.

Read more at: BBC

Shutdown Continues, But What’s Ahead For Space Policy In The New Congress?

One week from today, the 116th Congress will convene.  Democrats will control the House; Republicans the Senate.  Considering today’s state of affairs, with one-quarter of the government (in terms of discretionary spending), including NASA and NOAA, shut down because funding has lapsed, space policy issues are not likely to be at the top of the congressional to-do list.  Still, much remains to be done.

The failure of Congress and President Trump to reach agreement on FY2019 appropriations for NASA, NOAA and other departments and agencies funded by seven of the 12 regular appropriations bills clearly is the most pressing issue.  In dispute is Trump’s demand for $5 billion in FY2019 for his border wall and Democratic opposition to it.

Read more at: Space policy online

Reigniting the Spirit of Earthrise

On Christmas Eve 50 years ago, the crew of Apollo 8 took a serendipitous and sublime photo of the Earth. It showed our planet seeming to rise over the limb of the moon, pitting ourtiny, fragile, blue and white orb against the infinite blackness of space. The photo had an impact on our world just as dramatic as the image itself, finding its way into major publications, giving the public a renewed sense of awe and pride in our planet, and even jumpstarting the environmental movement that led to President Nixon creating the Environmental Protection Agency.

More than anything else, the Earthrise image helped Americans in 1968 see that we could still do great things. It also shows why the upcoming Congress must commit to fully supporting a space program that ignites change and inspires millions.

Read more at: Hill

NASA Astronauts Will Still Ride Russian Rockets After US Craft Arrive

While nothing has been signed officially yet, NASA does plan to continue flying its astronauts on the Russian Soyuz vehicle even after U.S. commercial crew vehicles come online, according to an agency spokesperson.

“Bill Gerstenmaier and senior NASA leadership have stated their intention to have U.S. crewmembers on Soyuz vehicles after 2019 and [to have] Russians on U.S. crew vehicles,” Stephanie Schierholz, who works in public affairs at NASA Headquarters in Washington, told Space.com.

Gerstenmaier is the associate administrator for human exploration and operations for NASA, a position he has held since 2005. That post gives him immense influence on the use of the International Space Station (ISS) and the development of future human space programs.

Read more at: Space.com

Science Committee Democrats Expect Action On Commercial Space Issues In New Congress

Following the defeat of the Space Frontier Act in the House yesterday, Democratic staff of the House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) committee said today that the issues are important and expect the committee to be active on them in the 116th Congress, which begins in less than two weeks.  During floor debate on the bill, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), criticized the process used to bring the bill to the floor, arguing that she did not think many of the issues had been vetted sufficiently. She is expected to chair the committee next year.

In an emailed statement to SpacePolicyOnline.com, Democratic Science Committee staff said: “The bill likely would have passed if considered under regular order with time for proper vetting. Attempting to push through a complex piece of legislation under suspension on a chaotic day on the floor as the agencies mentioned in the bill are facing a shutdown is a prescription for failure. The matters addressed in the bill are worthy of attention and we expect the Science Committee to be active on them in the 116th Congress.”

Read more at: Space policy online

Putin Hails ‘Successful’ Test Of New Hypersonic Missile

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday hailed final tests of a hypersonic missile, which he earlier said would render existing missile defence systems obsolete.

“On my instructions, the Ministry of Defence prepared and conducted a final test of this system. This has just been completed with absolute success,” Putin said during a televised meeting with members of the government.

“Russia has a new type of strategic weapon,” he said, adding that the intercontinental “Avangard” system would be ready for use from 2019.

Read more at: Space daily

Warfare Is No Longer Limited To Air, Land And Sea — But Our Military Is

With the newly divided Congress preparing to take office, there will be a clear challenge to the president’s recent call to create a new branch of the military, the “Space Force.” While there are a lot of areas of government that are clearly ripe for partisan bickering, our nation’s defense should be spared that indignity. Let’s examine the call for this new uniformed service from a rational, not ideological point of view.

First of all, the Department of Defense is the largest organization on Earth. It has surpassed the $700 billion level, and is larger than the militaries of China, Russia, and all of Europe- combined. Last year’s plus-up, roughly $69B, was larger than Russia’s entire military budget.

Read more at: Hill

Air Force To Accelerate Deployment Of Anti-Jam Satellite Communications Equipment

The Air Force is cyber hardening military satellite communications equipment amid worries that foreign hackers could infiltrate U.S. networks.

“Adversaries are getting better and more able to penetrate our unclassified or barely protected systems,” said Col. Tim Mckenzie chief of the advanced development division for military satellite communications at the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center.

The bulk of military satcom services are provided by the Air Force Wideband Global Satcom, or WGS, satellites and by commercial operators. All these systems require additional protection from cyber attacks, Mckenzie told SpaceNews in a recent interview.

Read more at: Spacenews

Turkey Sets Up First Space Agency In Hopes Of Boosting Indigenous Defense Industry

With an eye to becoming a top player in global space technology, Turkey took a big step last week toward achieving its dream by establishing the country’s first national space agency.

The Turkey Space Agency was founded to develop strategic plans with short- and long-term goals, which involve the creation of a competitive space and aviation industry.

Noticeably, the agency has autonomy in terms of finance and administration. “Our dream of 20 years has come true,” Mustafa Varank, Turkish minister of industry and technology, said at a recent meeting on the Turkish defense industry in the capital Ankara.

Read more at: Space daily

“Hey, don’t take that, it’s not scheduled,” Frank Borman said, joking to his fellow Apollo 8 astronauts, Bill Anders and James Lovell, on Dec. 24, 1968. They were orbiting the moon, farther from Earth than any humans had ever been. On the fourth pass, they were confronted by an extraordinary sight that jolted them out of their regimented procedures. There, seen through a small window, was Earth itself, rising out of the void.

For a split second, the astronauts were dazzled by the luminescent blue sphere, whorled by a white cloud cover. Then, as they were trained to do, they went back to work. As it turned out, Mr. Anders was the one who snapped a color photo, just after his fellow astronauts, Frank Borman and James Lovell, called his attention to the greatest photo op in history.

Read more at: NY times

Nancy Grace Roman, Involved With Hubble Telescope, Dies

Nancy Grace Roman, the first woman to hold an executive position at NASA and who helped with development of the Hubble Space Telescope, has died.

Laura Verreau, a cousin, confirmed Thursday that Roman died on Christmas Day after a prolonged illness. She was 93.

The NASA webpage said Roman was the first chief of astronomy in the office of space science at NASA headquarters and was the first woman to hold an executive position at the agency. She had direct oversight for the planning and development of astronomy-based programs including the Cosmic Background Explorer and the Hubble Space Telescope.

Read more at: ABC news