China Focus: Chang’e-4 To Measure Lunar Temperatures During Freezing Night

The night on the moon is dark and cold, yet Chinese scientists don’t know exactly how cold it can be. The Chang’e-4 probe, which made the first-ever soft-landing on the far side of the moon, will help them measure the moon’s temperatures.

A lunar day equals 14 days on Earth, and a lunar night is the same length. Temperatures vary enormously between day and night on the moon. Scientists estimate that the highest temperature during the day might reach 127 degrees Celsius, while the lowest at night could fall to minus 183 degrees Celsius.

In 2013, China launched Chang’e-3, the country’s first spacecraft to soft-land on the moon. The scientific instruments on its lander are still operating after more than 60 lunar nights in the past five years.

Read more at: Xinhuanet

Russian Leadership To Receive Probe Results On Hole In Soyuz In Coming Weeks

The results of the probe into a hole in the hull of the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, which was docked to the International Space Station (ISS), will be communicated to the Russian leadership in the coming weeks, Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Russian space agency Roscosmos, said.

In late August, the ISS crew experienced an air leakage which appeared to have been caused by a microfracture in the orbital module of the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft docked to the station.

“Our goal is to provide full technical support to the probe and it is them who will make the conclusions. Then, a small group of the Roscosmos commission members will get familiar with these conclusions and this information will immediately be communicated to the leadership of the country. It will happen in the coming weeks,” Rogozin said in an interview with the RBC broadcaster.

Read more at: Spacedaily

Soyuz Spacecraft Assembly To Be Fully Monitored By Video Cameras

Russia’s Rocket and Space Corporation Energia has introduced video surveillance at all stages of the construction of Soyuz spacecraft after a drilled hole in the household compartment of the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft was found, a source in the Russian space industry told Sputnik.

“There was a video recording system that monitored the main assembly sites. Now, it has been installed in three more assembly areas where operations were carried out without video surveillance,” the source said.

On August 30, the crew of the International Space Station (ISS) detected an insignificant air leak, caused by a microfracture on a wall of the living section of the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft, docked to the ISS. The hole was patched on the same day to restore the hermetic integrity of the ISS.

Read more at: Spacedaily

Scientists Are Automating Plutonium Production So NASA Can Explore Deep Space

Department of Energy researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee announced on Tuesday that they have automated a critical step in the production of a nuclear fuel crucial for deep space exploration

Plutonium-238 is a radioactive material that has been used by NASA to power dozens of missions to the outer edge of our solar system and beyond. It is stable, incredibly energy dense, and lasts for decades. Automating aspects of its production—previously done by hand—is expected to triple the number of plutonium pellets produced at Oak Ridge each week.

Read more at: Motherboard Vice

No Sign Space Station Microbes Are Turning Nasty

There is no evidence that bacteria living onboard the International Space Station are mutating into forms dangerous to humans, researchers say.

A study led by environmental engineer Erica Hartmann from Northwestern University in the US concludes that genetic changes found in colonies of common bacteria living in the ISS are adaptations to harsh conditions. There is no indication that they are becoming pathogenic.

Concerns about the orbiting microbes were raised late last year when scientists led by Nitin Singh and Daniela Bezdan from the Biotechnology and Planetary Protection Group at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of the California Institute of Technology, US, sequenced samples of the bacterium Enterobacter recovered from the ISS.

Read more at: Cosmos magazine

Russia Completes Tests Of Newest Kurs-MKP System To Dock At ISS

Production and ground tests of the newest Kurs-MKP automated rendezvous system for space vehicles to dock to the International Space Station (ISS) have been completed, the Russian Space Systems holding company said on Tuesday.

“In the outgoing year, the Research Institute of Precision Instruments (incorporated into the Russian Space Systems holding company) has completed production and successfully conducted acceptance tests of the Kurs-MKP new digital equipment,” said a statement posted on the company’s website.

“The new equipment considerably surpasses the equipment currently functioning at the ISS in accuracy and energy efficiency,” it said.

Read more at: TASS

Control Over Russia’s Only Space Telescope Lost – Scientists

The connection with Russia’s only space telescope, Spektr-R, is partially lost; the device isn’t accepting commands from the Earth, Nikolai Kardashev, the head of the Astro Space Centre at the PN Lebedev Physics Institute told Sputnik.

According to Nikolai Kardashev, scientists continue to receive data from the orbital telescope, despite its failure to respond to remote commands. Specialists from the company which build the device are working on restoring two-way communications.Meanwhile, the head of the project told Sputnik that the Russian Spektr-R space telescope project will be terminated if control over the vehicle is not restored.

Read more at: Sputnik news

Controllers Troubleshoot Problem With Hubble Camera

The partial shutdown of the U.S. government could complicate efforts to troubleshoot a suspected hardware problem with the Hubble Space Telescope’s premier science instrument, but officials are optimistic the camera will eventually be restored to operations, the head of the observatory’s science operations team said Wednesday.

Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3, responsible for nearly half of the observatory’s scientific output, suspended operations Tuesday when on-board software detected a fault “somewhere in the electronics” of one of its two observing channels, said Tom Brown, head of the Hubble Space Telescope mission office at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, which oversees the mission’s scientific operations for NASA.

Read more at: Spaceflight Now

The Largest Plane Ever Built Might Be On The Brink Of Its First Flight

Stratolaunch looks like it might be close to flying the largest plane in history for the first time, after another successful test took them closer to that historic milestone.

In a brief update on Twitter, the Seattle-based company said its aircraft yesterday, January 9 reached a speed of 219 kilometers (136 miles) per hour while traveling down a runway in a taxi test at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. Few other details were released, but the company did note that the plane managed to lift its front wheel off the ground and perform a “wheelie”.

That might sound amusing, but it’s actually vitally important. This is known as a rotation authority maneuver, and it’s a key step towards proving the plane will actually be able to take off. With a wingspan of 385 feet (117 meters), this will be the largest plane ever flown.

Read more at: Forbes

ISRO Starts Human Space Flight Centre

Gaganyaan, the great Indian human leap to space by 2022, will soon get cracking under a new Human Space Flight Centre and a dedicated team around five months after it was first unveiled. A team of 800 to 900 people is to be deployed over time to carry it out.

Indian Space Research Organisation on Friday named Unnikrishnan Nair, who led its Advanced Space Transportation Programme at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, as the man to steer it – as also the director of the new centre. Dr. Nair has already been involved in this work for a few years as director, Human Space Flight Project. ISRO.R.Hutton, who has helmed the PSLV light lift vehicle programme, also from Thiruvananthapuram, is the project director in that set-up.

Read more at: Hindu

Astronauts and Robotics Experts Finalize Dragon Departure Work

The three Expedition 58 crew members have finished packing the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft with science experiments and hardware today. Final preparations for the vehicle’s departure are now on hold while teams wait for favorable weather in the splashdown area for Dragon’s return.

Dragon was scheduled for departure early Thursday morning from the International Space Station but mission managers made the decision to delay departure. Managers are assessing the backup release date of Sunday, Jan. 13 for Dragon’s return to Earth.

Robotics controllers maneuvered the Canadarm2 robotic arm Wednesday and grappled Dragon while it was still attached to the Harmony module. Prior to Dragon departure, they will remotely uninstall Dragon from Harmony and slowly guide it to its release position.

Read more at: NASA

Commercial Space Sector Poised For Takeoff

China’s private space sector raised plenty of money last year despite the chilly investment climate, thanks to national support for the industry and a changing environment.

In 2018, three rocket start-ups – OneSpace, LandSpace and iSpace, also known as Beijing Interstellar Glory Space Technology – held a total of eight rounds of fundraising, each raising 700 million yuan ($101.95 million) to 800 million yuan.

On Wednesday, iSpace said it had secured its A-plus financing round last September from investors led by CDH Investments, according to a statement the company sent to the Global Times.

The start-up said it plans to complete an orbital mission with its SQX-1Z rocket at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, Northwest China’s Gansu Province, in the first half of this year.

Read more at: ecns

Spacex Laying Off 10 Percent Of Its Workforce

SpaceX is laying off about 10 percent of its workforce, a cost-cutting move the company says is required to focus on development of its next-generation launch system and a broadband satellite constellation.

In a statement late Jan. 11, the company confirmed that SpaceX is laying off a portion of its workforce. It is the first large-scale reduction of its workforce since the company was founded in 2002, although the company did fire several percent of its employees in 2014, a move that the company said at the time was based on performance reviews.

“To continue delivering for our customers and to succeed in developing interplanetary spacecraft and a global space-based Internet, SpaceX must become a leaner company,” the company stated, referring to its ongoing work on its Starship and Super Heavy launch vehicles and Starlink constellation. “Either of these developments, even when attempted separately, have bankrupted other organizations.”

Read more at: Spacenews

Spacex CEO Elon Musk Says First Orbital Starship Prototype Will Be Done By June

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk says that the company’s first Starship prototype – a low-fidelity hop test vehicle – has finished assembly in South Texas, paving the way towards a series of experimental vertical take-off or landing (VTOL) hop tests that could begin as early as February or March 2019.

One step beyond the prototype currently rising out of the coastal Texas wetlands, Musk also indicated that the first orbital Starship prototype – essentially the spacecraft’s first full-fidelity test article – could be completed as early as June 2019, a truly extraordinary pace of development for a program as complex and cutting-edge as BFR.

Read more at: Teslarati

High-Risk Space Gambling

Space station astronauts have to be “high-risk-taking” individuals. They volunteer to fly from the Earth to the International Space Station (ISS) onboard a Russian launch vehicle that has a less-than-stellar safety record.

Once on board the ISS they are exposed to high radiation levels, weightlessness and the hard vacuum of space. In fact, they are at the mercy of the elements for the duration of the flight without the possibility of a rescue in case of a severe emergency.

In some extreme situations, if there is time, they can use their reentry and return capsule to escape. There are some scenarios in which this works, but there are some events that happen so fast there isn’t time to react.

Read more at: Spacedaily

SpaceX Confident About Its Starlink Constellation for Satellite Internet; Others, Not So Much

SpaceX has, of course, been ferrying quite a bit of stuff into space lately. But last February, SpaceX launched two small satellites of its own. They were for an initial test of gear intended for use in a globe-spanning broadband data network, called Starlink, made up of thousands of small satellites. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk nicknamed the two test satellites Tintin A and Tintin B, after the beloved Belgian cartoon character known for his adventures. And just as their fictional namesake often did, the satellites ran into unexpected troubles.

After launch, Tintin A and B were supposed to propel themselves from their initial orbital altitude of 511 kilometers to their final operational orbit of 1,125 km. But the satellites remained in their initial orbits; SpaceX has never been clear about why. (SpaceX declined to comment for this story.)

Read more at: IEEE Spectrum

The Struggle For A Practical Cislunar Transportation System

Although I have written several previous articles covering cislunar issues, events have now clearly reached a whole new phase for all the players: within NASA, in the existing industry, and in NewSpace. This will strongly affect the central part of design and planning for beyond low Earth orbit (LEO) operations, the next major step in space development and operations by NASA and its international partners. This goes beyond the issue of using lunar propellant. Understanding the new situation and part of what may be driving it requires information about several different initiatives.

In late December, SpaceX released photos which show the assembly of a nine-meter-diameter stainless steel test vehicle at Boca Chica in far South Texas that will probably result in the first vertical test flights of a Big Falcon Spaceship (or under its odd generic new name, Starship) test vehicle in early 2019. Once the vehicle is flying and landing safely, and a spaceflight-capable stage has been built, it can be launched into orbit by a Bif Falcon Rocket booster stage (now called Super Heavy.) That means the path to a lunar demonstration trip by SpaceX will be open.

Read more at: Space review

Space Council Advisory Group To Study Role Of Human Space Exploration Supporting Science

The advisory group for the National Space Council is looking at ways that NASA’s human exploration plans can also support space science, while acknowledging the lack of representation of the scientific community in the group.

Two members of the Users’ Advisory Group (UAG) of the National Space Council met with attendees of the 233rd Meeting of the American Astronomical Society here Jan. 9 in the latest of a series of listening sessions held by the group with various space constituencies.

The UAG, established last year as a “think tank” to support the National Space Council, is working on a variety of topics, including examining potential synergies between human space exploration and space science.

Read more at: Spacenews

Here’s Why Elon Musk Is Tweeting Constantly About A Stainless-Steel Starship

Eleven months ago—just after SpaceX astonished the world by launching and landing its titanic Falcon Heavy rocket while beaming back images of a red Tesla leaving Earth orbit—company founder Elon Musk had already begun to look beyond the moment.

The Falcon Heavy was a big, capable rocket. But it wasn’t large enough to fulfill his aspirations of reaching Mars. Neither did the company have a spacecraft capable of landing there. “They really need to be way bigger than that,” Musk said of the Falcon Heavy rocket at the time. Moreover, he noted that the launch in early February 2018 had confirmed the company’s ability to model rocket launches on computers. “It gives me a lot of faith for our next architecture. It gives me confidence that BFR is really quite workable.”

Read more at: Arstechnica

New Technique Offers Rapid Assessment Of Radiation Exposure

Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a new technique that allows them to assess radiation exposure in about an hour using an insulator material found in most modern electronics. The technique can be used to triage medical cases in the event of a radiological disaster.

“If there is a large radiological event in a populated area, it would be difficult or impossible to treat everyone who could potentially have acute radiation syndrome,” says Robert Hayes, an associate professor of nuclear engineering at NC State and first author of a paper on the work. “You’d need to be able to figure out who was exposed to enough radiation to require treatment.”

Read more at: Spacedaily

Cooperation Needed In Space Exploration

For many people, the new year comes with many risks, from global capital markets to geopolitics. But for space scientists, it’s been an auspicious start. That’s because the New Horizons probe, sent by the American space agency Nasa more than a decade ago, has flown by and explored an icy small world called Ultima Thule that is also the most distant place ever visited by a man-made craft.

Read more at: scmp

Wicker, Cantwell To Lead Senate Commerce Committee; Appropriations Leadership Remains The Same

The leadership of the key Senate committees and subcommittees that oversee civil and commercial space policy and funding are taking shape.  The Senate remains in Republican hands so there are fewer changes than in the House, but one committee — Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation — is getting both a new Chairman and a new Ranking Member.

The Senate Commerce committee authorizes activities for NASA, NOAA, and the FAA, and also has oversight of commercial space policy.  Legislation from that committee sets policy and, where appropriate, recommends funding levels, although the bills do not provide any money.  Only appropriations bills provide money.

Read more at: Spacepolicy online

Renewed Space Rivalry Between Nations Ignores A Tradition Of Cooperation

The annals of science fiction are full of visions of the future. Some are techno-utopian like “Star Trek” in which humanity has joined together in peace to explore the cosmos. Others are dystopian, like the World State in “Brave New World.” But many of these stories share one thing in common – they envision a time in which humanity has moved past narrow ideas of tribe and nationalism. That assumption might be wrong.

This can be seen in Trump’s calls for a unified U.S. Space Command. Or, in China’s expansive view of sovereignty and increasingly active space program as seen in its recent lunar landing. These examples suggest that the notion of outer space as a final frontier free from national appropriation is questionable. Active debate is ongoing as of this writing as to the consistency of the 2015 Space Act with international space law, which permitted private firms to own natural resources mined from asteroids.

Read more at: Conversation

Spacex Assessing Impacts Of Government Shutdown On Commercial Launches

As the partial government shutdown hits the 20 day mark with no end in sight, SpaceX said today that it is assessing the impact on its commercial launches.  SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk tweeted over the weekend that the first test launch of its Crew Dragon system was “about a month away,” a slip of several weeks.  NASA confirmed today that the new date is targeted for “February.”

SpaceX is under contract to NASA to build the Crew Dragon/Falcon 9 commercial crew space transportation system to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS).

The first launch is an uncrewed test flight, Demo-1.  In November, NASA announced a January 7 launch date, but that slipped to January 17. On Saturday, Musk tweeted photos of the Crew Dragon mated to its Falcon 9 rocket on the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A, which SpaceX leases from NASA.  He said the launch was “about a month away,” which put it in early February.

Read more at: Spacepolicy online

Co-Operation In Space: Te Urewera May Be An Ideal Model

Space resources and places in our Solar System could be granted legal personality, much the way the former Te Urewera National Park is now considered a legal person, two academics have suggested.

The Te Urewera Act of 2014 was the first law in the European legal tradition to grant personality to land and natural resources.

Adapted and applied to space objects such as asteroids, it “holds promise for a widely agreed, efficient, and equitable regime for managing space resources and … could also be extended to the governance of space habitats”, wrote Eytan Tepper and Christopher Whitehead in the December edition of the journal New Space.

Read more at: Stuff

Independent Study Raises Red Flags About Space Force As A Separate Military Department

In a study mandated by Congress, independent analysts were asked to develop a plan to establish a Space Force as a separate military department.  In a summary of their final report, analysts from the Center for Naval Analyses cautioned that there are many possible ways to design a Space Force, but ”we cannot definitively know before it is implemented that any design will produce the expected benefits.”

According to an unclassified executive summary of the study obtained by SpaceNews, CNA would recommend creating a department from existing portions of the Air Force, Army, Navy, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. The study says the Space Force also should have centralized procurement of commercial space products and services such as imagery and satellite communications, the study proposes.

Read more at: Spacenews

Re-Establishing U.S. Space Command Is A Great Idea

Last year, much of the U.S. national security space community’s attention was focused on the Trump administration’s proposal to create a sixth military service, the Space Force, which would be responsible for training and equipping military space forces. While most experts agree that the changes in the threat environment, especially Russia and China’s development of anti-satellite weapons, require the United States to think differently about how we operate in space, no consensus has emerged as to whether creating a Space Force is the right solution to the problem.

However, in a December 18, 2018 speech at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Vice President Mike Pence announced that President Trump had signed an executive order establishing U.S. Space Command as the 11th combatant command in the U.S. military.

Read more at: Brookings

India And Japan Awaken To Risks Of Superpower Space Race

India, Japan and other space-faring countries are waking up to a harsh reality: Earth’s orbit is becoming a more dangerous place as the U.S., China and Russia compete for control of the final frontier.

Growing fears that satellites could be threatened by newfangled space weapons or sophisticated hacking are forcing governments to think of their space programs not just as scientific endeavors but as pressing national security concerns.

China has a “sophisticated military space program in place,” said Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, head of the Nuclear and Space Policy Initiative at the Observer Research Foundation, an independent think tank in India. So countries like India and Japan, which have promoted space development from a “civilian and peaceful perspective,” are “increasingly driven to develop certain military characteristics.”

Read more at: Nikkei Asia

Potential For Life On Planet Around Barnard’s Star

Barnard b (or GJ 699 b) is a recently discovered Super-Earth planet orbiting Barnard’s Star, making it the second nearest star system to the Earth. Although likely cold (-170 degrees centigrade), it could still have the potential to harbor primitive life if it has a large, hot iron/nickel core and enhanced geothermal activity.

That was a conclusion announced by Villanova University Astrophysicists Edward Guinan and Scott Engle at a January 10 press conference held at the 223rd meeting of the American Astronomy Society (AAS) in Seattle, WA.

The announcement was based on findings from a paper titled, “X-Ray, UV, Optical Irradiances and Age of Barnard’s Star’s New Super Earth Planet – ‘Can Life Find a Way’ on such a Cold Planet?”, co-authored by Guinan, Scott Engle and Ignasi Ribas, Director of the Institute of Space Studies of Catalonia (IEEC), and Institute of Space Sciences (ICE, CSIC).

Read more at: Spacedaily

N° 1–2019: Call For Media: Space Safety Conference And Media Briefing

Whether it’s tackling the challenge of space debris, ensuring a timely warning of space weather impacts or detecting and deflecting asteroids: Space Safety is an emerging field and will be included in the proposals of ESA Director General Jan Wörner for the next Ministerial Council, called ‘Space19+’, in November 2019.

Media representatives are invited to an in-depth background briefing on the topic with ESA’s leading Space Safety managers on Monday, 21 January, at ESA’s European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany. Journalists are also welcome to attend the opening panel as well as the technical sessions of the three-day international Near-Earth Object (NEO) and Debris Detection Conference held at ESOC, starting Tuesday, 22 January.

Read more at: ESA

Another Server Security Lapse At NASA Exposed Staff And Project Data

Two months ago, NASA quietly fixed a buggy internal server that was leaking sensitive information about the agency’s staff and their work.

The leaking server was — ironically — a bug-reporting server, running the popular Jira bug triaging and tracking software. In NASA’s case, the software wasn’t properly configured, allowing anyone to access the server without a password, Avinash Jain, an India-based security researcher who found the exposed server, told TechCrunch.

According to Jain’s writeup, some Jira instances can be misconfigured to allow “everyone” access without a password — including anyone on the internet — and not “everyone” within an organization, as some believe.

Read more at: Techcrunch

How Tall Do You Have To Be To Take Spacex’s Commercial Crew ‘Ride?’

SpaceX has come to be known for its irreverent streak when it comes to its spacecraft and rockets. A recent tweet made by Elon Musk suggests this behavior is likely to continue.

SpaceX is currently working to carry out its Demo Flight 1, the first (uncrewed) test flight of the California-based company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft as early as early February. A recent tweet by Elon Musk suggests that there could be an extra hurdle for crews selected to fly on SpaceX’s spacecraft will need to overcome – a height requirement.

Anyone familiar with amusement park rides likely have seen signs that inform guests as to how tall the must be to ride on their attractions. In another display of Musk’s sense of humor, he posted an image of the Crew Access Arm, connected to the Demo Flight 1 Crew Dragon – with just such a sign in front of it.

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

Space Tourism: a Message from the Cockpit

Hey, folks, good morning from the cockpit! This is your pilot, Captain John Strongbeck, speaking. I’d like to personally welcome you aboard this SpaceX tourism flight and share just a few important announcements before we fling ourselves into outer space for, well, pretty much no reason.

First off, sorry for the slight delay, but we’re going to be taxiing for a bit. We are ninth in line for departure behind six satellite launches, a satellite-repair mission, and a Red Bull stunt that involves sending a highly caffeinated horse into orbit.

Read more at: Newyorker

Special Aerospace Services Hosts 4th Biennial Human Spaceflight Exploration Forum

Special Aerospace Services (SAS) is pleased to once again host the exclusive 4th Biennial Human Spaceflight Exploration Forum, January 23-25, 2019, in Boulder, Colorado. Bringing together top government and industry insiders, this event features an elite discussion of current and future commercial space endeavors.

“With major shifts occurring in the aerospace industry, including the evolution of NASA exploration missions, Commercial Crew developments and the direction of National Security Space and the proposed Space Force, the timing of this event could not be more crucial,” said Heather Bulk, CEO and Co-Founder of SAS. “It is imperative for executives from established and startup companies, as well as the investor community, to gather and discuss the risks, rewards, and challenges in this ever-changing environment.”

Read more at: Globe newswire