ULA Confirms Engine Issue on Latest Atlas Launch

The upper stage of the Atlas 5 that launched a Cygnus cargo spacecraft March 22 fired for more than a minute longer than planned, apparently to compensate for the premature shut down of the rocket’s first stage engine.

United Launch Alliance confirmed March 24 that the Centaur upper stage used on the launch of the Cygnus OA-6 mission burned for longer than scheduled, although the company did not provide a reason for the extended engine firing.

“The Centaur burned for longer than planned,” ULA spokeswoman Lyn Chassagne said in a statement provided to SpaceNews. “The team is evaluating the occurrence as part of the standard post-flight data analysis.” She later said that burn lasted about 60 seconds longer than planned.

Read more at: Space News

ExoMars Mission Narrowly Avoids Exploding Booster

On March 14, the ExoMars mission successfully lifted off on a 7-month journey to the planet Mars but not without a little surprise. The Breeze-M upper booster stage, designed to give the craft its final kick toward Mars, exploded shortly after parting from the probe. Thankfully, it wasn’t close enough to damage the spacecraft.

Michel Denis, ExoMars flight director at the European Space Operations, Center in Darmstadt, Germany, said that the two craft were many kilometers apart at the time of the breakup, so the explosion wouldn’t have posed a risk. Still, the mission team won’t be 100% certain until all the science instruments are completely checked over in the coming weeks.

Read more at: Universe Today

Planetary Defense to Avert Global Economic Crisis

The key challenges facing the world are: jobs and economic growth, climate change and energy, and global security. There is mounting urgency to address these challenges. Stagnating global economic growth is slowing job creation, while wars have swollen refugee numbers to levels not seen since World War II. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the World Bank all point to the urgent need for action to stabilize economies in turmoil. Threats posed by climate change can exacerbate rising international tensions in the near term and pose extreme challenges in the longer term.

Prospects for job growth in developing countries are grim, due in part to steep reductions in demand for commodities by China and other manufacturing countries. Stiglitz points to technological advances in agriculture as a cause of the Depression, with implications for action now. Advances in robotics and AI, which could eliminate 85 percent of job opportunities for developing countries, point to prospects no less challenging than the Depression. Stiglitz also points to dysfunction in the financial system as a contributor to economic malaise. But fixing the financial system will not address the underlying challenge. The OECD speaks of the urgent need for job-creating stimuli.

Read more at: Space Review

Why NASA is Playing With Fire in Space

It should be obvious that fire on board a spacecraft is extremely dangerous. For one, it’s a hermetically sealed environment that can rapidly fill with noxious smoke. If anyone’s hurt or if the spacecraft’s life support systems are damaged, getting help will be difficult. And consider that fire in microgravity doesn’t behave like fire does on Earth.

For all these reasons, spacecrafts are designed to minimize fire hazards, and experiments with fire in orbit have been limited. NASA has only experimented with small fires, not burning anything bigger than 4 inches in length and width. But the downside of these precautions is the space agency has little actual experience with fire in weightlessness, and that’s limiting the design and testing of safety systems used for fire protection.

To remedy this situation, NASA will light a fire inside a cargo capsule that will dock at the International Space Station (ISS).

Read more at: MNN

Challenger Engineer Who Warned Of Shuttle Disaster Dies

Bob Ebeling spent a third of his life consumed with guilt about the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. But at the end of his life, his family says, he was finally able to find peace.

“It was as if he got permission from the world,” says his daughter Leslie Ebeling Serna. “He was able to let that part of his life go.” Ebeling died Monday at age 89 in Brigham City, Utah, after a long illness, according to his daughter Kathy Ebeling.

Hundreds of NPR readers and listeners helped Ebeling overcome persistent guilt in the weeks before his death. They sent supportive emails and lettersafter our January story marking the 30th anniversary of the Challenger tragedy.

Ebeling was one of five booster rocket engineers at NASA contractor Morton Thiokol who tried to stop the 1986 Challenger launch.

Read more at: NPR

“Mini” Space Fence Prepares Engineers, Airmen for Orbital Debris Monitoring

Off a busy suburban street near Philadelphia – and within sight of a popular shopping center – testing is underway for a system that will monitor hundreds of thousands of pieces of junk orbiting the Earth and threatening active satellites and the International Space Station.

The U.S. Air Force’s Space Fence marked a major accomplishment Jan. 30, 2016, after a scaled-down version of the end-item system recorded its first track of a satellite.

“First track is major milestone for us and represents that we have a functioning radar,” says Bruce Schafhauser, Space Fence Program Director for Lockheed Martin. “It’s the first time the end-to-end radar loop is closed and we track real objects in space. The first track and the new test facility means we are one step closer to delivering a dramatic tenfold improvement in space situational awareness and orbital monitoring capability.”

It’s a critical mission. The space station crew has conducted at least 25 avoidance maneuvers to avoid space junk. Space junk traveling at speeds of nearly eight miles per second passed the station four times in 2015.

Read more at: Lockheed Martin

SpaceX Loads Inflatable Habitat for Launch to the Space Station

Putting balloons in outer space may not seem like the best idea on the surface, but it’s exactly what’s about to happen. On April 8, SpaceX is scheduled to launch its uncrewed Dragon cargo capsule to the International Space Station, and among the various supplies in tow will be an inflatable space habitat called the BEAM designed by Bigelow Aerospace.

Once up in orbit, the BEAM habitat will be attached to the space station and inflated with oxygen and expand from its 8-feet wide packed form into a new room with 565 cubic feet of volume. The idea is to be able to send structures like this up that take up less space during the flight, but which can expand to a useful size when in orbit, saving costs.

Read more at: Popsci

An Animated Overview of the Space Station’s New Inflatable Habitat

A joint project between NASA and the startup company Bigelow Aerospace, BEAM aims to test ride inflatable modules, in the hopes of eventually developing them as a platform for human deep space exploration, or ground shelters on missions to the Moon or Mars. Expandable habitats are lightweight and easy to store, which distinguish them as promising candidates for future astronaut digs.

But before we start buying timeshares for inflatable space houses, mission leads need to work out the kinks in the basic concept with BEAM. The plan for the upcoming deployment of the habitat is laid out in this short NASA animation, released Thursday morning.

Read more at: Motherboard vice

Rocket Lab Plans to Begin Launches Mid-year

Rocket Lab, the U.S.-New Zealand company developing the Electron small launch vehicle, now plans to begin launches in the middle of this year after completing qualification tests of the vehicle’s main engine.

The company announced March 22 that it has completed qualification tests of the Rutherford engine, allowing it to be used in flights of the Electron vehicle. A video released by the company showed the engine firing on a test stand for more than two and a half minutes.

The first launch is planned for the middle of this year, company spokeswoman Catherine Moreau-Hammond said March 23, with the overall flight test program running through the second half of the year. Those launches are planned from a site the company is developing on New Zealand’s North Island.

Read more at: Space News

Reviewers Approve Early Design Work on New Vulcan Rocket

Work to create a new all-American rocket, the United Launch Alliance Vulcan-Centaur, has passed its first major hurdle for its first flight in three years, officials announced Thursday.

The Preliminary Design Review for the next-generation vehicle was recently completed and verified that the rocket will satisfy the criteria for the diverse military, civil and commercial missions it will launch.

“The completion of the Vulcan Centaur rocket’s PDR is the first of several major and very exciting milestones in the launch vehicle’s development,” said Tory Bruno, ULA president and chief executive officer. “We have a strong path to get to a 2019 flight test of this new, highly-capable American launch vehicle.”

The rocket as currently designed will be powered by a pair of BE-4 liquefied natural gas main engines, made by Blue Origin, for 1.1 million pounds of thrust.

Read more at: Spaceflight Now

Space Coast will Bid on Rocket Production Facility, if Time Comes

Florida’s Space Coast would like to make a pitch to bring a new Blue Origin rocket engine production facility to Central Florida if the company’s billionaire owner, Jeff Bezos, opens up bidding.

Space Florida, an economic development group for the space industry in Florida, would spearhead the effort. Dale Ketcham, the group’s chief of strategic alliances, said Florida would likely have to compete with states such as Georgia, North Carolina and Alabama to land the deal, but it would mean more lucrative jobs.

Blue Origin hasn’t announced an official location for the facility, which would manufacture the company’s new BE-4 engine. Blue Origin announced a partnership with United Launch Alliance in September to build the BE-4 for ULA’s Vulcan spacecraft.

Read more at: Orlando Sentinel

A Look Inside Blue Origin

Welcome to Blue Origin.

Earlier this month, the company, known for years for its secrecy, opened its doors to a handful of reporters for the first time. The purpose was not to show off the company’s collection of space and sci-fi artifacts—though that was a nice bonus—but instead to demonstrate its capabilities as the company’s suborbital and orbital programs gain momentum.

“I’ve always said space is really easy to overhype,” said company founder Jeff Bezos, who participated in the tour. “I’ve always said the same thing, which is we’ll talk about Blue when we have something to talk about.”

Read more at: Space Review

Affordable Hypersonic Jets Could Be High-Flying Reality by 2023

Hypersonic aircraft and weapons that can fly more than five times the speed of sound may seem like a futuristic fantasy, but defense giant Lockheed Martin says it is committed to making these ultrafast innovations a reality.

In fact, Lockheed Martin is doubling down on hypersonic aerospace technologies, Lockheed officials said recently at the company’s Media Day.

“Lockheed Martin continues to invest in propulsion technologies and advanced materials needed for hypersonic speeds,” Marillyn A. Hewson, Lockheed Martin president and CEO, said in a statement on March 15. “We’re now producing a controllable, low-drag, aerodynamic configuration capable of stable operation from takeoff, to subsonic, transonic, supersonic and hypersonic to Mach 6.”

Read more at: Live Science

Permanent Mars colony is ‘Long Way Down the Road,’ NASA Says

The first NASA astronauts to set foot on Mars will aim to establish a research-and-operations base, not a permanently inhabited colony, agency officials say.

According to NASA’s current plans, the Mars outpost — which NASA hopes to set up by the end of the 2030s — will serve as a hub that accommodates astronauts on a temporary basis, said Ben Bussey, the chief exploration scientist in NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate.

A colony is “a long way down the road. No one’s thinking of, on the NASA side, like a permanent human base,” Bussey said Wednesday (March 16) during a presentation with the space agency’s Future In-Space Operations (FISO) working group.

Read more at: Fox News

Moonbase by 2022 for $10 Billion Says NASA

Returning to the Moon has been the fevered dream of many scientists and astronauts. Ever since the Apollo Program culminated with the first astronauts setting foot on the Moon on July 20th, 1969, we have been looking for ways to go back to the Moon… and to stay there. In that time, multiple proposals have been drafted and considered. But in every case, these plans failed, despite the brave words and bold pledges made.

However, in a workshop that took place in August of 2014, representatives from NASA met with Harvard geneticist George Church, Peter Diamandis from the X Prize Foundation and other parties invested in space exploration to discuss low-cost options for returning to the Moon. The papers, which were recently made available in a special issue of New Space, describe how a settlement could be built on the Moon by 2022, and for the comparatively low cost of $10 billion.

Read more at: Universe Today

China Likely to Beat NASA Back to the Moon

Chinese taikonauts will likely beat NASA astronauts back to the lunar surface in as little as five to ten years, longtime lunar scientist and geologist Paul Spudis now tells me. If so, that will happen primarily by default, as the lunar surface continues to drop off NASA’s crewed destination radar.

Of course, that doesn’t preclude Russia, the European Space Agency (ESA), or numerous commercial space ventures — who have all expressed a desire to return astronauts to the lunar surface — from getting there sooner. But for now, Spudis thinks the Chinese are most likely to next make it happen.

Read more at: Forbes

UAE’s Mars Mission to be Launched From Japan

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced on Tuesday, March 22, that its first Mars probe will be launched from the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan. A deal detailing this cooperation was signed by UAE’s Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) company. According to the agreement, the mission is scheduled for flight in July or August of 2020 atop MHI’s H-IIA launch vehicle.

The signing ceremony that took place in Abu Dhabi was attended by Kanji Fujiki, Ambassador of Japan to the UAE, in the presence of Khalifa Al Romaithi, Chairman of the UAE Space Agency, and Hamad Obaid Al Mansouri, Chairman of MBRSC. The deal to launch the ‘Hope’ spacecraft by MHI is a part of a broader cooperation arrangement also signed by Al Romaithi and Naoki Okumura, President of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). This agreement regards cooperation in space activities and the use of outer space for peaceful purposes.

“The Emirates Mars Mission is the result of years of hard work in developing scientific and technical expertise in the field of space sciences. Many countries paved the way in this field, including Japan, which enjoys considerable experience in the exploration of outer space,” Al Mansouri said.

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

ESA Appoints New Director of Launchers

At a meeting of the ESA Council held in Paris in restricted session on 16 March 2016, the appointment of Mr Daniel Neuenschwander as ESA Director of Launchers was announced.

Mr Neuenschwander  is currently Head of the Swiss Space Office and Swiss Delegation to ESA, as well as Chairman of the Programme Board Launchers (PB-LAU). He also serves as Deputy of the Swiss State Secretary for Space Affairs, including for the ESA Co-Presidency at Ministerial level.

Read more at: Parabolic arc

Wanted: Female German Astronauts

Is outer space a man’s domain? You might think so in Germany, where the country’s 11 astronauts have all been men. They also dominate mission control at the German Space Operations Center, although Katja Leuoth is helping to change that.

Five years ago, Leuoth became the center’s first female flight director. Recently, a second woman was hired, she says. They and 10 male colleagues run the European portion of the International Space Station 24/7 from the compound in the small Bavarian town of Oberpfaffenhofen.

It’s a challenging job, but what Leuoth really wants is to be inside the module as it floats around Earth, especially when she talks to the astronauts.

Read more at: NPR

Near the Boundaries of Space: Stratospheric Balloons

We have all seen children releasing a helium balloon only to realise they cannot retrieve it as it rises beyond reach into the sky…

Scientific stratospheric balloons can rise up some 50km on the same principle, using helium, too. Since helium is seven times lighter than air, a balloon filled with this gas rises as long as its container is not too heavy, as explained by Archimedes’ principle.

The higher the altitude, the lower the density of air: this explains why stratospheric balloons — which reach the part of the atmosphere known as stratosphere, as the name implies — culminate some 50km above sea level. The largest balloons can lift up to 3 metric tons of equipment! Although they don’t actually reach Space — which begins officially at 100km — they can conduct experiments in conditions similar to those that exist in orbit, minus certain difficulties.

Read more at: espace

Never Walk in Space Without a Spacesuit, Cosmonauts Warn

When answering users’ questions posted on the US Embassy’s Facebook page, Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko and US astronaut Scott Kelly strongly advised to always wear a spacesuit during a spacewalk.

Due to the astronauts’ tight schedule many questions went unanswered. Including the one about any “sanctioned” foods being consumed on the ISS and when photographs made on the space outpost were scheduled to go on display.

The landing capsule of the Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft, carrying three crew members of the International Space Station, landed in Kazakhstan on March 2.

Read more at: Sputnik News

Mercury Spacecraft Departs Cosmosphere for Three-year Exhibit in Indiana

Liberty Bell 7, the historic NASA capsule that launched the second American to space, is leaving its museum home for the home state of its astronaut pilot.

The Mercury spacecraft, which was flown by Indiana-born Virgil “Gus” Grissom in July 1961, has departed its display at the Cosmosphere in Kansas for a three-year loan to The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. There, it will be part of an “immersive space object experience” set for debut this summer.

The new Schaefer Planetarium & Space Object Theater at The Children’s Museum will initially showcase Liberty Bell 7 in a “dynamic light-and-sound presentation” that, along with other real space vehicles and equipment, will help tell stories of missions, astronauts and events throughout the history of space exploration

Read more at: Collectspace

Reentry Breakup Recorder with Wireless Sensors (REBR-W)

When aging satellites or space stations succumb to atmospheric drag and gravity and fall back down to Earth, passage through the denser atmosphere breaks them up into several pieces that can be hazardous to life on the ground. The Reentry Breakup Recorder with Wireless Sensors (REBR-W) tests a device that can ride along inside a vehicle re-entering Earth’s atmosphere to record data about when and how the craft breaks apart in the atmosphere. This information can be used for reentry hazard prediction studies, reducing risks, and improving planning for spacecraft that eventually must deorbit.

Read more at: NASA

A New-structure Magnetic Memory Device Developed

The research group of Professor Hideo Ohno and Associate Professor Shunsuke Fukami of Tohoku University has developed a new-structure magnetic memory device utilizing spin-orbit- torque-induced magnetization switching.

For these two decades, much effort has been devoted to the development of magnetic random access memories (MRAMs), which store information as the magnetization direction of a magnet. Since the magnetization can, be in general, be reversed at high speed unlimitedly, the MRAMs are regarded as a promising replacement for currently-used semiconductor-based working memories such as static random access memories (SRAMs) and dynamic random access memories (DRAMs), which are now facing several serious issues.

Read more at: Space Daily

Russian, US Researchers Find New Catalyst Improving Efficiency of Hydrogen Fuel Producing

Skoltech Institute of Science and Technology, University of Texas at Austin, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientists have report discovery of a new catalyst that significantly improves the efficiency of water electrolysis in alkaline conditions. The electrolysis of water to oxygen and hydrogen is a reaction that is crucial to enabling emerging renewable energy technologies for the production of hydrogen. Their results were recently published in the journal Nature Communications.

“Although more work needs to be done to further increase the performance of water electrolysis catalysts, the work provides a deeper mechanistic understanding of the chemistry of active catalysts. The work also clarifies materials design strategies to accelerate the discovery of additional Earth abundant non-precious metal oxide catalysts”, says the press release.

Read more at: TASS

DoD IG Opens Investigation into Ex-ULA Exec Comments

At the request of Defense Secretary Ash Carter, the Pentagon’s Inspector General has opened an investigation into controversial statements by a top United Launch Alliance executive accusing Sen. John McCain of working with their competition to ban the use of a Russian rocket engine for military space launch.

“At the request of the Secretary of Defense, the OIG DoD has opened an investigation regarding assertions made by United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) former Vice-President of Engineering relating to competition for national security space launch and whether contracts to ULA were awarded in accordance with DoD and Federal regulations,” according to a March 22 DoD IG memo to the Air Force secretary. “This investigation will include, but is not limited to, site visits, interviews, and documentation review with DoD and ULA personnel.”

Read more at: Defense News

N. Korean Leader Claims Solid-fuel Rocket Success

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has claimed an “historic” advance in the country’s nuclear strike capability with the successful test of a solid-fuel rocket engine, state media said Thursday.

The announcement came as South Korean President Park Geun-Hye ordered the military to “strengthen readiness” in the wake of multiple North Korean threats to launch nuclear and conventional missile attacks.

Tensions have been soaring on the divided Korean peninsula since the North carried out its fourth nuclear test on January 6, followed a month later by a long-range rocket launch that was widely seen as a disguised ballistic missile test.

Read  more at: Space Daily

Boom: A Plane Faster Than Concorde With Fares a Quarter of the Price?

Colorado startup wants to build supersonic passenger planes faster than Concorde but with fares a quarter of the price — and Virgin Galactic has just got on board.

The Boom airplane would travel at Mach 2.2 — more than twice the speed of sound and 2.6 times faster than any other airliner — and fly from New York to London in 3.4 hours. That’s San Francisco to Tokyo in 4.7 hours or Los Angeles to Sydney in six. That transatlantic trip cuts the standard seven-hour journey by more than half.

With a round-trip price tag of $5,000 it’s not exactly “affordable” travel, but for the world’s business elite, it’s a steal.

Read more at: CNN

Nigeria Plans Sending Astronaut to Space in 2030

Nigeria is dreaming big on space exploration as it announced that it will send its first astronaut in 2030.

The Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu said this in Abuja  when the management team of the Defence Space Agency, led by the Director-General, Air Vice Marshal Victor Udoh, visited him. The minister said the Federal Government was putting all the structures on ground to ensure that Nigerian astronauts land in space on or before 2030. “The space programme is very important for a country like Nigeria.

“The ministry will work very hard in the years ahead to strengthen all the structures of the agencies that will help us to ensure that the nation plays a role in the space’’, he said. He said the ministry would intensify efforts to ensure that all the arrangements needed were provided.

According to him, the space “is a major asset which nations like Nigeria must also be involved in for the purposes of protecting national interest.”

Read more at: News Nigeria

Will Our Next President Commit to American Leadership in Space?

In the presidential primary campaign, Florida voters heard a lot of locker-room insults and discussions of petty controversies. Unfortunately, Floridians heard relatively little about the issues that really matter to our state. Now, as the apparent nominees emerge from pack, we deserve more of an explanation of where the presidential candidates stand on NASA and their commitment to adequately funding the next generation of space exploration.

Space carries a special historical resonance and economic importance in our state. When Alan Shepard lifted off to become the first American in space, he launched from Cape Canaveral. Neil Armstrong’s “giant leap for mankind” really started when he took off from Kennedy Space Center. And today, the space industry employs more than 30,000 Floridians at 500 companies.

Read more at: Tampabay

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