Months After Aborted Flight, U.S.-Russian Crew Makes Smooth Trip To Space Station

NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin finally made it to the International Space Station today, five months after their first trip went awry.

The two spacefliers were due to join the station’s crew last October, but as they were ascending from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, one of their Soyuz rocket’s side boosters knocked into the main core, causing a rare abort and activation of the Soyuz capsule’s escape system.

The capsule was thrown clear of the rocket, and Hague and Ovchinin made a safe but rather rocky ballistic landing. It took weeks to track down the cause of the anomaly — a bent sensor — and ensure that the anomaly wouldn’t reoccur.

Read more at: Geekwire

NASA Making Its Moon Mission Commercial Could Signal A Paradigm Shift For Deep-Space Travel

 is now mulling over the idea of using commercial rockets to launch a critical mission around the Moon next year instead of using the massive rocket that the agency has been building for the last decade. Such a drastic change would not only upend flight plans for this particular mission, but it could also have big implications on how ambitious space travel programs are conducted in the future.

The impetus for this new commercial focus is to maintain the agency’s launch schedule. NASA’s rocket, the Space Launch System, or SLS, is taking much longer to make than expected and probably won’t be ready to fly by its current target launch date of June 2020, whereas other commercial vehicles already on the market are ready to fly right now.

Read more at: Verge

NASA Boss Says It Again: We’re Committed To SLS

After taking steps to cancel its first big mission, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine is telling his employees and the aerospace business community that the space agency “is committed to building and flying” the new rocket being developed in Alabama.

Bridenstine told a congressional hearing Wednesday that NASA is studying the possibility of shifting the first of SLS’s early missions to commercial rockets because SLS won’t be ready when the agency planned to launch. That testimony before a Senate panel set off a social media sensation. SLS skeptics and fans of SpaceX and United Launch Alliance – the two commercial companies most likely to get the launches – leaped on social media sites to praise Bridenstine, as did SLS skeptics.

Read more at: Al

Dormant Viruses Activate During Spaceflight — NASA Investigates

Herpes viruses reactivate in more than half of crew aboard Space Shuttle and International Space Station missions, according to NASA research published in Frontiers in Microbiology. While only a small proportion develop symptoms, virus reactivation rates increase with spaceflight duration and could present a significant health risk on missions to Mars and beyond.

NASA’s rapid viral detection systems and ongoing treatment research are beginning to safeguard astronauts – and immunocompromised patients on Earth, too.

Read more at: Eurekalert

Despite Political Drama, NASA, Boeing Press On With SLS Core Stage Structural Loads Tests At Marshall

NASA and Space Launch System (SLS) Core Stage prime contractor Boeing are in the middle of a busy period of testing structural test articles (STA) at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

One team is busy running test cases on the intertank STA in a large, indoor test facility while another is preparing the liquid hydrogen (LH2) tank STA for its test runs in another large, but outdoor stand down the road.

The continued testing shows a program that has not been impacted by the uncertainty created by comments made by NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine over recent days, pointing to evaluations that dampen SLS’ viability for missions it had already been tasked with.

The latest potential change of plan was noted on Wednesday morning, per options to launch Exploration Mission -1 (EM-1)on two commercial Heavy Lift rockets.

Read more at: NASA Spaceflight

Lockheed Martin Assembling EM-2 Structures For NASA’s First Crewed Orion Flight

While final assembly continues on the Orion spacecraft that will make the program’s first solo flight, the major pieces of the next spacecraft are being assembled alongside for the first crewed mission. A crew of four is planned to take the spacecraft on a Lunar flyby during the Exploration Mission-2 (EM-2) test flight.

The Crew Module and Crew Module Adapter are still mostly structures, but Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin is working with NASA to assemble, integrate, and test the EM-2 elements in parallel with the final work being done with the Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) spacecraft that will fly uncrewed. Once the primary and secondary structure installations are complete, technicians will begin welding fluid system lines and then eventually installing other components, including the systems to support the crew during EM-2.

Read more at: NASA Spaceflight

The First All-Female Spacewalk Is Set for This Month

Two U.S. astronauts will make the first all-female spacewalk in history on March 29, if all goes to plan — a fitting end to Women’s History Month.

Anne McClain, who arrived at the International Space Station Dec. 3, will float into space with U.S. crewmate Christina Koch to work on “upgrades on the outside” of the station, McClain said in a televised conversation with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday (March 6).

McClain said that she and Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques have been preparing for the spacewalks for a few weeks while awaiting the arrival of Koch, U.S. astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin. The Expedition 59 trio are set to launch on “Pi Day” (March 14) at, believe it or not, 3:14 p.m. EDT (7:14 p.m. GMT).

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Arianegroup Says Ariane 6 Enters Crucial Development Phase As French Auditor Warns Against SpaceX

ArianeGroup says this year will be decisive for the Ariane 6 rocket as the program is close to having all its propulsion qualified, including a full upper stage test this December.

Despite this progress, France’s supreme audit institution Cour des comptes has released a report in which it says that the Ariane 6 launcher is “at risk of not being sustainably competitive regarding its American competitor SpaceX.”

The French agency CNES provides a major share of Ariane 6 funding, giving France a vested interest in the launcher’s long-term success. France’s state auditor worries in its report that the vehicle could represent “but a transitory response to the challenge” posed by SpaceX’s “rise in power.”

Read more at: Spacenews

China Returns From Spring Break With Zhongxing-6C Launch

After the long pause due to the Spring Festival, China resumed orbital launch operations with the launch of a new communications satellite by a Long March 3B. The Zhongxing-6C (or ChinaSat-6C) communication satellite was launched at 16:28 UTC Saturday from the LC3 Launch Complex of the Xichang Satellite Launch Center. The launch marked the 300th orbital launch of the Long March family of launch vehicles.

Originally scheduled to launch in September 2017, the Zhongxing-6C (ZX-6C) was developed by the Chinese Academy of Space Technology and is based on the DFH-4 satellite platform.

Read more at: NASA Spaceflight

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Detects Migrating Water on Moon

Up until the last decade, planetary scientists thought the Moon was arid, with any water existing mainly as pockets of ice in permanently shaded craters near the lunar poles.

More recently, they have identified surface water in sparse populations of molecules bound to the lunar soil (regolith). The amount and locations vary based on the time of day. This water is more common at higher latitudes and tends to hop around as the surface heats up.

Water molecules remain tightly bound to the regolith until surface temperatures peak near lunar noon. Then, they thermally desorb and can bounce to a nearby location that is cold enough for the molecule to stick or populate the Moon’s exosphere, until temperatures drop and the molecules return to the surface.

Read more at: sci-news

Ice Samples Reveal a Massive Sun Storm Hit Earth in Ancient Times…And It Could Happen Again

A gigantic solar storm hit Earth about 2,600 years ago, one about 10 times stronger than any solar storm recorded in the modern day, a new study finds.

These findings suggest that such explosions recur regularly in Earth’s history, and could wreak havoc if they were to hit now, given how dependent the world has become on electricity.

The sun can bombard Earth with explosions of highly energetic particles known as solar proton events. These “proton storms” can endanger people and electronics both in space and in the air.

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Testing Space Batteries to Destruction for Cleaner Skies

Engineers descended into bunkers to test space batteries to destruction – through overheating, overcharging, short circuits and even by shooting them with bullets. The three-year test campaign is helping assess the risk of abandoned satellites exploding in orbit due to catastrophic battery reactions.

Extreme ‘abuse’ testing of the current generation of lithium-ion batteries for space took place in the test bunkers of France’s Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission.

The aim was to develop guidelines to ensure batteries aboard satellites stay safely inactive after the end of a space mission, helping to avoid satellite breakups, a major source of space debris. “Of more than 250 known satellite explosions that have taken place in orbit, about 10 have been due to batteries,” explains ESA power systems engineer François Bausier, overseeing the project.

Read more at: ESA

Space Tourism Ready For Lift Off In Al Ain, Says UAE Space Agency Director

The UAE could provide the launch pad to finally get ambitious space tourism plans off the ground, the country’s space agency director said.

Mohammad Al Ahbabi, director of the UAE Space Agency, said the organisation is working with Virgin Galactic on a bid to operate tourist space flights from Al Ain International Airport in the coming years.

The announcement comes three months after a Virgin Galactic rocket blasted off into space, moving forward efforts to launch an eventual service for paying passengers.

Pilots Mark Stucky and C J Sturckow fired the rocket engine of their Unity spacecraft for 60 seconds, taking them to an altitude of more than 50 miles (80.5 kilometres). It marked the first manned flight into space from US soil since the end of Nasa’s shuttle missions.

Read more at: National

World View’s Return To Earth Shows The Dangers & Costs Of A Sucker’s Game

Remember those old videos of the early NASA test launches?

A Redstone rocket would shoot to the stars as a proud nation would watch the flames gush out the nozzles toward a grand national destiny. For a few majestic moments, we would prove to one and all that we finally had those no-good Commies a thing or two in the space race.

Then came a wobble …

Then a fire would flash where it shouldn’t …

Then the collective groan from government engineers as the rocket broke up tumbling skyward as hellish flames gobbled it whole.

Read more at: Tucson sentinel

The Flight Of Spacex’s Dragon And The Coming Age Of Commercial Spaceflight

When the SpaceX crewed Dragon — sans crew except for a test dummy named Ripley — lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center and then docked with the International Space Station, many hailed the mission as the start of a new age of commercial spaceflight. The pronouncements were a little premature. As of this writing, the Dragon still must undock from the ISS and then splashdown successfully, having returned to Earth. Then the SpaceX spacecraft must undergo a launch abort test. No earlier than July, the Dragon will fly again, this time with a crew of astronauts. Only after the successful completion of these tests will people ride to and from the ISS onboard Elon Musk’s modern, high-tech space capsule.

The Boeing Starliner will have to undergo the same test flights before it is qualified for regularly scheduled jaunts to and from low Earth orbit.

Read more at: Hill

What Lies Ahead for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program

The splashdown of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft this morning after a successful automated flight to the International Space Station (ISS) kicks off a busy period for NASA’s Commercial Crew program.

The first tasks for SpaceX and NASA will be to examine spacecraft and analyze data collected during the Demo 1 flight to see how well the vehicle performed and to address any problems that came up.

Earlier today, an agency officials said they saw nothing thus far to preclude flying astronauts aboard a Crew Dragon later this year. Before that can happen, Elon Musk’s company must complete three other milestones.

Read more at: Parabolic arc

Nuclear Rockets Could Open Up Solar System And Help Settle Space. And NASA Is Interested.

It’s the 21st century. Shouldn’t we have nuclear rockets by now?

Actually, we had them a long time ago. In the 1960s, the United States experimented with two types of nuclear rockets. One is now in the budget again, and I think the other should be.

The first type of nuclear rocket uses a nuclear reactor to heat a reaction mass — hydrogen, or even water — and expels it from a thrust chamber as fast-moving gas. (Chemical rockets, like we use today, depend on a chemical reaction — basically, a controlled chemical explosion — to produce the hot gas.) Back during the 1960s, we experimented with nuclear rockets of this type, known as “nuclear thermal rockets,” under projects  Rover and NERVA.

Read more at: USA Today

Moon Mining Could Actually Work, with the Right Approach

Earth’s moon taunts. A growing chorus of experts views this “eighth continent” as a nearby world of natural resources sitting there at the edge of Earth’s gravity well, ready for the picking.

Visionary zeal aside, clarity is step one. Wanted is the right combination of vision, gobs of moon moolah, make-it-happen technologies and the political willpower to unlock the moon’s wealth.

A recent report — “Commercial Lunar Propellant Architecture: A Collaborative Study of Lunar Propellant Production” — has cut to the chase, detailing what’s needed and what happens next. This appraisal by industry writers, NASA, lunar scientists and space lawyers focused on extracting water from the moon’s permanently shadowed regions for use as rocket fuel.

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UK’s Air-Breathing Rocket Engine Set For Key Tests

The UK project to develop a hypersonic engine that could take a plane from London to Sydney in about four hours is set for a key demonstration.

The Sabre engine is part jet, part rocket, and relies on a novel pre-cooler heat-exchanger technology. This pre-cooler system will begin a new phase of testing in the next month or so in Colorado, US.

Meanwhile, the core part of the engine has just gone through its preliminary design review. Signed off by experts at the European Space Agency, the review sets the stage for this central section of Sabre to begin its own demonstration campaign at Westcott Space Cluster in Buckinghamshire next year.

Read more at: BBC

Space Tech Poised to Make Air Travel Greener and More Efficient

Passengers travelling through busy airports should soon face fewer delays and have a lower environmental impact, thanks to efforts to use airspace more efficiently.

The Iris programme seeks to equip aircraft with satellite-based data communication links to help pilots and air traffic controllers to use the shortest and fastest routes, boosting productivity, saving fuel and reducing environmental pollution.

Funded by the European Space Agency in collaboration with Inmarsat, a global satellite communications company based in London, the system will be piloted on selected flights over the coming months and is scheduled to begin commercial service in 2021.

Read more at: ESA

Arianegroup, CNES Seek To Develop A Reusable 1st Stage Demonstrator

Increasingly fierce competition in the commercial space launch market has driven established launch providers to seek ways to become more flexible and innovative.

French aerospace company ArianeGroup and the French space agency CNES (Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales) signed a memorandum of understanding on Feb. 21, 2019, to create an acceleration platform dedicated to the development of future launch vehicles. The new platform is called ArianeWorks and is intended to spur innovation by bringing teams together under one roof and connecting them to Europe’s space ecosystem.

“ArianeWorks aims to accelerate the innovation process, in order to prepare for future developments of Ariane by involving new players and attracting new types of funding,” said ArianeGroup CEO Andre-Hubert Roussel. “It also gives us an opportunity to support the emergence of deep tech through access to dedicated funding, while accepting the risks involved in terms of investment and technological development.”

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

Solar Power Stations In Space Could Supply The World With Limitless Energy

While on the surface of the Earth, society still struggles to adopt solar energy solutions, many scientists maintain that giant, space-based solar farms could provide an environmentally-friendly answer to the world’s energy crisis.

Only last week, we reported that China was planning to build the world’s first solar power station to be positioned in Earth’s orbit. Because the sun always shines in space, an orbital solar power station is seen as an inexhaustible source of clean energy.

“Above the Earth, there’s no day and night cycle and no clouds or weather or anything else that might obstruct the sun’s ray, so a constant power source is available,” said Ali Hajimiri, professor of electrical engineering at the California Institute of Technology and co-director of the university’s Space Solar Power Project.

Read more at: Forbes

Toyota Drives Lunar Exploration with Manned, Pressurized Rover

This year, 2019, marks 50 years since Captain Armstrong of the Apollo 11 mission took mankind’s first steps on the surface of the moon. Now once again, a space exploration program with an international framework aiming for the moon and Mars is being actively discussed around the world. Japan is no exception. At an international space symposium in Tokyo this past week on March 12th, a large number of professionals from a variety of related industries and research institutions were in attendance to hear about and discuss the latest trends, movements, and approaches to the challenges that need to be overcome in space exploration.

Among the sessions, in the evening session entitled “Lunar surface activities by collective efforts across the nation”, an overview of a manned, pressurized rover that has been under discussion behind the scenes between the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Toyota was announced.

Read more at: Technology

Op-Ed | Protecting Low Earth Orbit From Becoming The New Wild West

Assuring national and economic security is an urgent responsibility, especially as low Earth orbit (LEO) is opening to many new players.

Private companies of all kinds are sending up payloads for research, technological, commercial and educational gains. Space tourists are lining up to buy tickets, entrepreneurs and high school students are putting up cubesats, and commercial satellites are providing everything from worldwide internet access to tracking a retailer’s fleet of trucks, or monitoring fishing and land development.

It’s the stuff of sci-fi—and economic — dreams. And it’s mostly a very good thing. The United States government actively supports space commercialization. At a U.S. Chamber of Commerce-sponsored Space Summit in December, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross suggested that with adequate support it could become a $1 trillion-plus industry worldwide within 10 to 15 years.

Read more at: Spacenews

Goddard Technologists and Scientists Prepare for a New Era of Human Exploration

NASA scientists, engineers, and technologists are preparing for a new era of human exploration at the Moon, which includes a new launch system, capsule, and lunar-orbiting outpost that will serve as the jumping-off point for human spaceflight deeper into the Solar System.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is playing a vital role in these initiatives, particularly in the areas of communications and instrument development as evidenced by the recent award of five proposals under NASA’s Development and Advancement of Lunar Instrumentation (DALI) to advance spacecraft-based instrument for use in lunar-landing missions.

Read more at: Technology

Gateway to the Moon

The International Space Station partners have endorsed plans to continue the development of the Gateway, an outpost around the Moon that will act as a base to support both robots and astronauts exploring the lunar surface.

The Multilateral Coordination Board, which oversees the management of the Space Station, stressed its common hope for the Gateway to open up a cost-effective and sustainable path to the Moon and beyond.

The announcement comes after several years of extensive study among space agencies who have developed a technically achievable design. The partnership includes European countries (represented by ESA), the United States (NASA), Russia (Roscosmos), Canada (CSA) and Japan (JAXA).

Read more at: ESA

Iran Is Mastering the Final Frontier

In mid-January and early February, Iran attempted two satellite launches intended for environmental monitoring purposes. The Payam (Message) and Doosti (Friendship) ascended aboard Iranian-made satellite launch vehicles (SLVs). Both launches failed to place the satellites into orbit. The United States nevertheless protested the space launches—mostly because the SLVs used the same base technology as multistage intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

In an anticipatory tweet on Jan. 3, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had warned that “The launch will advance [Iran’s] missile program. US, France, UK & Germany have already stated this is in defiance of [United Nations Security Council Resolution] 2231. We won’t stand by while the regime threatens international security.”

Read more at: Foreign policy

Russia’s New Hypersonic Nuclear Weapon

In December 2018, Russia tested a new hypersonic weapon designed to sneak under current U.S. ballistic missile defenses. The Avangard, a winged glider weapon boosted high into the atmosphere by a ballistic missile, descends on its target at speeds in excess of 6.7 km/sec.

This is 15,000 MPH, almost the speed of an orbiting satellite. According to Russian news sources, Avangard will enter Russian service this year. Check YouTube for footage of the test launch.

Russian President Putin announced this and other new nuclear weapons programs last year. This weapon included the “Poseidon” Nuclear Apocalypse Torpedo and the Burevestnik Nuclear-Powered Cruise Missile.

Read more at: Space daily

Radiation Detector Used on Space Station Can Help Sniff Out Forged Paintings

Technology developed at CERN and flown on the International Space Station is now at work helping art experts analyze paintings.

That technology is small, supersensitive radiation detectors that can count and study particles, which CERN developed to track particles at the Large Hadron Collider. On the space station, it manifested as Timepix detectors, used to gather data about how much radiation astronauts are exposed to during spaceflight.

But on Earth, it can be used to create specialized X-ray images of artwork that can help experts determine the authenticity of the picture by precisely analyzing where certain pigments have been applied.

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Starstruck—60 Years of NASA’s Dazzling Archives

The first thing you might notice about the breathtaking new volume from German publisher TASCHEN, The NASA Archives, is the weight of the book itself. The care required to extract the 12-pound tome from its glossy case hints you might be in for a daunting experience. The subject matter is just as heavy: the triumphs, tragedies and as-yet-unrealized dreams bound up in the 60-year history of America’s voyages into space, all told via stunning photos, illustrations and firsthand accounts.

Included are the iconic, beloved snapshots from the Apollo missions, and the spectacularly detailed cosmic vistas from the Hubble Space Telescope—but it is the more rarely seen photos, concept renderings, illustrations and stories of the men and women who made these missions possible that are truly captivating. The NASA Archives brings you behind the scenes with the engineers and crew on the ground as well as into the cockpit with the astronauts who braved the unknown.

Read more at: Scientific American

Flawed analysis, failed oversight: How Boeing, FAA certified the suspect 737 MAX flight control system

As Boeing hustled in 2015 to catch up to Airbus and certify its new 737 MAX, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) managers pushed the agency’s safety engineers to delegate safety assessments to Boeing itself, and to speedily approve the resulting analysis.

But the original safety analysis that Boeing delivered to the FAA for a new flight control system on the MAX — a report used to certify the plane as safe to fly — had several crucial flaws.

That flight control system, called MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System), is now under scrutiny after two crashes of the jet in less than five months resulted in Wednesday’s FAA order to ground the plane.

Read more at: Seattle times