Independent Body Proposed To Ensure Commercial Spaceflight Safety

The nonprofit International Association for the Advancement of Space Safety (IAASS) issued a new report in March calling for the establishment of an independent Space Safety Institute to speed development of commercial space flight safety standards and certification processes. 

The 60-page report, which the Noordwijk, Netherlands-based IAASS and its Houston-based sister nonprofit the International Space Safety Foundation sent to NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration, the U.S. General Accounting Office and several aerospace industry groups, said an independent body is needed to help the commercial spaceflight industry grow and gain public trust.

Read more at: Spacenews

FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation Reorganizing

The U.S. Department of Transportation, which already has an office devoted to commercial space transportation, is creating an Office of Spaceports as well as a new research enterprise focused on commercial space, safety and innovation, Secretary Elaine Chao said April 24.

The FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) has “performed well to date, but in order to prepare for the future it will be reconstituted under the leadership of Gen.[Wayne] Monteith to maximize the efficiencies of the new streamlined rule,” Chao said during a ceremony at NASA’s Kennedy Center in Florida.

Read more at: Aviation week

More Delays For NASA’s Test Of Orion Spacecraft’s Emergency System

A test of the emergency system on the spacecraft being built to take humans back to the moon has been delayed again — this time to allow for more testing at Cape Canaveral, Fla.

The Orion spacecraft program announced Thursday on Twitter that the test would not be conducted until July 2. Most recently, it was scheduled for early June.

Read more at: Houston chronicle

Safety Panel Emphatically Urges NASA Not To Skip Sls Green Run Test

NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) emphatically urged NASA today not to skip the Green Run test planned for the Space Launch System (SLS). NASA is considering that option in order to meet the Trump Administration’s recent directive to return astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024, four years earlier than NASA was planning.  The directive was issued just after Boeing notified NASA that the first SLS flight would slip from 2020 to 2021. NASA is trying to figure out how to get SLS back on track.

Boeing is the prime contractor for SLS, a rocket that in its final form will be able to launch as much as the Apollo-era Saturn V.  The initial version is less capable than that, but will be able to send the Orion capsule with a crew of four to lunar orbit.  The first SLS launch, Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), is an uncrewed test.  The date has slipped several times.  Most recently it was scheduled for no later than June 2020, but Boeing told NASA last month that it will be delayed into 2021.

Read more at: Spacepolicy online

Spacex’s Crew Dragon Fire Sent Hazardous Chemical Compounds Into The Environment

When a test fire of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule went up in smoke Saturday, the incident at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station puffed up a reddish plume that was seen for miles.

What few likely knew was just how toxic and potentially deadly that distant cloud could have been if winds had shifted onshore.

The special propellants for the Crew Dragon capsule – designed to carefully supply engine firings during liftoff anomalies and navigate the craft in space – are far more dangerous than those used for the typical launch. The hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide used Saturday are called hypergolic fluids, meaning they react violently when they come in contact with one another. They have been used in rockets and spacecraft for decades because they can be stored over a long period of time and still be reliable.

Read more at: Florida today

SpaceX Turned To Fast-Igniting Fuel For Its Capsule Escape System. That Could Be Part Of The Accident Probe

During the Apollo era, NASA astronauts relied on a rocket tower at the top of the capsule to pull them safely away in case of an emergency. If it wasn’t used, the tower was jettisoned after the Saturn V rocket had reached about 295,000 feet.

But when SpaceX and Boeing Co. set out to build a new capsule, NASA decided to maintain the escape function all the way to orbit. In SpaceX’s case, that means building thrusters into the sides of its Crew Dragon — a move that also simplifies the number of staging events. Those SuperDraco thrusters are powered by monomethylhydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide — propellants that, when combined, immediately ignite.

Read more at: LA Times

Crews Use Boeing Training Capsule To Practice Search, Rescue At Sea For 1st Time

Days after a SpaceX mishap sent smoke up into the air along Florida’s Space Coast, another commercial partner of NASA was working on plans to launch astronauts from U.S. soil again.

Boeing is still months away from its first uncrewed test flight to the International Space Station, but astronaut rescue training is underway should the need ever arise.

Channel 9’s Melonie Holt was at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Army Wharf on Tuesday to watch U.S. Air Force pararescue teams practiced reaching a capsule, stabilizing it and removing its crew members.

Read more at: WFTV

OPINION: Toxic Rocket Fuel A Hidden Hazard For Canso

Two foreign companies want to use an unproven type of rocket for space launches from Nova Scotia — with 10 tonnes of proven carcinogen on board. What could possibly go wrong?

Maritime Launch Services is a Canadian company, but only because it’s incorporated here. It’s a partnership between a Ukrainian state-owned company (Yuzhnoye) that builds rockets, and an American private company (United Paradyne) that specializes in “unconventional fuels.”

Maritime Launch Services was created for the sole purpose of using rockets built by Yuzhnoye, and fuelled by United Paradyne, to launch satellites into orbit from a site near Canso. The partner companies are proposing to develop and use a new type of rocket — the Cyclone-4M — that would combine elements of two existing, quite dissimilar rocket systems into a single two-stage launch vehicle.

Read more at: Chronicle herald

NASA, FEMA, International Partners Plan Asteroid Impact Exercise

While headlines routinely report on “close shaves” and “near-misses” when near-Earth objects (NEOs) such as asteroids or comets pass relatively close to Earth, the real work of preparing for the possibility of a NEO impact with Earth goes on mostly out of the public eye.

For more than 20 years, NASA and its international partners have been scanning the skies for NEOs, which are asteroids and comets that orbit the Sun and come within 30 million miles (50 million kilometers) of Earth’s orbit. International groups, such as NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO), the European Space Agency’s Space Situational Awareness-NEO Segment and the International Asteroid Warning Network (IAWN) have made better communication of the hazards posed by NEOs a top priority.

Read more at: JPL

Cluttering Up Space: U.S. Rocket Stage Explodes

A discarded upper stage from a rocket launched nearly a decade ago has fragmented, adding to ongoing growth of orbital debris encircling Earth.

The large Atlas V Centaur upper stage, for an as-yet-unknown reason, broke up between March 23 – March 25.

At a recent meeting of space debris specialists, Vladimir Agapov of Keldysh Institute of Applied Mathematics unveiled the fragmentation event of object 2009-047B, estimated to have taken place on March 25th.

Read more at: Leonard david

Stern To Chair Nasa Planetary Protection Review Board

Alan Stern will chair NASA’s new review board to take a fresh look at existing planetary protection guidelines and determine if changes should be made in light of advances in planetary science over the past several decades.  The NASA Advisory Council (NAC) called for such a review last year.  Stern’s board will make recommendations that flow through several other bodies on their way to the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR), which sets those guidelines for the international space community.

Planetary protection refers to protecting Earth and other solar system bodies from forward and back contamination as spacecraft are sent to or return from places that might harbor life.

Read more at: Spacepolicy online

SpaceX Seeks Approval for Radio Links to Satellites

Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. is asking regulators to approve radio links to spacecraft it plans to launch next month, a key step in the race to girdle the globe with thousands of low-orbit communications satellites.

An initial group of SpaceX satellites is to be launched in early May, and the company, in an April 5 application, is asking the Federal Communications Commission to allow six ground stations scattered around the U.S. to communicate with the spacecraft.

The stations can help control the satellites “in the unlikely event of a performance issue,” SpaceX said in the document that didn’t identify what problems might arise. The authority is needed because regular FCC licenses don’t authorize communications with low-orbit spacecraft before they reach their assigned positions, SpaceX said.

Read more at: Bloomberg

How To Tell If An Asteroid Is Going To Kill You

Take a moment to picture the apocalypse.

There’s a good chance your mind might have conjured up an image of an enormous asteroid barrelling down through the atmosphere, wreathed in fire, slamming into the earth and creating worldwide dust storms, heat, and general death.

This is a fairly accurate doomsday scenario – one that has happened before and will happen again. For over four billion years, the Earth has been constantly clobbered by asteroids and other objects zooming around the solar system. While the majority have burned up harmlessly in the atmosphere, others have smashed into the surface and caused global devastation.

Read more at: Cosmos

Debris of Satellite Destroyed by India May Threaten ISS – Russian MoD

When India tested its anti-satellite weapons, more than 100 fragments of destroyed spacecraft were created; in the future, these fragments could pose a threat to the ISS, the Russian Defence Ministry said.

“On 27 March, India successfully tested anti-satellite weapons, as a result of the destruction of the spacecraft, more than 100 fragments were formed in the altitude range from 100 to 1,000 kilometres, orbiting very close to the ISS, which may create threats in the near future,” senior assistant to the head of the department of the Main Space Intelligence Centre of the Russian Defence Ministry Roman Fatakhov said in a speech at a conference on space debris.

Read more at: Spacedaily

Crew Dragon Anomaly Not The Only Pacing Item For Commercial Crew Systems

Saturday’s anomaly during testing of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon abort system is not the only pacing item for getting the commercial crew systems ready for operational flights.  NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) stressed during a meeting today that despite the successful uncrewed test flight of SpaceX’s Demo-1 last month, both SpaceX and Boeing have a long way to go before their systems are ready for astronauts to climb aboard.  Separately, ASAP warned that NASA is taking too much risk with the aging spacesuits astronauts must use and next-generation suits are needed immediately.

According to ASAP, SpaceX is leading the investigation into the anomaly with “active NASA participation.” NASA and SpaceX have said little other than acknowledging that it happened and will not delay the upcoming launch of a cargo version of the spacecraft scheduled for next week, SpaceX CRS-17 (SpX-17).

Read more at: Spacepolicy online

Dream Chaser Progress Ahead Of CRS2 As SNC Keeps Crew Version Alive

Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser is quietly making progress towards her latest goal of carrying out resupply missions to the International Space Station (ISS), starting in 2021. The Cargo variant of the spaceplane – also sporting an updated “color” scheme – is now deep into construction ahead of flying on NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS2) missions.

The company also made a rare reference to the crew version of the vehicle, which continues to be an active program – if without any NASA missions – under a Space Act Agreement (SAA) with the agency.

Dream Chaser will be flying at least six missions to the ISS in the 2020s, following NASA’s contract award to SNC – along with SpaceX and Orbital ATK for the CRS2 missions.

Read more at: NASA Spaceflight

College Students Hatch Nuclear-Powered Magnetic Plan to Protect Marsonauts from Cosmic Rays

A group of undergrad students is developing a magnetic shield to defend interplanetary astronauts from the intense cosmic radiation between Earth and Mars.

The students, from Drake University in Iowa, presented their project in the poster session Saturday (April 13) at the April meeting of the American Physical Society. Their MISSFIT (Magneto-Ionization Spacecraft Shield for Interplanetary Travel) design uses a powerful magnetic shield that, like Earth’s magnetosphere, protects the planet from high-energy particles. The defense system also incorporates “passive” shielding to mimic the ionosphere — Earth’s second layer of defense.

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Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose

Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose – more formally known as the H-4 Hercules – was until 13 April this year the largest aircraft ever to have flown. Conceived as a WWII transatlantic troop carrier, the fighting had, mercifully, ended before the flying boat finally flew, for just a few seconds, in 1947. Retirement followed.

Today, the aircraft seems somewhat if not entirely ridiculous. A behemoth, outsized for the pre-jet era, it was by 1947 a solution to a problem that no longer existed. Its cost was as monumental as its vision, or folly: $23 million, nearly $300 million in today’s money, and much of it borne by the US taxpayer.

Read more at: Flight global

China’s Space Programs Have Come A Long Way

April 24 marks China’s Space Day. The country’s space industry has been developing for over half a century now.

Today, China has established a comprehensive space industry, which produces not only launch vehicles, satellites, spaceships and space stations, but also all the subsystems, equipments and components.

It now has four satellite launch centers on its mainland with the newest one situated in Wenchang, China’s southern Hainan province. It was from there that Long March-5, the largest launch vehicle ever built by China, which ranks among the top three in the world in terms of its capability, lifted off. Today, the Long March carrier rocket series has accomplished more than 300 launches.

Read more at: cgtn news

Dod IG: Air Force Secretary Questioned Ethics Of Shanahan’s 2018 Meeting With Elon Musk

A report released on Thursday by the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General reveals that on December 6, 2018, then Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan met with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told IG investigators she believed Shanahan should not have met with Musk because Shanahan, a former Boeing executive, was bound by an ethics agreement to recuse himself from any official business related to his former employer.

Wilson raised concerns that the meeting was improper because SpaceX and Boeing compete for Air Force launch services contracts. Boeing owns 50% of United Launch Alliance, Musk’s archrival since SpaceX entered the national security launch market in 2015.

Read more at: Spacenews

Congressional Panel Looks At National Security Implications Of China’s Space Ambitions

Are the United States and China inevitably headed to a war in space? That was the central question posed by members of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission at a hearing on Thursday on Capitol Hill.

In testimony, experts provided ample evidence of China’s space ambitions and cited the already well documented achievements of the Chinese space program. But while the professional consensus is that China is a rising space power with a growing arsenal of anti-satellite weapons, a future war in space is not a foregone conclusion, these experts argued.

Read more at: Spacenews

Air Force Leaders On Space Deterrence: ‘At Some Point, We’ve Got To Hit Back’

Deterrence was the watchword among U.S. Air Force leadership during last week’s Space Symposium, and officials stated in strong terms that the United States is prepared to enact a show of force to prove its ability to respond to threats in space.

“There may come a point where we demonstrate some capabilities so that our adversaries understand that they will not be able to deny us the use of space without consequences,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told reporters during a Wednesday roundtable.

“That capability needs to be one that’s understood by your adversary. They need to know that there are certain things we can do, at least at some broad level,” she said, adding that uncertainty was also a key component to deterrence. “How confident are they that they know everything we can do?”

Read more at: Defensenews

Feds: Worker Falsified Pollution Test Results At NASA Site

Federal authorities say an employee for a NASA contractor falsified pollution test results at a NASA facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

Court documents filed Monday identified the now ex-employee as Monica Borowicz. The contractor wasn’t named.

Borowicz had worked at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island. It’s home to research planes and a launch pad that sometimes sends unmanned cargo rockets to the International Space Station.

Read more at: wtop

Justice Department Reaches Deal With Company Implicated In Taurus Launch Failures

The Justice Department has reached a settlement with the company that provided faulty components that led to the failure of back-to-back Taurus launches for NASA.

In an April 23 statement, the Justice Department said it reached a plea agreement with Oregon-based Hydro Extrusion Portland, Inc., formerly known as Sapa Profiles Inc. (SPI), and its parent company, Hydro Extrusion USA, LLC, formerly known as Sapa Extrusions Inc. (SEI), over charges that they falsified test results for aluminum extrusions it manufactured for various customers, including the U.S. government.

Read more at: Spacenews

John Glenn’s 1962 Mercury Pilot Report

In the early days of the U.S. human spaceflight program there was a vigorous debate over how much work the first astronauts would do in space. President Dwight Eisenhower decided military test pilots would be the first Americans to rise above the atmosphere, but it wasn’t immediately apparent how valuable their skills would be in that airless realm.

Chimpanzees were the initial passengers in NASA’s Mercury capsule, and the proud pilots we know today as the Mercury Seven suffered at the comparison. Chuck Yeager, the granddaddy of test pilots in those days, called them “Spam in a can,” implying that they would be little more than potted meat.

Read more at: Aviation week