Patti Grace Smith, Government Champion of Commercial Spaceflight, Dies at 68

Patti Grace Smith, a federal official who was credited with helping build the regulatory runway for the nascent commercial space transportation industry, opening space travel to private innovators, died June 5 at a hospital in Washington. She was 68.

The cause was pancreatic cancer, said her brother, Douglas Jones Jr.

From 1997 to 2008, Mrs. Smith was associate administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration overseeing the Office of Commercial Space Transportation, with authority over the licensing, regulation and support of the commercial spaceflight industry.

Read more at: Washington Post

Bridenstine Pleased by Progress on Space Policy Bill

Nearly two months after introducing a comprehensive space policy bill, U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) says he’s made good progress getting provisions of that bill included into defense authorization and other legislation.

Bridenstine, speaking at an American Bar Association space law conference here June 8, said he’ll continue to work to get additional provisions of the American Space Renaissance Act included in other legislation this year, including a defense spending bill and reauthorizations of the Federal Aviation Administration and NASA.

The bill, which Bridenstine unveiled April 12 at the 32nd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, runs more than 100 pages and features a broad collection of policy measures related to national security, civil and commercial space. He emphasized long before the bill’s introduction, though, that it was never his intent to pass the bill intact.

Read more at: Space News

When will China’s “Heavenly Palace” Space Lab Fall Back to Earth?

A Chinese space lab is bound to come back to Earth relatively soon, but when and where this happens is a matter of debate and speculation.

For example, some satellite trackers think China may have lost control of the uncrewed 8-ton (7.3 metric tons) vehicle, which is called Tiangong-1. That’s the view of Thomas Dorman, who has been documenting flyovers of the spacecraft using telescopes, binoculars, video and still cameras, a DVD recorder, a computer and other gear.

“If I am right, China will wait until the last minute to let the world know it has a problem with their space station,” Dorman told “It could be a real bad day if pieces of this came down in a populated area … but odds are, it will land in the ocean or in an unpopulated area,” added Dorman, an amateur satellite tracker who has been keeping tabs on Tiangong-1 from El Paso, Texas since the space lab’s September 2011 launch. “But remember—sometimes, the odds just do not work out, so this may bear watching.”

Read more at: Scientific American

Chinese Space Station ‘Out of Control’, will do Best Firework Impression

The Chinese space agency has apparently lost control of its Tiangong 1 mini-space station, which is expected to return to Earth as a fireball.

The Middle Kingdom’s state media reported in March that the space station’s systems had been shut down and the platform was officially retired. Now there’s word from the science community that the controllers no longer have command of its systems and won’t be able to bring it back down to earth in a controlled manner.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if that’s the case, there have been rumors about it on the mailing lists for months,” Jonathan Tate, director of the UK’s Spaceguard Centre, told The Reg.

“But, and I’m sorry to not be dramatic about this, there’s no real danger to us on Earth. The space station is quite small and almost all of it – apart from a few chunks – won’t make it to sea level. Even then, since 70 per cent of the planet’s surface is water, the chances of it causing injury are minute.”

Read more at: Register

NASA’s Room in Space has Expanded, but will it Prove Durable?

In April, astronauts attached an expandable room to the International Space Station, which they successfully inflated at the end of May. This week, NASA astronaut Jeff Williams entered the Bigelow Aerospace expandable module and said everything was fine. He subsequently installed some sensors to monitor air pressure, temperature, and other variables, as well as other hardware.

Finally, on Wednesday, Williams removed his tools from the module and closed the hatch. Astronauts will not reenter the 13-foot-long module now until August, when they will perform more checks of the equipment.

Why wait so long? Because as important as it was to demonstrate the module could be expanded, it is more important still to prove its durability over the two-year experiment. Engineers with Bigelow have said the expandable’s kevlar-like weave should be at least as protective as the station’s aluminum hull when it comes to tiny orbital debris. The company also says that with this material, the interior of the module should prove a quieter location than the notoriously noisy station interior. NASA is also interested in how the non-metallic shell of the module limits radiation exposure.

Read more at: Ars Technica

Here’s Why Congress Wants US to Return to the Moon

Members of the U.S. Congress are considering a return to the moon to test new technologies to be employed in future manned missions to Mars in the 2030s.

These members – Democrats and Republicans alike – are nudging NASA back to the moon as a step toward Mars, effectively zeroing out funding for the asteroid mission and encouraging the space agency to plan a lunar landing. The lunar exploration will serve to test capabilities required for the Mars expedition, including habitation modules and landing and ascent vehicles.

NASA has been keen on adopting an asteroid-then-Mars plan for human spaceflight. For those on the other side, though, the moon is a more economical path: lunar miners could tap into ice found at the lunar poles to offer hydrogen and oxygen propellants as spacecraft fuel.

Read more at: Techtimes

Op-Ed | Don’t Muddy the Message to Space Mining Companies

Last November, Congress passed the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (CSLCA) and, in doing so, sent a clear message to space entrepreneurs who plan to extract natural resources from asteroids and other celestial bodies: that they will be able to operate free from harmful interference and may assert ownership over any resources that they extract. Although actual asteroid mining may still be decades off, investors need this assurance now if they are to continue to fund the companies that are developing technology that will be a cornerstone of an expanded human presence in space.

However, the clarity of this message is in danger of being muddied by allegations from delegates of the UN’s Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) that the CSLCA violates international law. The most vociferous opposition to the legality of the CSLCA was voiced in statements by Brazil and Russia submitted during the February meeting of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee. They accused the U.S. of acting unilaterally with “total disrespect for international law order [sic]” in enacting legislation that contains “inconsistencies” with the Outer Space Treaty (OST), specifically the Article II prohibition of national appropriation.

Read more at: Space News

The Biggest Obstacle to Mars Colonization Maybe Obsolete Humans

Wherever you go, there you are–even if it happens to be Mars. That’s the gist of an essay recently published in the journal Space Policy. Colonizers of Mars may very well escape the grind of terrestrial life, but they likely won’t escape the darker sides of their own natures, the authors suggest. This could lead to all sorts of interpersonal strife, legal quandaries, political chaos, and even existential crises, all of which could doom a fledgling colonial community.

The authors, an interdisciplinary team from the University of Information, Technology and Management in Rzeszow, Poland, argue that attention needs to be given to the challenges that will undoubtedly arise in the “new Martian ecological niche.”

Read more at: Popsci

France Launches Massive Meteor-spotting Network

Scientists in France have launched an unprecedented campaign to catch shooting stars, an effort that will rely on thousands of volunteers to comb the ground for bits of space rock.

The programme already includes 68 cameras that scan the skies for meteors, which are seen when bits of asteroid, comet or other planetary material streak through Earth’s atmosphere. By the end of this year, some 100 cameras will blanket France, organizers say. That would make it one of the biggest and densest meteor-spotting networks in the world.

“If tomorrow a meteorite falls in France, we will be able to know where it comes from and roughly where it has landed,” says Jérémie Vaubaillon, an astronomer at the Paris Observatory and one of organizers of the system. Dubbed the Fireball Recovery and InterPlanetary Observation Network, or FRIPON, it was officially inaugurated on 28 May.a

Read more at: Nature

Orbit Logic Awarded Space Situational Awareness Contract

Orbit Logic has signed a Phase II SBIR contract sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) to research and implement software to optimize the scheduling of observations of known space objects and the search for unknown space objects from ground observation sites for improved Space Situational Awareness (SSA). Orbit Logic is teamed with the Colorado Center for Astrodynamics Research at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of Texas at Austin for this effort. Orbit Logic will be working closely with the AFRL team at the Maui Space Surveillance Site in the execution of this contract.

The work will leverage Orbit Logic’s existing scheduling software framework to rapidly prototype and compare new algorithms, refine figures-of-merit (FOM), and simulate and compare resulting observation schedules.

Read more at: Orbitlogic

SpaceX Plans to Reuse a Rocket for the First Time this Fall

Here we go again. At least, that’s the hope.

Today, Elon Musk tweeted out a picture of SpaceX’s used rockets hanging out in a giant hanger, itching to be re-used. There are now four lucky rockets that have landed successfully. According to the tweet, one of them might get that chance in September or October of this year.

We know that the rocket that gets to launch a second time won’t be the rocketthat SpaceX first successfully landed in December. As the first, it will likely be preserved for posterity. But the other three rockets are all contenders.

Read more at: Popsci

ESA’s Potential Space Garbage Collector Nets itself a Drone

ESA has provided a preview of its plan to net space debris by unveiling a prototype net gun designed to envelope and capture tumbling dead satellites. Wojtek Gołebiowski of Poland’s SKA Polska, which is developing the gun under a contract with the space agency, used a small version to target and take down a low-flying drone at the Industry Days event for ESA’s Clean Space initiative.

ESA says that because the net gun is designed to be used in zero gravity, the device was fired at low power, shooting out a net of multi-colored strands to aid camera tracking and computer models of how it behaves. The video of the demonstration shows the gun capturing the drone or knocking it out of the air at short range.

Read more at: Gizmag

Take a Look Inside the 1st Inflatable Space Room for Astronauts

Welcome to your new, inflatable room, astronauts!

Yesterday (June 6), astronauts on the International Space Station opened the hatch and entered the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) for the first time. This is the first expandable room to be occupied by astronauts in orbit, and new images provide a glimpse inside this futuristic, inflatable space habitat.

Astronaut Jeff Williams and cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka entered the habitat around 5 a.m. EDT (0900 GMT) yesterday. The module isn’t designed to host humans full time, so it appears mostly empty except for support hardware (like air tanks).

Read more at:

NASA Describes Out of this World Data Glitch that Almost Finished its Planet Hunter

NASA’s highly successful Kepler space telescope has had more than its share of near fatal experiences.

The latest happened in April when the spacecraft went into “Emergency Mode” which among other things allows for priority access to ground-based communications via NASA’s Deep Space Network. NASA noted at the time that the spacecraft is nearly 75 million miles from Earth, making the communication slow. Even at the speed of light, it takes 13 minutes for a signal to travel to the spacecraft and back.

The spacecraft has since returned to normal function.

Read more at: Networkworld

U.S. Set to Approve Moon Mission by Commercial Space Venture

U.S. officials appear poised to make history by approving the first private space mission to go beyond Earth’s orbit, according to people familiar with the details.

The government’s endorsement would eliminate the largest regulatory hurdle to plans by Moon Express, a relatively obscure space startup, to land a roughly 20-pound package of scientific hardware on the Moon sometime next year.

It also would provide the biggest federal boost yet for unmanned commercial space exploration and, potentially, the first in an array of for-profit ventures throughout the solar system.

Read more at: Wall Street Journal

Masten Unveils Two New Reusable Rockets

Rocket manufacturer Masten Space Systems unveiled two new reusable rockets today. Xodiac and XaeroB join their siblings Xaero, Xoie and Xombie in the Masten family.

The new unmanned rockets can take off and land vertically, can be reused in a short amount of time, and and hover in mid-air.

The approximately 15-foot rockets are a lot smaller than the reusable rockets that Blue Origin and SpaceX are launching, landing, and (in Blue Origin’s case) already reusing. They can’t travel as high or carry nearly as heavy of a payload, but they could prove to be useful for gathering science data in suborbital space.

Read more at: Popsci

India Slowly Becoming Space Exploration Powerhouse

On May 23, India successfully launched an unmanned mini prototype space shuttle called the Reusable Launch Vehicle-Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD), joining the world race to develop the first low-cost reusable spacecraft.

According to BBC India, the 22-foot (7m) scale model took off from Andhra Pradesh and was expected to fly about 43 miles into the atmosphere before coming down to Earth into the Bay of Bengal.

According to  Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) announcement, in this successful experimental mission, the HS9 solid rocket booster carrying RLV-TD lifted off from the First Launch Pad at Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota at 07:00hr IST.  After a successful flight of just over 90 seconds, burn out occurred, following which both HS9 and RLV-TD (mounted on its top,) coasted to a height of about 34 miles (56 km). At that height, RLV-TD separated from HS9 booster and further ascended to a height of about 40 miles (65km).

Read more at:

China’s Wants to Build its Own Hubble Class Space Telescope

Chinese authorities revealed a plan to launch an independent orbital observatory that will outperform NASA’s aging Hubble space telescope.

The observatory’s field of view will be 300 times as large as Hubble’s one. The telescope will be connected to a space station that will be launched in 2018, said Gu Yidong, a technology consultant for China’s manned space flight project and an academic at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Although it will be only 2 meters in diameter, the telescope will have an unprecedented observational depth and resolution, according to Gu.

Read more at: Space Daily

7 Facts About China’s New Long March 7 Space Rocket

At the end of June China will launch its first Long March 7 rocket, which is part of a new generation of launch vehicles designed to take China’s space program ambitions to the next level.

The new rockets, developed by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) under the China Aerospace Science And Technology Corporation (CASC), aim to provide increased reliability and adaptability, lower costs and preparation time, as well as allowing much heavier payloads to be put in orbit.

Read more at: Gbtimes

Canadian Becomes Chair of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is proud to announce that one of its former executives, Dr. David Kendall, has been appointed to chair the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UN COPUOS) for the next two years. This is the first time that a Canadian will chair the Committee.

Dr. Kendall has nearly 40 years of experience in the space sector. He joined the CSA upon its creation in 1989 and held various positions, beginning as a research scientist before becoming Director General of the Space Science directorate in 2004. Until 2014, Dr. Kendall was Senior Executive Advisor to the President. His knowledge and experience will be incredibly valuable as he takes on the role of Chair. He will continue to build upon the reputation that Canada has earned within the Committee through its leadership in key initiatives such as Global Health and Space Weather, as well as the mitigation of Space Debris.

Dr. Kendall’s educational experiences include a Bachelor of Science in Physics (Honours) from Swansea University (United Kingdom), as well as a Master of Science in Atmospheric Physics, and a PhD in Atmospheric Physics, both from University of Calgary. Dr. Kendall, who joined the Canadian delegation to COPUOS in 2008, has also been a longstanding faculty member of the International Space University.

Read more at: Govt of Canada

Highlights from the Senate’s Floor Debate on the RD-180

Senators took to their chamber’s floor June 9 to debate when United Launch Alliance should stop using Russian RD-180 rocket engines to launch national security satellites.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) made the case for allowing United Launch Alliance to continue to purchase RD-180 engines from Russia for its Atlas 5 rocket through 2022, arguing that an earlier cutoff would jeopardize national security. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) defended ending use of the RD-180 engine, criticizing ULA on the Senate floor and calling the issue “one of the most unsavory issues that I’ve been involved with” while in the Senate.

Read more at: Space News

Space is Crowded, Lockheed’s Head of Space Systems Knows How to Stay Ahead

“Space is no longer the sole domain of the U.S. Government and a couple of large countries,” Richard Ambrose told an audience full of journalists, policy wonks, and bureaucrats on Wednesday as part of the Atlantic Council’s annual Captains of Industry Series that took place in Washington D.C.

As executive vice president of Lockheed Martin’s Space Systems Division, Ambrose is in charge of making the craft that offers one of humankind’s best chances at putting a person on Mars, the Orion Spacecraft. Though the setting was dry, when Ambrose talks, the industry listens.

Over his 45-minute address, he mentioned the new players in the field, commercial players like SpaceX, and smaller countries like India’s famously cheaper-than-the-movie-Gravity Mars satellite.

Read more at: Inverse

Spectacular Space Station Spacewalks

Imagine venturing into the black wearing a spacesuit, separated from nothingness by a few layers of fabric and a sophisticated life-support system. Then imagine trying to getting a day’s work done!

It’s amazing that astronauts and cosmonauts have completed 193 spacewalks on the ISS since 1998, according to NASA. Here are just a few spectacular shots from recent spacewalks, as seen in this spectacular Flickr album by NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

Read more at: Seeker

Russia Plans to Send Crews to Moon Regularly Starting in 2025

Russia plans to send cosmonauts to the Moon on a regular basis as soon as 2025, the Roscosmos State Corporation has recently revealed. According to Russian authorities, the country could carry out one or two launches yearly of its crewed spacecraft called “Federation”—currently in development—in order to transport people to lunar orbit.

This ambitious plan envisages the Federation spacecraft orbiting the Moon as well as humans landing on the lunar surface. Moreover, the project includes sending cosmonauts on a trip beyond the Moon’s orbit to the so-called Lagrangian points.

The planned missions would be launched into space by Angara-A5P rockets. These 700-metric-ton boosters are currently being designed to launch Russian-crewed endeavors beyond Earth’s orbit. The Angara-A5P rocket would be a powerful launcher, capable of lifting up to 18 metric tons into low-Earth orbit (LEO).

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

Why the Deep Space Atomic Clock is Key for Future Space Exploration

We all intuitively understand the basics of time. Every day we count its passage and use it to schedule our lives. We also use time to navigate our way to the destinations that matter to us. In school we learned that speed and time will tell us how far we went in traveling from point A to point B; with a map we can pick the most efficient route – simple.

But what if point A is the Earth, and point B is Mars – is it still that simple? Conceptually, yes. But to actually do it we need better tools – much better tools.

At NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, I’m working to develop one of these tools: the Deep Space Atomic Clock, or DSAC for short. DSAC is a small atomic clock that could be used as part of a spacecraft navigation system. It will improve accuracy and enable new modes of navigation, such as unattended or autonomous.

Read more at: Space Daily

KickStarter Project KickSat Set for Trip to ISS Next Month to Test ‘Sprites’

The team that has posted a project called KickSat on crowd sourcing site KickStarter, has arranged to have the tiny satellite system sent to the International Space Station on July 6. KickSat is a satellite system where one small satellite deploys multiple other small satellites called “sprites” and then establishes a communications system. The initiative is part of a much larger plan to deploy similar systems to the far reaches of space faster and cheaper than can be done with conventional probes.

The deployment and testing of KickSat is seen as one of the baby steps for a much more ambitious project called the Breakthrough Starshot mission—partially funded by Yurie Milner and championed by Steven Hawking. The goal is to send tiny satellites to places as far flung as Alpha Centauri at a fifth the speed of light.

Read more at:

Airbus Defence and Space has Completed PerúSAT-1 in Less Than 24 Months

Airbus Defence and Space, the world’s second largest space company, has completed integration of PerúSAT-1, Peru’s first Earth observation satellite. It was built in less than 24 months. PerúSAT-1 was ordered by the Peruvian government for its national space agency, CONIDA, in 2014. PerúSAT-1, based on the highly flexible, compact AstroBus-S platform, will observe Earth via a revolutionary silicon carbide optical instrument system at 70 cm resolution.

PerúSAT-1 proves that a powerful and sophisticated Earth observation satellite can be built in less than two years. AIT (Assembly Integration and Test) of the instrument was completed in about eight months, with the platform construction phase, satellite construction, and technical and operational system validation taking only five months each, respectively.

Read more at: Airbus defence and space

Iran Negotiating with Italy for the Return of Mesbah Satellite

Iranian officials are in talks with Italy for the return of the Iranian Mesbah (Farsi for ‘Lantern’) satellite, according to the head of the Iranian Space Agency Mohsen Bahrami.

The Mesbah satellite was seized by Italy and Russia just prior to its scheduled launch in 2006, due to the imposition of the international sanctions regime in response to concerns about Iran’s nuclear programme.

Mesbah, a low-Earth orbit communications satellite, was cooperatively built by the Iran Telecommunications Research Centre (ITRC), Iranian Electronics Industry Organisation, the Iranian Research Organisation for Science and Technology (IROST), and the Iranian Institute of Applied Research, along with the Italian satellite manufacturer Carlo Gavazzi Space S.p.A.

Read more at: Spacewatchme

Delta IV Powerhouse Blasts off with Largest Spy Satellite in the World

America’s most powerful rocket blazed into the skies over Florida on Saturday, lifting the classified NROL-37 satellite for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office to join a fleet of signals intelligence satellites eavesdropping on foreign territories.

Towering flames erupted from the base of the Delta IV Heavy at 17:51 UTC followed moments later by the thundering blastoff of the 70-meter tall rocket lifted by three powerful engines. The 737-metric-ton Delta IV completed a brief vertical climb to swing to a south-easterly flight path, embarking on a multi-hour mission aiming for a direct injection into Geostationary Orbit

Read more at: Spaceflight 101

Cyber Attack on Satellite Could be Act of War: HPSCI Ranking

In a rare public event, the No. 2 member of the House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee (HPSCI), Rep. Adam, said a cyber attack on a US satellite could be considered an act of war.

While this may sound like common sense to some, the question of whether using cyber to interfere with or disable a military or intelligence satellite would constitute an act of war has been one of those questions like the old philosophic chestnut: “If a tree falls in the forest but nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Senior military and intelligence officials have been extremely careful in answering the cyber question, in part because determining the difference between an act of espionage and one that constitutes an attack can be challenging.

Read more at: Breaking Defense

How the Apollo Astronauts Guided Their Ships With a Brilliantly Simple Telescope

One of the most impressive aspects of the Apollo space program was how NASA worked around the limitations in computer power. The smartwatch on your wrist eclipses what the Apollo space craft’s computers were capable of, so NASA’s engineers often had to rely on clever ingenuity to solve difficult problems.

As engineer guy Bill Hammack explains, in order to properly align the Lunar Module’s guidance system (before GPS and other electronic aides existed) the Apollo astronauts relied on an Alignment Optical Telescope that used techniques devised by Archimedes to be simple, lightweight, but absolutely essential to getting to the moon and back again.

Read more at: Gizmodo

How Sexism Held Back Space Exploration

They were considered outsiders, both skilled in performing mathematical equations quickly, yet neither of them received a warm reception when they arrived at the laboratory. One was human and one a machine. But both Janez Lawson and the IBM she programmed were known as computers.

In 1952, Lawson had just completed her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles. The president of her sorority and a straight-A student from a prestigious university, everyone expected greatness from the 21-year-old African American woman. Yet as Lawson perused the job board on campus, there wasn’t a single engineering position open to someone of her race and sex, no matter her qualifications.

Read more at: Atlantic

A Brief History of Menstruating in Space

When NASA was preparing for Sally Ride’s first spaceflight in 1983, there was some question about what should go in her personal kit. Namely, engineers needed to figure out how many tampons she would need for a one-week mission. “Is 100 the right number?” they asked her. “No. That would not be the right number,” she replied. The engineers explained they wanted to be safe, and she assured them that they could cut that number in half without a problem.

After first allowing women into the astronaut corps in 1978, NASA really didn’t know what to do with them. Funny as questions over tampons and possible makeup kits in space seem in hindsight, it’s an interesting look at an agency’s rude awakening when faced with a whole new breed of astronauts.

Read more at: Popsci

‘Into the Black’: Book Recounts Untold Story of First Space Shuttle Flight

On April 12, 1981, NASA astronauts John Young and Bob Crippen climbed aboard the space shuttle Columbia for a mission unprecedented in human history. For the first time, a crewed spacecraft was going to be tested with humans aboard on its inaugural flight. And this wasn’t just any spacecraft — the enormous delta-wing orbiter was utterly unlike any of the capsules that humans had flown since Yuri Gagarin first flew to space exactly 20 years earlier.

The launch of Columbia appeared to go perfectly. But, after the astronauts opened the payload bay doors on orbit, they spotted missing protective thermal tiles at the aft end of the orbiter. The question was whether other tiles had been knocked off on the crucial underside of the ship. If they had been, the shuttle could burn up during re-entry.

Read more at: Foxnews

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