Crew Back to Work After Orbital Debris Precautions

The Expedition 44 crew is back at work after taking precautions as a piece of orbital debris safely passed the International Space Station this morning. Meanwhile, three new crew members are conducting final preparations before next week’s launch to the orbital laboratory. Mission Control in Houston tracked a fragment of an old weather satellite and predicted a possible conjunction with the station at 8:01 a.m. EDT. Flight Director Ed Van Cise then ordered Commander Gennady Padalka and One-Year crew members Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko to take shelter in their docked Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft as a precaution. After a safe pass, the crew then went back to work resuming normal station operations. Back on Earth, three new Expedition 44 crew members from the U.S., Russia and Japan are counting down to their July 22 launch aboard the Soyuz TMA-17M spacecraft. The trio consisting of Soyuz Commander Oleg Kononenko and Flight Engineers Kjell Lindgren and Kimiya Yui are at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for final prelaunch activities while engineers inspect their Soyuz vehicle before next week’s roll out to the launch pad.

Read more at: NASA

NanoRacks And Blue Origin Team To Fly Suborbital Research Payloads

NanoRacks, the Houston-based company that provides commercial payload accommodations on the International Space Station, announced July 16 it will provide similar services on suborbital flights by Blue Origin starting as soon as next year. NanoRacks said it is teaming with Blue Origin to provide standardized payload accommodations for experiments flying on Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital vehicle. The company will provide services including payload design and development, safety approvals, and integration. Jeff Manber, managing director of NanoRacks, said in an interview during the NewSpace 2015 conference here that the agreement for suborbital payload services is a “logical” step for the company by providing a capability less advanced than the ISS. “We can offer our clients and newcomers to the industry something less of a Mount Everest to climb,” he said.

Read more at: SpaceNews

Hillary Clinton: “I Really, Really Do Support the Space Program”

Hillary Clinton became the second of the 2016 presidential candidates to offer strong support for the space program.  Speaking at a town hall meeting in Dover, NH, today she explained not only why she supports investing in space exploration, including the need to track asteroids, but repeated the story of her desire to become an astronaut when she was a teenager. Clinton responded to a question about her views on the space program — which began with a shout out from the questioner for the New Horizons mission to Pluto — by saying “I really, really do support the space program.” She recounted the story of how she wrote to NASA when she was about 14 asking what she needed to do to become an astronaut.  NASA replied that they did not accept applications from girls.  After lauding the fact that that changed as demonstrated by Sally Ride and other woman astronauts, Clinton said she clearly would not have qualified anyway and has not lost any sleep over it. She continued to talk for several minutes about the need for the government to invest in the space program along with other science and technology activities for many reasons, including economic benefits and discovery.   She also mentioned security and in that vein noted in particular the need to track asteroids. “I think [the space program] is a good investment, so on my list of things that I want our country to invest in, in terms of research and innovation and …. basic science, exploring space, exploring our oceans, exploring our genome.  We’re at the brink of all kinds of new information.  Let’s not back off now!” The questioner had asked if the time has come for space activities to be done by corporations instead of the government.  Clinton said she has nothing against partnering with corporations, but “they are more in the applied science arena,  not in the discovery and research arena that I think only the government can support.”

Read more at: Space Policy Online

Should We Build A Village On the Moon?

Professor Johann-Dietrich Woerner has been in his new job as Director General of the European Space Agency (ESA) for a week. In charge of a €4.4 billion annual budget, the former Chair of the German space agency is ultimately responsible for everything at ESA. Europe’s new observation, weather, communication and navigation satellites; astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS); missions to Mars, Mercury and Jupiter; and a sleepy lander on a duck-shaped comet all come under his remit. When I ask him about his intentions for ESA, I expect a predictable and politically nuanced answer about the economic and social benefits of space or maybe the importance for science of exploring the unknown Universe. Instead, Woerner surprises me with a vision for a future of space exploration that is both ambitious and audacious. “We should look to the future beyond the International Space Station,” he tells me. “We should look for a smaller spacecraft in low-Earth orbit for microgravity research and I propose a Moon village on the far side of the Moon.” Just the sort of daring vision that took NASA from a standing start to the Moon in the 1960s, but today – possibly constrained by its political masters – the US space agency appears to be lacking ambition. “A Moon village shouldn’t just mean some houses, a church and a town hall,” says Woerner. “This Moon village should mean partners from all over the world contributing to this community with robotic and astronaut missions and support communication satellites.” There are good reasons, he says, for going back to the Moon for science as well as using it a stepping-stone to further human exploration of the Solar System. “The far side of the Moon is very interesting because we could have telescopes looking deep into the Universe, we could do lunar science on the Moon and the international aspect is very special,” he explains. “The Americans are looking to go to Mars very soon – and I don’t see how we can do that – before going to Mars we should test what we could do on Mars on the Moon.”

Read more at: BBC

Audit: NASA Risks SLS Launch Delay

NASA has little margin for error to stay on track for a late 2018 test launch of its new exploration rocket from Kennedy Space Center, government auditors reported Thursday. The space agency hopes to fly the first Space Launch System rocket by November 2018, but has only four extra months available to address any unexpected problems that arise between now and then, increasing the risk of delays, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said. “On a program like SLS such challenges are likely,” the report states. NASA agreed with several GAO recommendations intended to improve the credibility of estimates for how much it will cost to develop the SLS rocket, and how long it will take. During an appearance this week in Cape Canaveral, a senior NASA official said development of new human exploration systems was progressing well. “We’re making a lot of progress, and we’re working toward a launch in 2018,” Bill Hill, deputy associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development, told FLORIDA TODAY after a presentation to the National Space Club Florida Committee. “We haven’t established a launch date as yet.” NASA is developing the Saturn V-like SLS to enable astronauts in Orion capsules to explore beyond low Earth orbit, starting with trips around the moon and potentially enabling missions near Mars by the 2030s. The first SLS launch is a test flight that will not carry a crew. Astronauts won’t launch before 2021. KSC is preparing the Vehicle Assembly Building, a launch tower and launch pad, among other infrastructure, to support the big rocket, which will stand 322 feet tall in its first version. NASA has committed to having the rocket ready for a 2018 launch at a cost of $9.7 billion, an estimate offered with 70 percent confidence of success.

Read more at: Florida Today

Maneuvering Russian Satellite Has Everyone’s Attention

A Russian military satellite launched in March has made at least 11 close approaches to the rocket upper stage that released it into orbit, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Air Force. Such maneuvering capability is consistent with, but not necessarily indicative of, an on-orbit anti-satellite weapon. Air Force officials previously said they were closely watching the satellite, and independent space tracking experts and policy analysts have joined the vigil. The maneuvers started in April, and the most recent occurred in early July, experts said, adding that in at least one case the satellite appears to have nudged the upper stage to a higher orbit. In a response to questions from SpaceNews, Air Force Capt. Nicholas Mercurio, a spokesman for U.S. Strategic Command’s Joint Functional Component Command (JFCC) for Space, said that in addition to its dance with the upper stage, the satellite, known as Kosmos 2504, on one occasion approached an unidentified piece of orbital debris. It has not approached any active satellites, he said. Kosmos 2504, which launched along with three communications satellites aboard a Rockot vehicle from Russia’s Plesetsk Cosmodrome, is being watched carefully by Strategic Command’s Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. Lt. Gen. Jay Raymond, commander of the 14th Air Force and of the JFCC for Space, said in April that the service was “keeping a close eye on” the satellite, whose maneuvers are similar to another Russian satellite launched last year, also along with three communications satellites on a Rockot vehicle. That satellite is known as Kosmos 2499 but is often informally referred to as Object E. Object E’s movements were described in a broader classified briefing on space threats to congressional defense committees earlier this year, a Capitol Hill source said. Both satellites have been the subject of widespread speculation among space tracking experts and policy analysts. They are among the reasons that U.S. Defense Department officials have been sounding alarms over the past year or two about threats to U.S. space systems from China and Russia. T.S. Kelso, senior research astrodynamicist for AGI’s Center for Space Standards and Innovation, said via email July 13 that Kosmos 2504, the one launched in March, has “maneuvered extensively.”

Read more at: Space News

Creating the World’s Largest Ever Satellite Constellation

OneWeb Ltd will build, launch and operate the world’s largest ever satellite network. Virgin Galactic’s LauncherOne programme will help make it possible with frequent satellite launches at a much lower cost and with greater reliability. Virgin Galactic has always planned to build a commercial spaceline that can create positive change back on earth. Well, both human spaceflight and the satellite constellation have the potential to transform lives in ways that almost no other companies have done before.

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Curiosity Finds Evidence for Continental Crust on Early Mars

According to a team headed by Dr Violaine Sautter from the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, France, Martian crustal components bear a strong resemblance to tonalite-trondhjemite-granodiorites, rocks that predominated in Earth’s continental crust more than 2.5 billion years ago. “Mars has been viewed as an almost entirely basaltic planet, with igneous rocks that are dark and relatively dense, similar to those forming the Earth’s oceanic crust,” said team member Dr Roger Wiens of Los Alamos National Laboratory.” “However, Gale crater, where NASA’s Curiosity rover landed, contains fragments of very ancient igneous rocks (3.6 billion years old) that are distinctly light in color, which were analyzed by the rover’s ChemCam instrument.” Dr Sautter, Dr Wiens and their colleagues from the United States, France and the UK observed images and chemical results of 22 of these rock fragments. The team determined that these pale rocks are rich in feldspar, possibly with some quartz, and they are unexpectedly similar to Earth’s granitic continental crust. “We present geochemical data and images of 22 specimens analyzed by Curiosity that demonstrate that these light-toned materials are feldspar-rich magmatic rocks,” the scientists wrote in a paper published in the journal Nature Geoscience. These rocks belong to two distinct types: alkaline compositions containing up to 67 percent SiO2 and 14 percent total alkalis (Na2O + K2O) with fine-grained to porphyritic textures on the one hand, and coarser-grained textures consistent with quartz diorite and granodiorite on the other hand. “Combined with the identification of feldspar-rich rocks elsewhere and the low average density of the crust in the Martian southern hemisphere, we conclude that silica-rich magmatic rocks may constitute a significant fraction of ancient Martian crust and may be analogous to the earliest continental crust on Earth,” the scientists wrote.

Read more at: Science News

Removing Space Debris

Human efforts to probe and commercialize space are continually generating debris, artificial objects orbiting the Earth including derelict satellites, rocket body parts, and small fragments produced by collisions between them. Calculated at about 3000 tons in low Earth orbit, such objects have become a major obstacle to further space development. They can collide with active space infrastructure, such as the International Space Station (ISS) and large derelict objects, creating yet more fragments. Since the debris is spread over many orbits and is of various sizes, it is difficult to monitor, much less capture. Many fragments (about one million of them) are smaller than 10cm across, making them impossible to catalog. Developing a way to eliminate them, termed remediation technology, has become a major challenge. Laser impulse control holds promise. A burst of pulses can ablate the debris surface, reducing its velocity; a reduction of just a few percent in orbital velocity can be enough to modify the orbit and altitude of the debris toward re-entering Earth’s atmosphere. Since the late 1980s, a number of both ground- and space-based designs have been proposed for delivering laser pulses to debris. The advantages of the space-based option, where remediation occurs in orbit, are hampered by the technological limitations of traditional pulsed lasers, such as their low electrical efficiency (≪1%), system sensitivity, and complexity. In 1989, Metzger and coworkers proposed a nuclear-powered debris sweeper with a 10kJ krypton-fluoride UV laser, pulsed at 1Hz.2 Recently, Phipps and, separately, Soulard and colleagues proposed solar-powered designs orbiting 800km above the Earth, where the debris population is greatest, that use efficient diodes to pump the laser medium. Originally developed for laser-driven particle accelerators,5 the Coherent Amplification Network (CAN) laser system proposed by Soulard and team and based on optical-fiber amplifiers could also be suitable for space environments.

Read more at: Spie

Global Roadmap for Better Understanding Space Weather Released

The Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) and the International Living With a Star (ILWS) organization have released a global roadmap for 2015-2025 focusing on better understanding how the phenomena of space weather affect our daily activities on Earth. The strategic plan calls for a coordinated international approach to study the violent solar activity and showcases the research areas that need more attention in order to fully protect our planet from the effects of space weather. The roadmap was published on June 15 in the journal Advances in Space Research. The authors of the plan strongly emphasize that battling the effects of extreme solar activity is an international challenge. Changes in the sun’s magnetic field affect the whole planet, thus worldwide observations and substantial resources are needed to address the problem. Space weather impacts numerous aspects of our lives, including Earth’s climate, satellites, navigation systems, radio communications, and power grid. Severe space storms could result in perturbations in the electric power system and could cause loss of satellites. Therefore, extreme solar events could be catastrophic with severe consequences for millions of people. “Mitigating against the impacts of space weather can be improved by designing less susceptible, more resilient technologies, combined with better environmental knowledge and more reliable forecasts,” the report reads. “This roadmap outlines how we can achieve deeper understanding and better forecasts, recognizing that the expectations for space weather information differ between societal sectors, and that capabilities to observe or model space weather phenomena depend on available and anticipated technologies.” The scientists behind the roadmap recommend the extensive use of current spacecraft in service, which are designed to study the sun’s activity. The fleet of active space observatories includes NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) and Japanese Hinode, providing solar magnetic maps. Solar coronagraphy acquired by NASA/ESA SOHO spacecraft and NASA’s STEREO probes, is also essential for forecast purposes. Moreover, measurements of the solar-wind plasma and magnetic field delivered by NASA’s Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) satellite and its successor, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) DSCOVR probe will bring crucial data as well.

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