China Finally Confirms Their Space Station is Crashing Towards Earth

After months of suspicion, China has finally confirmed their first space station is heading for Earth and is potentially out of control.

A senior official of the Chinese space program revealed at a press conference last week that the Tiangong-1space station is likely to fall to Earth by 2017, Xinhua News Agency reports. They added it’s currently intact and orbiting at a height of around 370 kilometers (230 miles).

“Based on our calculation and analysis, most parts of the space lab will burn up during falling,” said Wu Ping, deputy director of China’s manned space engineering office, during the press conference. The officials said that the space agency will continue to follow the movement of Tiangong-1 and will release an update on its expected time of arrival if required.

The 10.3-meter-long (34-foot-long) Tiangong-1, which means “Heavenly Palace,” was launched in 2011 as China’s first manned space station. It ended its mission in March this year. However, since then, numerous astronomers noted the space station appeared to be aimlessly drifting out of control and heading for Earth. The silence by the Chinese government only heightened uncertainties.

Read more at: IFL Science

Re-Entry: Ariane 4 Rocket Stage

The Cryogenic Upper Stage from an Ariane 44L launch in the 1990s re-entered the atmosphere in September 2010 after slowly spiraling down from a highly elliptical Geostationary Transfer Orbit. The Ariane 4 lifted off from French Guiana back in October 1990 and carried into orbit the Galaxy 6 and SBS 6 commercial communications satellites.

Read more at: Spaceflight 101

Leaky Liquid Hydrogen Line Causes Scrub of WorldView-4 Launch

A small liquid hydrogen (LH2) leak triggered a scrub of today’s scheduled launch of a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 401. The rocket was slated to loft the WorldView-4 Earth-imaging satellite into orbit from Space Launch Complex 3E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Approximately 30 minutes before the scheduled 11:30 a.m. PDT (2:30 p.m. EDT; 18:30 GMT) liftoff, Tory Bruno, ULA President and CEO, tweeted the launch had been scrubbed. It was the first day-of-launch scrub of an Atlas V for technical reasons in four years – over 30 flights.

“Very small ground side LH2 leak,” Bruno tweeted. “Forming an ice ball on the umbilical. Outside our history. Standing down attempt today to resolve.” Noting the ice accretion was a condition not encountered before, Bruno said there was some concern the buildup could possibly interfere with umbilical separation. “Always better to be on the ground, wishing you were in the air than the other way around,” Bruno stated in a follow-up tweet.

Had the launch occurred as scheduled, it would have marked ULA’s 66th flight of an Atlas V rocket, and the 33rd in the base “401” – 4-meter payload fairing, zero strap-on solid rocket motors, and a single RL10-powered Centaur stage – configuration.

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

NASA Targets ‘Return to Flight’ of Upgraded Antares for Mid-October for Station Resupply

NASA is targeting mid-October for the ‘Return to Flight’ launch of the upgraded Orbital ATK Antares rocket on a cargo mission to resupply the International Space Station (ISS) for the first time in nearly two years. The 14 story tall commercial Antares rocket will launch for the first time in the upgraded 230 configuration powered by new Russian-built first stage engines.

In light of the grounding of the SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon cargo flights following the catastrophic Sept.1 launch pad disaster,and the catastrophic Antares launch failure in Oct. 2014, this Orbital ATK mission becomes more critical than ever to keep the space station stocked and fully operational for the resident crews with a reliable American supply train.

NASA and Orbital ATK announced that the re-engined Antares will launch during a five-day launch window that opens no earlier than October 9-13, 2016 on the OA-5 Cygnus cargo mission from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s picturesque Eastern shore.

Read more at: Universe Today

House Advances Commercial Space and Astronaut Health Bills

The House of Representatives passed a commercial space bill unanimously while the House Science Committee approved a bill addressing astronaut health issues Sept. 21.

The House voted 425–0 to pass H.R. 6007, a bill introduced Sept. 13 by House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) that gives the Federal Aviation Administration the authority to consider impacts on space operations in any study to determine if a proposed structure interferes with airspace operations.

The FAA currently has that authority for conventional aircraft operations, but the bill amends that law to include “the impact on launch and reentry for launch and reentry vehicles arriving or departing from a launch site or reentry site” in the section requiring such studies. “Similar to airports, for our spaceports to function we need to prioritize safety and minimize the risk of structures interfering with the flight path of spacecraft on launch or reentry,” McCarthy said in a brief speech on the House floor Sept. 20.

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NASA is Investigating the Microbes Aboard ISS

There may soon be a field guide to the microbes of the International Space Station. NASA announced on September 21 that it is seeking research proposals to investigate tiny creatures ferried from Earth on the bodies of the more than 200 astronauts who have visited the space station.

The scientists will pore over samples collected over a decade to examine how the microbes have adapted and evolved aboard the ISS. This will allow NASA to “better understand how to control the microbial environment in future human exploration spacecraft,” David Tomko, space biology program scientist at the agency, said in a statement.

Read more at: Popsci

Practicing Orion Spacecraft Recovery After Splashdown

A group of U.S. Navy divers, Air Force pararescumen and Coast Guard rescue swimmers are practicing Orion underway recovery techniques this week in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston to prepare for the first test flight of an uncrewed Orion spacecraft with the agency’s Space Launch System rocket during Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1).

A test version of the Orion spacecraft was lowered into the water in the NBL. Divers wearing scuba gear used ground support equipment and zodiac boats to swim or steer to the test spacecraft. They placed a flotation collar around Orion and practiced using the new tow cleat modifications that will allow the tether lines to be connected to the capsule. The tether lines are being used to simulate towing Orion into the well deck of a Navy recovery ship.

Read more at: Colorado Spacenews

Why NASA is Helping SpaceX in the Red Dragon Mission to Mars

The SpaceX Red Dragon mission is something to behold. Elon Musk and his squad plan to send an uncrewed-but-badder version of the Dragon to Mars in 2018, and land it on the surface of the planet using a new technology calledsupersonic retropropulsion. What doesn’t always get spelled out in these descriptions is the fact that NASA is playing a critical role in helping to make this mission happen.

In a teleconference on Wednesday, Phil McAlister, NASA’s director of commercial spaceflight development, discussed what NASA’s partnership with SpaceX means for making this mission a success.

To sum up: Red Dragon would not happen if it weren’t for NASA.

Read more at: Inverse

Mars 2020 Rover to Produce Oxygen: NASA

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover will not only investigate the Red Planet, searching for evidence of past life on Mars, but it also expected to lay foundations for future human exploration of the planet. One of the mission’s instrument called MOXIE will have a special task, testing technology essential for Mars colonization.

“MOXIE is one of nine instruments but it is the only one that is relevant to human exploration,” Donald Rapp, one of the co-investigators of MOXIE, told

MOXIE stands for the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment. With a diameter of 9.4 x 9.4 x 12.2 inches (23.9 x 23.9 x 30.9 centimeters), the instrument will produce oxygen from the Martian carbon-dioxide atmosphere at a rate of about 0.022 lbs. (10 grams) per hour. It is a 1:100 scale test model of a future instrument that would be efficient for human explorers on Mars.

Read more at: Mars Daily

Tiangong 2 Initial Tests Proceeding Well

Several days after its launch, China’s Tiangong 2 space laboratory seems to be working well. The uncrewed module has made engine burns and orbital changes, demonstrating its capabilities.

China is making reassuring statements about its performance. Tiangong has clearly passed over the challenges of early failure syndrome, which sometimes cripples spacecraft shortly after launch.

At this stage, there are probably more tests to be performed on the module, but it seems to be passing every task. This bodes well for the next chapter in the Tiangong 2 saga. China will launch the Shenzhou 11 spacecraft at some point in October, carrying two astronauts to live on board the laboratory.

Read more at: Space Daily

Russia Postpones Soyuz MS-02 ISS Mission Launch Over Short Circuit Glitch

The September 23 launch was due to take two Russian cosmonauts and one US astronaut to the International Space Station (ISS) for the next Expedition 49 mission. The Expedition 48 was taken to the ISS on board the Soyuz MS-01 spacecraft.

The Soyuz-MS series is the latest upgrade of the long-serving Soyuz spacecraft with improved communication and navigation systems.

Read more at: Sputnik News

More Satellite Collision Warnings to Come with Space Fence Data

A senior Pentagon official said the U.S. Air Force will need to rethink how it issues satellite collision warnings when a new space object tracking system goes online or risk overwhelming satellite operators and hardware systems with overly cautious alerts.

In 2018, the Air Force’s next-generation space object tracking system, known as the Space Fence, will go online and detect satellites and space debris 5 centimeters and larger. Defense Department officials said they are optimistic that on the best days, the $900 million Space Fence, built by Lockheed Martin on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, may be able to track objects as small as 1 centimeter. That’s a marked improvement over the Defense Department’s current network of radars and sensors, which tracks objects 10 centimeters and larger.

But that additional precision means the Air Force will have tracking data for 200,000 objects, up from the approximately 20,000 objects it tracks today.

Read more at: Space News

Congress Gets Report on Giving FAA Space Traffic Role

The Federal Aviation Administration is willing to take on the task of informing commercial, civil and foreign satellite operators of possible on-orbit collisions, while leaving the Defense Department in charge of supporting military space missions.

“We think that makes a lot of sense,” George Nield, FAA associate administrator for commercial space transportation, said Sept. 15 at an AIAA Space conference here. “We are ready to roll up our sleeves, partner with the Defense Department and other stakeholders to see if we can make that work.”

That view is backed up by the Department of Transportation’s Report on Processing and Releasing Safety-Related Space Situational Awareness Data, sent to Congress Sept. 6. Under a provision of the 2015 U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, Congress directed the Secretary of Transportation to consult with leaders of other federal agencies and to determine whether the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation could take over a portion of the space situational awareness role currently performed by the Defense Department.

Read more at: Space News

One Carbon Metabolism on the Space Station

It has been known for some time that time in space affects astronauts’ vision. Post-flight vision changes have been reported by many astronauts after they spend time on the International Space Station. Many, but not all. But why are only certain people affected by spaceflight in this manner?’

Results of a new study involving 49 space station astronauts may help crack this case. The research points to differences in the way some individuals’ bodies operate at the cellular level which may influence whether they develop vision or eye issues in space.

Read more at: NASA

Wildfire at Vandenberg Air Force Base Zero Percent Contained

The wildfire that prompted a delay of a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket scheduled to fly out of Vandenberg Air Force Base’s Space Launch Complex 3-East (SLC-3E) Sept. 18 has yet to be contained. What was a 500-acre fire on Sunday morning has since grown to consume nearly 5,000 acres and continues to burn at what is being described as a “slow to moderate speed”.

According to an update by the 30th Space Wing, as of 7:30 a.m. PDT (14:30 GMT) Monday, the fire was zero percent contained and had expanded to 4,528 acres. It continues to move toward the southern base boundary and Sudden Ranch area.

The planned Sunday launch of the Atlas V rocket with the WorldView-4 satellite, which is now targeting Sept. 26 pending the extinguishing of the fire, was not postponed because of any immediate threats to launch facilities but to allow for firefighting personnel to continue fighting the blaze instead of having to clear out for a launch.

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

China to Compete With SpaceX

China, being an industrial and technological powerhouse, is doing very well at keeping up with the west. Chinese manufacturers have copied pretty much every piece of tech that we will buy on the mass market, but you cant build a cheap knock off spacecraft or aircraft engine. Earlier this month we wrote about China’s ventures into the commercial aircraft engine game and it seems that now they have set their sights slightly higher.

China already has a very respectable space program, on the 15th of September this year they launched the Tiangong-2 space laboratory which is a mid-way step to the country having a fully-fledged permanent space laboratory orbiting earth by 2022, just after the ISS is due to be decommissioned.

Now a company called ExPace Technology Corporation, which sounds nothing like Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX), is being launched by CASIC (The China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation), the company which is China’s largest missile systems manufacturer and in April of this year they decided to branch out into commercial spacecraft with ExPace.

Read more at: Popbyte

Launch failures: Non-launch Mishaps

The on-pad explosion and destruction of the Falcon 9 booster and Amos 6 payload at Space Launch Complex (SLC) 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) on September 1 was a relatively unusual occurrence, at least over the last few decades. On-pad, or at least very near, mishaps that did serious damage to the launch facility are fairly rare in recent years, but are not unknown.

On August 5, 1981, a Percheron suborbital test vehicle exploded on its launch pad on Matagorda Island, Texas, due to a liquid oxygen tank overpressurization problem. On September 26, 1983, a Soyuz manned mission exploded on its launch pad at T-90 seconds. On April 18, 1986, a Titan 34D exploded just after liftoff at SLC-4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, doing extensive damage to the launch pad. On October 5, 1989, an AMROC suborbital test vehicle failed to achieve sufficient thrust to attain liftoff and was destroyed on its launch pad at Vandenberg AFV. On October 4, 1990, a Zenit 2 exploded at T+3 seconds and was destroyed; presumably the explosion did the LC-45P pad at Baikonur no good as well.

Read more at: Space Review

Space Plane Taking Shape

New concept opens range of possibilities for high-speed commercial travel, tourism. Chinese space engineers will join hands to develop a next-generation craft with enormous business potential for commercial launches and space tourism, according to an industry conference.

As competition in the international aerospace field becomes increasingly fierce, Chinese space engineers have reached a consensus that the new craft is of great importance to China’s aviation and space sectors, a statement released after the First China Combined-Cycle Aerospace Vehicle Development Forum in Beijing said on Tuesday.

The cutting-edge craft will have many opportunities in the government-backed space and business sectors, so Chinese researchers have decided to work together to develop the technology, it said. More than 300 officials, business leaders and experts took part in the event hosted by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology. A combined-cycle aerospace vehicle is propelled by a combination of turbine, ramjet and rocket engines, space experts said.

Read more at: China Daily

Tardigrades Use Protective Protein to Shield their DNA From Radiation

Tardigrades are thought to be the most durable life form on Earth. The eight-legged, water-dwelling creatures can survive extreme temperatures, intense pressure and seemingly deadly levels of radiation. New research reveals how the micro-animals — sometimes called water bears — protect their DNA from harmful ultraviolet rays.

Tardigrades are short and fat creatures stretching just half a millimeter when fully grown. They prefer wet environs and are especially common in mosses and lichens, where they feed on dead plant matter and small invertebrates. They’re most closely related to nematodes.

A team of scientists at the University of Tokyo recently sequenced the entire genome of the tardigrade species Ramazzottius varieornatus. The results revealed a special protein responsible for shielding the creatures’ DNA from harmful radiation.

Read more at: Space Daily

This is How Orion Astronauts Might Protect Themselves from Radiation Storms

Everyone needs a good backup plan. Especially when you’re hurtling through deep space months away from home in a small enclosed area with several other people. Then, you definitely need a backup plan.

NASA’s Orion capsule and Space Launch System (SLS) are designed to take astronauts beyond the moon, potentially even to Mars, with initial crewed flights starting around 2023, and uncrewed flights as early as 2018.

One thing that has to happen before the SLS launches with humans inside is a detailed game plan for what to do when something goes wrong in space. Further, one of the biggest hazards of a long-term space journey will be exposure to radiation, which can cause all kinds of health problems including cardiovascular disease.

Read more at: Popsci

Promise, Transition, and Transformation

I recently returned from a 10-day tour of four NASA sites scattered around the southeast United States. I toured test stands, rocket engines, assembly floors, contractor offices, and high bays. Lots and lots of high bays. I heard the clamour of construction workers, the banging of metal, the grinding sounds of motors moving both machines and people. I saw monstrous pieces of metal towering above me that will fly into space in just a few years. What I saw was awesome in the literal sense of that word.

The Planetary Society—led by my colleague Jason Davis—is on a quest to better understand the impact of NASA’s big new rocket program, the Space Launch System (SLS), on major human spaceflight centers and their surrounding communities. Billions of dollars have been spent every year on this rocket since 2012, but NASA has yet to fly it. What’s been happening in the meantime? Jason’s ongoing reporting series, Horizon Goal, aims to find out.

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Fear of Spreading Earth Germs on Could Divert Mars Rover

Four years into its travels across Mars, NASA’s Curiosity rover faces an un­expected challenge: wending its way safely among dozens of dark streaks that could indicate water seeping from the red planet’s hillsides.

Although scientists might love to investigate the streaks at close range, strict international rules prohibit Curiosity from touching any part of Mars that could host liquid water, to prevent contamination. But as the rover begins climbing the mountain Aeolis Mons next month, it will probably pass within a few kilometres of a dark streak that grew and shifted between February and July 2012 in ways suggestive of flowing water.

NASA officials are trying to determine whether Earth microbes aboard Curiosity could contaminate the Martian seeps from a distance. If the risk is too high, NASA could shift the rover’s course—but that would present a daunting geographical challenge

Read more at: Scientific American

Ukrainian-made ISS Docking System to be Replaced by a Russian-made

Russia’s newly-designed system of approach and docking Kurs-MKP will replace the equipment of Ukrainian manufacture installed on the ISS in two years’ time, the head of radio-technical systems of mutual measurements for the search, approach and docking of spacecraft division at the Scientific Research Institute for Precision Instruments, Sergey Medvedev told TASS.

“Our task for 2017 is to manufacture the first set of equipment. In 2018 it may be installed on the ISS,” he said. Medvedev said that the digital system Kurs-MKP was already in the production phase. It is to replace the analogous system Kurs-P, created by the Ukrainian manufacture Elmis. The new equipment will be compatible with the docking system Kurs-NA, already being used in the new series of space vehicles Soyuz-MS.

Read more at: TASS

China’s Race to Space Domination

Before this decade is out, humanity will go where it’s never gone before: the far side of the moon. This dark side—forever facing away from us—has long been a mystery. No human-made object has ever touched its surface. The mission will be a marvel of engineering. It will involve a rocket that weighs hundreds of tons (traveling almost 250,000 miles), a robot lander, and an unmanned lunar rover that will use sensors, cameras, and an infrared spectrometer to uncover billion-year-old secrets from the soil. The mission also might scout the moon’s supply of helium-3—a promising material for fusion energy. And the nation planting its starry flag on this historic trip will be the People’s Republic of China.

After years of investment and strategy, China is well on its way to becoming a space superpower—and maybe even a dominant one. The Chang’e 4 lunar mission is just one example of its scope and ambition for turning space into an important civilian and military domain. Now, satellites guide Chinese aircraft, missiles, and drones, while watching over crop yields and foreign military bases. The growing number of missions involving Chinese rockets and taikonauts are a source of immense national pride.

Read more at: Popsci

Swiss Space Firm Boss Left Badly Injured in Violent Attack

Pascal Jaussi, 40, who heads Swiss Space Systems (S3), was beaten up and set on fire by two unknown perpetrators on August 26th in a forest in the canton of Fribourg, reported the Tribune de Genève on Monday.

News of the attack was not released until his condition improved, said the paper. The CEO’s life is now out of danger but he remains in a serious condition in hospital, it said. The entrepreneur was found near his vehicle and transported to Lausanne’s CHUV hospital with burns on 25 percent of his body.

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Infant Found Dead in Car at NASA Space Flight Center in Alabama

Authorities say a 7-month-old child has died after being left in a parked vehicle outside NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, as temperatures climbed into the 90s.

NASA spokeswoman Jennifer Stanfield said preliminary reports indicate that a parent intended to drop the child off at the facility’s child care center Wednesday and instead went straight to work. Stanfield said the child’s parent is a NASA employee.

Read more at: CBS

Jack Garman, NASA Engineer Who ‘Saved’ Apollo 11 From Alarms, Dies at 72

John “Jack” Garman, a NASA engineer whose knowledge of the computer aboard Apollo 11 saved the historic first lunar landing from a last-minute abort, died on Tuesday (Sept. 20). He was 72. Garman’s death came after a several year battle with bone marrow cancer, according to an email by his wife that was forwarded to the Johnson Space Center retiree community and then shared with collectSPACE.

“Sad to hear of the passing of Jack Garman,” Wayne Hale, a former flight director and shuttle program manager, wrote on Twitter on Tuesday. “He saved the first moon landing, in case you didn’t know.”

On July 20, 1969, as astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin descended to the moon’s surface aboard the Apollo 11 lunar module “Eagle,” a master alarm rang out signaling a problem with the guidance computer.

Read more at: Collect Space

SES Announces Civil-military Aerostat Product for Intel, Surveillance, Reconnaissance

Satellite fleet operator SES on Sept. 22 said its SES Government is commercializing a low-altitude tactical surveillance aerostat equipped with optical surveillance and reconnaissance and a satellite link for border control, disaster relief and special-events monitoring.

The announcement from the operator of a fleet of 50-plus satellites is indicative of the current state of the fixed satellite services business, where even the largest and most profitable companies are seeking to broaden their portfolios in the face of stagnant satellite-bandwidth prices.

SES’s Tactical Persistent Surveillance (TPS) system is an inflatable aerostat that would fly at around 1,000 feet. SES said it could identify targets 5 kilometers distant and provide broadband connectivity from its imaging sensor to customers 20 miles away. “The cost-effective ISR solution enables security, military defense and first responder teams to monitor areas on demand to detect, locate, characterize, identify and track people, objects and potential threats,” Luxembourg-based SES said in a statement.

Read more at: Space News

STRATCOM Nominee Vows to End US Reliance on Russian RD-180 Engines

John Hyten, the nominee to head US Strategic Command (STRATCOM), wowed in a congressional testimony on Tuesday to work with lawmakers to end the United States’ dependence on Russian-built RD-180 rocket engines.

The RD-180 engines under consideration in the 2017 budget help provide a bridge to the next generation launch vehicles being developed, Hyten said. “I pledge to continue to work with the Congress to make sure this nation ceases our reliance on the Russian RD-180 as soon as possible and never loses assured access to space,” Hyten, current US Space Command chief, stated.

US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter earlier this year claimed the continuing use the RD-180 engines was the most effective option for launching national security payloads into space.

Read more at: Space Daily

SNC, Solar Junction Launch New Cost-Saving Solar Array Technology

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) and Solar Junction Corporation (Solar Junction) are launching a revolutionary new technology that will increase the efficiency of spacecraft solar array production and operation and lower the overall cost, providing a direct savings to customers. These advanced solar arrays are manufactured utilizing a patent-pending Surface Mount Technology (SMT) assembly method. This method allows each cell to be installed faster, closer together and more accurately than ever before. This advancement significantly increases the amount of power generated per area, while decreasing cost and delivery time. SNC has teamed with Solar Junction, an innovative semiconductor technology company based in San Jose, California, to develop this industry-first spacecraft solar array technology. Solar Junction’s high-efficiency, multi-junction Surface Mount Cell with Coverglass (SMCC) enables automated, high-speed pick-and-place assembly of SNC-designed and manufactured solar arrays.

Read more at: Parabolic Arc

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