Senate Holds Up Commercial Space Bill

Although House and Senate negotiators have worked out differences between different versions of commercial space bills, final approval is being held up over liability provisions that one representative called “indefensible”:

Sources familiar with the status of the bill said that one or more senators placed a hold on the bill Oct. 29, preventing the bill from moving forward there. No senators have publicly announced that they have blocked consideration of the bill, and spokespersons from several Senate offices did not respond to requests for comment about the bill Nov. 3.

At issue, according to sources, are some provisions in the bill dealing with liability. That includes one section that gives federal, rather than state, courts jurisdiction over any cases that arise from a licensed commercial launch. Another section adds spaceflight participants to cross-waivers of liability already required for other customers of commercial launches.

Read more at: Parabolic Arc

Spacewalkers Encounter Leaking Ammonia, Spoils Radiator Work

Spacewalking astronauts encountered leaking ammonia and minor glove damage while performing plumbing work outside the International Space Station on Friday, then fell so far behind that they had to leave a radiator job undone.

NASA said neither the leak nor glove snag posed any danger to Kjell Lindgren or Scott Kelly, making their second spacewalk in 1 1/2 weeks.

Lindgren reported intermittent flakes of escaping toxic ammonia early in the spacewalk, while making connections in a cooling line. He assured Mission Control it appeared to be just a small leak.

The astronauts later checked each other’s suits for ammonia residue and found none. Such contamination could be hazardous if brought inside. Mission Control assured the pair that any trace of ammonia would have been dissipated by the sun.

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Nod to Arianespace for Launch of ISRO Satellite

European space agency Arianespace has got the nod to go ahead with the November 10 launch of Indian communication satellite GSAT-15 and Arabsat-6B, the agency said.

In a statement early Saturday, Arianespace said the November 10 dual-passenger mission with Ariane 5 rocket the spaceport in French Guiana got the authorisation after the Launch Readiness Review on November 6.

Planned during a 43-minute launch window that opens at 6.34 p.m. (local time in French Guiana), the Ariane 5 mission will have a total payload lift performance of 9,810 kg. “This includes the two satellites’ mass at liftoff – 5,798 kg for Arabsat-6B and 3,164 kg. for GSAT-15 – along with launcher integration hardware and Ariane 5’s dual-passenger deployment system,” Arianespace said.

Read more at: Zee News

NASA MAVEN Team: Solar Storms Stripped Away Mars’ Atmosphere

Today, Mars is a global desert with an atmosphere far too thin to support liquid water, but evidence shows that the planet was wetter in the past. Planetary researchers think that climate change on the planet was caused by the loss of an early, thick atmosphere.

In a paper published today in the journal Science, members of the MAVEN team announced that they have determined the rate at which Mars’ atmosphere currently is losing gas to space via stripping by the solar wind.

The team studied the effects of the Sun on the planet’s atmosphere using data collected by the MAVEN spacecraft during an interplanetary coronal mass ejection (ICME) – burst of gas and magnetism from the Sun – occurring on March 08, 2015.

Read more at: SciNews

NASA Drops Boeing from Space Station Cargo Competition

U.S. space agency NASA has dropped Boeing Co (BA.N) from a multibillion-dollar competition to fly cargo to the International Space Station and will delay selecting one or more winners for about two months, officials said on Thursday.

Losing the contract is another blow to Boeing’s defense, space and security business, coming days after Boeing lost the Long Range Strike Bomber competition, a major Pentagon contract estimated to be worth up to $80 billion.

Boeing was offering an unmanned version of its Starliner CST-100 space taxi, under development as part of a separate NASA $4.2 billion program to transport crew to the space station.

“We received a letter from NASA and are out of CRS-2,” Boeing spokeswoman Kelly Kaplan wrote in an email, referring to NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract. Boeing had previously suggested that its entry could have future uses for private customers as well.

Read more at: Reuters

Long Gap Between SpaceShipTwo Powered Flights 3 and 4 Explained

One of the most interesting aspects of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation into the SpaceShipTwo accident is the ability to find out what was actually going on behind the scenes during the vehicle’s development and testing. Reality is at times at sharp variance from what was being said publicly at the time.

One of the more fascinating NTSB documents is this one: Operations Factual – Attachment 24 Flight and Test Reviews. It is a detailed response from Scaled Composites to NTSB questions about the modifications the company made to SpaceShipTwo between powered flight no. 3 on Jan. 10, 2014 and the failed powered flight 4 on Oct. 31 of last year.

The excerpt below has some information redacted for proprietary reasons, (Worry not, I’ll fill in the blanks below.)  But, it still provides a good description of the modifications Scaled made to the ship before and after Virgin Galactic announced a switch from a rubber to a nylon hybrid motor at the end of May 2014.

Read more at: Parabolic Arc


SOME good ideas take years of dogged perseverance to come to fruition. That has certainly been true of a hypersonic engine which Alan Bond, a British engineer, began developing in 1982. Its first incarnation was as part of a government-backed spaceplane project called HOTOL (horizontal take-off and landing), run by Rolls-Royce and British Aerospace. When the money for this dried up in 1989, Mr Bond and two fellow Rolls-Royce engineers set up a company called Reaction Engines to keep the work going. This week BAE Systems (as British Aerospace is now called) bought 20% of Reaction Engines for £20m ($31m). That vote of confidence suggests Mr Bond’s novel propulsion system may be turning into reality.

His system is, as the firm’s name implies, a reaction engine. That means it relies on Newton’s third law of motion (to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction) to drive it forward. Broadly, reaction engines come in two varieties—rockets and jets—in which hot gases created by burning fuel are ejected out of the back, providing the action part of the law. The reaction part is forward movement. The distinction between rockets and jets is that rockets carry their own oxidant, as well as fuel, whereas jets use oxygen from the atmosphere for the purpose. However SABRE (synergetic air-breathing rocket engine) endeavours to have the best of both worlds.

Read more at: Economist

Fully Opening NASA Research Data to the Public

In 2013 the White House told NASA and other government agencies that they needed to make the results of their research more readily available to the public. In so doing the White House said that agencies needed to make research publications that had been available only for a fee available for free within 12 months of their publication. The public paid for this science, the public should have access to it.

In February 2013 the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy issued amemo which stated: “The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) hereby directs each Federal agency with over $100 million in annual conduct of research and development expenditures to develop a plan to support increased public access to the results of research funded by the Federal Government. This includes any results published in peer-reviewed scholarly publications that are based on research that directly arises from Federal funds.” It also stated that agencies must “Ensure full public access to publications’ metadata without charge upon first publication in a data format that ensures interoperability with current and future search technology. Where possible, the metadata should provide a link to the location where the full text and associated supplemental materials will be made available after the embargo period”.

Read more at: Spaceref

UP Aerospace Demonstrates Capability to Eject Separate Payloads Requiring Independent Re-entry

Spaceport America, the world’s first purpose-built, commercial spaceport, announced the successful launch today of an UP Aerospace SpaceLoft™rocket carrying several scientific and engineering experiments. The launch took place this morning at 8:01 MST from Spaceport America’s Vertical Launch Complex-1 on the East Campus. This launch represents Spaceport America’s 24th overall launch and the fourth from Spaceport America with NASA Flight Opportunities Program payloads.

The SpaceLoft commercial research rocket was launched within the dedicated 2 1/2-hour launch window, and flight data indicate the rocket attained a maximum altitude of approximately 120.7 km/74.98 miles. The parachute recovery system brought the rocket and its payloads safely back. The payloads were recovered intact 49.62 km/30.83 miles downrange on the U.S. Army White Sands Missile Range as planned. This is the first mission in which UP Aerospace demonstrated the capability to eject separate payloads that require independent re-entry into the atmosphere. Three separate parachutes provided soft landing of payload components.

Read more at: Spaceref

Trident Missile Launch Sparks UFO Freakout in Los Angeles

An unannounced Trident missile launch lit up the skies over Los Angeles on Saturday night, setting off a hail of UFO reports, tense tweets and YouTube videos.

After the flare-up, the U.S. Navy confirmed that the USS Kentucky, an Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine that’s homeported at the Bangor submarine base on the Kitsap Peninsula, conducted a “scheduled, on-going system evaluation test” in the Navy’s Pacific Test Range off the coast of Southern California. The missile was not armed, the Navy said in its statement.

It’s typical for the Navy to refrain from announcing Trident test launches in advance, but it’s definitely not typical for the launch to be witnessed by millions of people in one of the nation’s most populous regions.

Read more at: Geekwire

Astronomy: It’s Sad that Human Space Exploration has Stalled

At the beginning of November, the International Space Station reached a milestone of continuous human habitation for 15 years. The station is a symbol of our ability to live in outer space. Not that long ago, this was nothing more than a dream for readers of science fiction.

The progress of human space exploration, however, has stalled. The International Space Station was once thought to be a steppingstone to a more expansive program of sending men and women into space. Colonization of the moon seemed next on the agenda, but clearly this has yet to be done.

Some people, including astronaut Buzz Aldrin, have been promoting the idea of sending a person to Mars. This idea is more ambitious than setting up a moon base. It takes only a few days for a rocket to get to the moon, but it takes about six months to fly to Mars.

Read more at: Dispatch

Newest Robot from China’s Space Agency Looks a Lot Like Iron Man

Have you ever imagined Iron Man landing on the Red Planet? Well of course you have. And it’s likely that many visitors to this week’s China International Industry Fair in Shanghai will too.

On Nov. 3 China’s space agency unveiled a model of its home grown Mars probe, which includes an orbiter and a landing rover and is scheduled to launch in 2020. Also unveiled at the fair was a brand-new space robot that looks strikingly similar to Iron Man, the Marvel superhero played by Robert Downey, Jr., in the internationally successful movie series.

According to the state news agency Xinhua (link in Chinese), the robot is called Xiaotian, which translates into “little sky.” Developed by state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp., the nation’s main space contractor, Xiaotian is described as a new type of robot that can “cope with the harsh space environment and complex manipulation tasks.”

Read more at: Quartz

Did Dark Matter Kill the Dinosaurs? A Q&A with Author Lisa Randall

When we read about celestial objects and events, it is sometimes difficult to relate what scientists say happens “out there” in space to life “down here” on Earth. Exotic entities like dark matter do not seem to have any direct impact on terrestrial affairs. But in her new book, Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs: The Astounding Interconnectedness of the Universe (Ecco, 2015), particle physicist Lisa Randall proposes a connection between this dark matter, the mysterious material thought to make up around 27 percent of our universe, and the impact that spelled the dinosaurs’ demise about 66 million years ago. Although scientists have largely assumed that dark matter interacts with other matter only via the gravitational force and resides in spherical “halos” around galaxies, Randall suggests that a fraction of dark matter not only interacts gravitationally but also experiences a force analogous to electromagnetism, which she dubs “dark light.” Through its interactions with “dark light” this weird subset of dark matter could form an invisible disk that overlaps with the visible disk of spiral arms in our Milky Way galaxy. This dark disk might have interrupted the orbit of a comet on the outer fringes of the solar system, sending it on a collision course with Earth.

Read more at: Scientific American

Russia Developing Unique Radar Satellite System

A group of Russian companies are currently cooperating to develop a cutting edge satellite radar system for the country’s Defense Ministry. The new system will allow for creating a precise 3D model of Earth as well as tracking ground objects.

“In the beginning of 2015, the Defense Industrial Commission decided that Russia will develop the system on its own. Then, a roadmap was agreed,” a source in the industry told the Russian newspaper Izvestia.

According to the project design, the system will comprise five satellite vehicles. The first launch is scheduled for 2019, the source added.

The key component of the new system is an active phased array antenna for the on-board radar station. Russia’s Roselektronika Company is expected to develop, test and unveil the first Russian-made transmitter-receiver device in the first quarter of 2016.

Read more at: Space Daily

Lunar Rover Saved from Alabama Scrapheap

A prototype lunar rover that was sold to a scrapyard and reported by NASA to be lost has now been found and may be heading to auction.

Just one day after the online magazine Motherboard broke the story about thethought-to-be-scrapped moon rover on Tuesday, Oct. 27, the 50-year-old NASA artifact popped up in the classifieds section of an Alabama newspaper.

“Special Auction,” declared the black-and-white ad placed in The Arab Tribune. “Original prototype for the first moon buggy!”. The coincidental timing of the ad aside, it was the first public indication that the rover, a predecessor to the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) driven by the Apollo astronauts on the moon, still existed. According to the NASA paperwork obtained by Motherboard, the space agency had given up on recovering the early LRV for “historical and educational purposes” after it had learned it had been sold for scrap.

Read more at: MNN

China Unveils Rocket Capable of Firing 20 Nukes to Defeat US Missile Shield

China showed the world how far it had come in developing space weapons as it unveiled its new family of space launch vehicles.

The first Long March 6 rocket was successfully launched from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Centre late last month with a multipayload of 20 small satellites, according to state broadcaster CCTV and the People’s Liberation Army’s mouthpiece, the PLA Daily.

The September 20 launch marked China as the third country with such technology, after Russia and the United States.

About a week later, on September 29, the official Science and Technology Daily reported that a Second Artillery Corps battalion had launched a midnight full-flight test of a strategic missile. The test proved that the strategic missile force could now operate the entire chain of the C4ISR – computerised command, control, communications, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance – systems that the US military uses.

Read more at: South China Morning Post

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