|May 25, 2020
SpaceX NASA Crew Launch On Track Despite Loverro Departure (Source: Space News)
Preparations for next week's commercial crew launch continue despite a shake-up in agency leadership. NASA and SpaceX started a flight readiness review Thursday for the Demo-2 mission, one of the final reviews before the launch scheduled for May 27. The review, expected to wrap up today, was to be led by Doug Loverro, the associate administrator for human exploration and operations, but he resigned earlier this week for reasons unrelated to the commercial crew program. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), chair of the House Science Committee, said she was "shocked" by Loverro's departure "and I trust that NASA Administrator Bridenstine will ensure that the right decision is made as to whether or not to delay the launch attempt." (5/22)
Crew Launch Debut Brings Crowd Worries (Source: Space.com)
NASA's first crewed launch from U.S. soil since 2011 was supposed to be a triumphant return for Florida's Space Coast. As for so many milestones this year, however, a global pandemic has changed that calculus. For nine years, ever since the space shuttles retired, NASA has relied on Russian Soyuz capsules launched from Kazakhstan to send its astronauts into orbit. During that time, Florida's Cape Canaveral and Kennedy Space Center launchpads have stuck to robotic and cargo missions, and tourism to the area has suffered from the absence of astronaut flights. All that will change next week, with SpaceX's Demo-2 crewed test flight scheduled to blast off May 27 on a Crew Dragon spacecraft.
There's just one problem: Travel, celebrations, social gatherings and even just leaving the house unnecessarily have been out of fashion for months, sometimes banned by law, as public health officials scramble to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus and the respiratory disease it causes, COVID-19. "[The launch] was going to be a circus, both inside the fence and outside the fence, in the local community," Dale Ketcham, vice president for government and external relations at Space Florida, an economic development organization for the industry, told Space.com. "Now, it will still be a big event simply because it can't be constrained, but obviously it's going to be substantially subdued."
NASA has made clear it would rather space fans stay home. For weeks, agency head Jim Bridenstine has called for people to watch the launch from home, via NASA broadcast, rather than attending in person. And whereas its local visitor center would usually welcome spectators for a launch, that facility is currently closed. (5/21)
Trump to Visit Kennedy Space Center for Crew Launch (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
President Trump plans to visit the Kennedy Space Center in Florida next week to view the first launch of astronauts into orbit from U.S. soil in nearly a decade, according to White House officials. Vice President Mike Pence previously announced plans to travel to the Kennedy Space Center for the launch of NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft.
Launch is scheduled for May 27 at 4:33 p.m. EDT. It will be the first time astronauts have lifted off from a U.S. spaceport and headed into orbit since the last space shuttle launch July 8, 2011. The trip to Florida’s Space Coast would make Trump the eighth sitting U.S. president to visit the Kennedy Space Center or neighboring Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama previously visited the spaceport while in office. (5/22)
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex to Reopen May 28, Face Coverings Required (Source: Space Coast Daily)
Leadership at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex announced today that the visitor complex will reopen to guests effective Thursday, May, 28, 2020 with reduced admission, attendance limits and some attractions unavailable. During the initial reopening phase, Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex will begin new measures and procedures in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommendations.
This includes opening with limited attendance and encouraging advance daily admission purchases; requiring face coverings and temperature screenings for employees and guests; accommodating social distancing in queues, restaurants, and other facilities throughout the visitor complex; and implementing increased frequency of sanitization and disinfection. (5/20)
On Florida’s Space Coast, a Return to the ‘Good Days’ of Launching Astronauts is Near with SpaceX Flight (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Kyle Mallory worked on the shuttle since 1989 before he was laid off the day after Atlantis landed, along with thousands of others. Things were dark then — unemployment in Brevard County had bottomed out at 11.8% the year before. Talent was draining out of the Space Coast, some of it never to return. Some people thought NASA itself had completely shut down. What is space exploration without astronauts to launch?
This launch will be an injection of life into a region that has built so much of its identity around being area code 3-2-1. Launching satellites regularly is exciting. Watching SpaceX grow into a force in spaceflight, with its now routine booster landings, has been thrilling. But nothing captures imaginations, hearts and eyeballs quite like a crewed mission. “This is a monumental launch, there is a lot riding on it,” Mallory said. “It’s good for our country. I feel red, white and blue all over." (5/21)
The Numbers Don’t Lie—NASA’s Move to Commercial Space Has Saved Money (Source: Ars Technica)
This moment has been a long time coming. Nearly 15 years ago, NASA placed a small bet on the nascent commercial space industry when it sought to diversify its fleet for delivering cargo to the International Space Station. NASA had the space shuttle to ferry supplies, of course, but that aging vehicle was not going to fly forever. So the agency’s administrator at the time, Mike Griffin, committed $500 million in seed money for the development of new, privately built spacecraft.
Griffin may not have realized what he had unleashed. The first small “Commercial Orbital Transportation Services” contracts awarded to SpaceX and Orbital Sciences have since expanded into other areas of spaceflight while multiplying in value from hundreds of millions of dollars into billions of dollars. NASA now looks to private companies for not just cargo delivery to orbit but, with Crew Dragon, people. NASA also recently sought commercial services for sending supplies to the Moon and even landing humans there. What began as a pebble tossed into a pond has become a wave.
Critics of this commercial approach certainly remain—it has disrupted the business models of traditional aerospace powers like Boeing and Lockheed Martin, which have long profited from lucrative cost-plus contracts. Some at NASA, too, still don’t trust commercial providers, and they’re especially wary of Elon Musk, the brash founder and chief engineer of SpaceX. Yet it is Musk's firm that has delivered NASA a human-rated spacecraft in its hour of need, with Russia continuing to raise prices for rides into space nearly a decade after the space shuttle’s retirement. And if you speak with the NASA engineers who have worked alongside SpaceX engineers for more than a decade, they appreciate what the company has accomplished. (5/20)
SpaceX Ready to Capture the Flag (Source: CollectSpace)
The Demo-2 mission will return to Earth a flag left on the station by the last shuttle mission. Astronauts, though, needed to find the flag first. The flag, which also flew on the first shuttle mission, was left on the ISS by the final shuttle crew with the intent that the first commercial crew mission would return it. However, the flag was lost for a time on the station when it was placed in a cargo bag. In 2018, NASA astronaut Scott Tingle, then on the station, was asked to track down the flag, which he was able to do only after weeks of searching and calls with astronauts who had previously been on the station. The flag, he said, was creased from being folded up in the cargo bag. "To me, it just adds character, because that's what human spaceflight is all about," Tingle said. (5/21)
Examining Crew Dragon’s Launch Abort Modes and Splashdown Locations (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
With each new crew launch vehicle comes the inevitable question: how will Crew Dragon actually perform a launch abort and how will it aim itself to predetermined locations in the Atlantic Ocean stretching from KSC across to the western Irish coast? Crew Dragon has eight abort modes for Demo-2, one on the pad and seven in-flight. The modes will likely be refined as flight experience is gained, but it is not expected at this time that the various abort modes will change significantly on future Crew Dragon missions to the Station unless an issue is identified that needs to be corrected. Click here. (5/21)
Crew Mission Duration Hinges on Dragon Solar Array (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
The Dragon astronauts, both veterans of two space shuttle missions, could live and work on the space station for one to four months, according to NASA officials. The duration will primarily hinge on how well the Crew Dragon’s solar panels hold up in the harsh environment of space. “The minimum mission duration is really about a month, and the maximum is 119 days,” said Steve Stich, deputy manager of NASA’s commercial crew program. (5/13)
How SpaceX's Sleek Spacesuit Changes Astronaut Fashion From the Space Shuttle Era (Source: Space.com)
A new breed of spaceship requires a new breed of spacesuits. For the first time since the space shuttle era a decade ago, American astronauts are expected to fly to space aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft May 27, marking the first commercial crew flight for NASA and the first time astronauts will launch from American soil in nearly a decade. Long-time space watchers will notice one thing different about the spiffy spacesuits that Crew-1 astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will wear: they are not the orange "pumpkin" flight suits astronauts used to wear during the launch phase of shuttle flights managed by NASA.
The SpaceX spacesuits are a cool, one-piece white design, and much sleeker than the bulky space shuttle launch suits, which were also known as the Advanced Crew Escape Suit (ACES). So slim was the new SpaceX spacesuit design that in 2018, the company's founder Elon Musk had to reassure concerned Instagram followers after the reveal: "It definitely works. You can just jump in a vacuum chamber with it, and it's fine." The astronauts flying on the first crewed test flight of SpaceX's Crew Dragon have also commented on differences with the SpaceX suit, compared to other spacesuits astronauts have used in different years. (5/22)
SpaceX and NASA to Fly Graduate Photos to ISS (Source: Florida Today)
SpaceX and NASA will fly graduation photos for the Class of 2020. High school and college graduates unable to participate in physical graduation ceremonies this year because of the pandemic can instead upload graduation photos to SpaceX's website. A mosaic of those images will be flown on next week's Demo-2 mission. The deadline for uploading photos is Wednesday. (5/19)
Worms and Wings, Meatballs and Swooshes: NASA Insignias in Popular Culture (Source: Space Review)
NASA is bringing back the “worm” logo for the upcoming SpaceX commercial crew flight, placing it alongside the “meatball” logo. Glen Swanson explores the history of NASA’s various logos and the controversy they have sometimes generated. Click here. (5/18)
The NASA Monopoly on US Orbital Spaceflight is Ending (Source: Space.com)
NASA's monopoly on American astronaut activities in low-Earth orbit (LEO) is ending, and that's just what the space agency wants. For decades NASA was the only real U.S. space customer, developer and service provider. When you look at LEO activities in terms of "platforms and crew and transportation service providers, you can see it was pretty much a monopolistic paradigm," Phil McAlister, director of the commercial spaceflight division at NASA Headquarters, said May 14 during a virtual meeting of the Human Exploration Operations (HEO) Committee, which is part of NASA's advisory council.
From the International Space Station to astronauts to the space shuttle program and more, NASA had all its LEO bases covered. But partnerships with the commercial sector, other government agencies and international parties have expanded greatly recently, with activities including international crew transport to the space station (by SpaceX and Boeing), private astronauts and planned private crewed missions (a space tourism deal between SpaceX and Space Adventures), and Axiom Space's commercial module on the space station among others. (5/18)
NASA's Human Spaceflight Chief Abruptly Resigns (Source: Space News)
The head of NASA's human spaceflight programs, Doug Loverro, has abruptly resigned over what he calls a "mistake." NASA announced Tuesday that Loverro resigned as associate administrator for human exploration and operations after less than six months on the job. NASA did not disclose the reason for Loverro's resignation, but Loverro said in a memo that he took an unspecified "risk" that had consequences for him: "it is clear that I made a mistake in that choice for which I alone must bear the consequences."
That issue appears to involve some aspect of Artemis program procurement, and not commercial crew. The timing of the resignation, a little more than a week before the Demo-2 commercial crew launch, has nonetheless surprised many and raised questions about the agency. In a statement, Rep. Kendra Horn (D-OK), chair of the House space subcommittee, said she was "deeply concerned" about the resignation, and that "we need answers." (5/20)
Artemis Intrigue With Loverro Resignation (Source: Quartz)
Doug Loverro, a former Air Force officer and long time Defense official with a focus on space, came into the job just six months ago, replacing a predecessor who had been fired for failing to speed up NASA’s return to the moon. Loverro appeared to be settling into the job in recent weeks, and his decision to step down will damage morale at the space agency. What went wrong? The worst-case scenario would be some kind of problem with the upcoming crewed flight of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, but it appears that no new issues arose on that front.
Instead, the controversy is focused on how Loverro attempted to push forward the Artemis program’s planned lunar landing in 2024. In a letter to agency employees, Loverro spoke vaguely about taking a risk to achieve a mission, writing “now it is clear that I made a mistake in that choice for which I alone must bear the consequences.” Eric Berger reports that said mistake involved a violation of government procurement rules. That could be straight-up corruption, like receiving a job or compensation from a favored contractor, but the likelier violation involves sharing information about competing bids.
Loverro has supported a strategy that would use a lander to arrive in one piece to save time, but most of the companies offering designs required multiple rocket launches before assembling their large vehicles in space. The theory, then, is that Loverro might have crossed a line in urging one or more competitors to adopt his preferred strategy, sharing confidential information about other bidders in the process. Boeing’s proposal is the only one known to use a single-launch strategy, but it did not make the final round of NASA’s selection process. (5/21)
Toward a Coherent Artemis Plan (Source: Space News)
The SpaceX Starship, now aggressively being developed with the company’s own funds, is the obvious choice for the Artemis launch vehicle, as it offers a payload capacity similar to the NASA Space Launch System at less than one-tenth the cost. To go beyond low Earth orbit, however, it would need to be refueled in space. Under its Artemis contract, NASA is funding the company to create this additional capability. Accordingly, SpaceX has released artwork showing the booster being used to land and take off from the moon.
This latter application of Starship is not a good idea. Starship is estimated to have a dry mass of 100 metric tons. To refuel it in LEO to fly to the Gateway with its payload of 100 tons would require 300 tons of liquid oxygen and methane (LOx/CH4) propellant. This could be supported with three tanker Starship flights to LEO. But then to land on the moon, discharge its cargo, and return to the Gateway would require a further 400 tons of propellant delivered to the Gateway, or four trans-lunar tankers. Each of these would need to be enabled for flight from LEO to the gateway by three further tanker flights, for a total of 20 Starship launches for each piloted lunar mission. (5/18)
Can NASA Land Humans on the Moon by 2024? (Source: Space Review)
NASA recently awarded contracts to three companies for initial work on lunar lander concepts to support the agency’s goal of returning humans to the Moon by 2024. Jeff Foust reports on NASA’s optimism that the goal is achievable, and the skepticism many outside the agency have about meeting that deadline. Click here. (5/18)
When Washington Went to the Moon: An Interview with Glen Wilson (Source: Space Review)
In the last in a series of interviews made two decades ago, Dwayne Day examines what a 1960s Senate staffer thought of the Apollo program, including proposals to delay the landing past 1969 and the leak of memos critical of the program to Walter Mondale. Click here. (5/18)
On the Moon, Astronaut Pee Will Be a Hot Commodity (Source: WIRED)
Earlier this year, a team of European researchers demonstrated that urea, the second most common compound in human urine after water, can be mixed with moon dirt and used for construction. The resulting material is a geopolymer, which has similar properties to concrete and could potentially be used to build landing pads, habitats, and other structures on the moon.
On the moon, most infrastructure is likely going to be built by industrial 3D printers. Building with bricks would be way too inefficient and would limit the types of structures that could be made. But robotic 3D printers could autonomously build more complex habitats. Lunar regolith has chemical similarities to fly ash, which makes geopolymers an attractive option for building stuff on the moon. The downside is that geopolymers require a lot of water so they’ll flow through the nozzle of a 3D printer.
Superplasticizers are materials that are used to reduce the water content of concrete and geopolymers while maintaining their flowability. On Earth, superplasticizers are typically hard-to-pronounce substances like naphthalene and polycarboxylate. But as Arnhof and her colleagues discovered, urea works just as well and could easily be sourced on the moon. Rather than filtering out contaminants in astronaut urine and recycling the waste water, the pee could be stored in a tank and harvested for urea. (5/22)
NASA Will Likely Add a Rendezvous Test to the First Piloted Orion Space Mission (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
Astronauts will likely perform a previously-unplanned demonstration of the Orion spacecraft’s deep space rendezvous capabilities in a high-altitude orbit around Earth on the crew capsule’s first piloted test flight, now scheduled for 2023. The new objective on the first piloted Orion test flight would allow astronauts and engineers to evaluate the capsule’s ability to approach another spacecraft, demonstrating the rendezvous system before it’s needed on future missions to dock with a lunar lander and the planned Gateway mini-space station in orbit around the moon.
The astronauts on the first crewed Orion flight, named Artemis 2, will oversee the ship’s ability to operate in close proximity to another object in space, likely either the upper stage of the Orion’s rocket or a satellite carried as a piggyback payload, NASA officials said last week. Adding the new test to the Artemis 2 mission will help engineers “understand the handling characteristics of Orion, (and) make sure that we have the simulators correct on Earth so we can get that actual real-time feedback in orbit,” Loverro said. (5/18)
Searching With Sasquatch: Recovering Orion (Source: Space Daily)
For Artemis missions, NASA's Orion spacecraft will be traveling at 25,000 mph as it reenters the Earth's atmosphere, which will slow it down to 325 mph. Parachutes will then bring it down to about 20 mph. During the parachute deploy sequence, hardware will be jettisoned and fall into the Pacific Ocean below while the recovery ship awaits near the landing site. Keeping the ship and recovery team safe is critical to mission success.
The Landing and Recovery team, led by Exploration Ground Systems at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is prepared to safely recover Orion and attempt to recover the jettisoned hardware. A four-person team of engineers from NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston will also be onboard the U.S. Navy recovery ship with a "Sasquatch" - no, not an elusive hairy creature, but a very important software tool created specifically for Orion.
"Sasquatch is the software NASA uses to predict large footprints - that's why we call it Sasquatch - of the various debris that is released from the capsule as it is reentering and coming through descent," said Sarah Manning, a Sasquatch operator and aerospace engineer from the Engineering Directorate at Johnson. (5/18)
NASA Seeking US Citizens for Social Isolation Study for Moon and Mars Missions (Source: Space Daily)
Astronauts experience various aspects of social isolation and confinement during their missions, NASA researchers are working to develop methods and technologies to mitigate and counteract potential related problems on future spaceflight missions. As many around the world are staying at home in response to the global coronavirus pandemic, NASA is preparing for its next spaceflight simulation study and is seeking healthy participants to live together with a small crew in isolation for eight months in Moscow, Russia.
The analog mission is the next in a series that will help NASA learn about the physiological and psychological effects of isolation and confinement on humans in preparation for Artemis exploration missions to the Moon and future long-duration missions to Mars. NASA is looking for highly motivated U.S. citizens who are 30-55 years old and are proficient in both Russian and English languages. Requirements are: M.S., PhD., M.D. or completion of military officer training. Participants with a Bachelor's degree and other certain qualifications (e.g., relevant additional education, military, or professional experience) may be acceptable candidates as well. (5/21)
NASA Funds Four Research Projects on COVID-19 Impacts (Source: Space Daily)
NASA's Earth Science Division is supporting the science community as it investigates the many changes the pandemic situation has brought to light. Through its Rapid Response and Novel Research in Earth Science (RRNES) initiative, the agency is providing funding for selected, rapid-turnaround projects that make innovative use of satellite data and other NASA resources to address the different environmental, economic and societal impacts of the pandemic. NASA announced last month the first RRNES projects and is continuing to evaluate new project proposals. Click here. (5/15)
Michoud Reopening for SLS and Orion Work (Source: Space News)
NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility will partially reopen today to allow some work to resume on Space Launch System and Orion hardware. The facility is moving from Stage 4 to Stage 3 of NASA's response framework for the coronavirus pandemic, allowing some mission-critical workers to return to the site for SLS and Orion activities. NASA cited easing of stay-at-home orders in New Orleans, where Michoud is located, along with a two-week decline in COVID-19 cases there as the reason for moving down to Stage 3. Michoud employees who can telework are instructed to continue to do so. (5/18)
Space Force Chief Wants Unified Space Acquisition (Source: Space News)
The head of the Space Force wants a unified organization for space acquisition. Gen. John Raymond, chief of space operations, told reporters Wednesday that one of his top priorities is to "drive unity of effort across the department" regarding procurement of space systems. Raymond said one of the Space Force's field commands will be for acquisitions, likely an umbrella organization encompassing several existing organizations and the Space Development Agency, which currently is outside of the Space Force. (5/21)
Report on Space Acquisition Reform Now Before Congress (Source: Space News)
The Pentagon has delivered a highly anticipated report on how it seeks to reform space acquisition. The report, sent to Congress this week, outlines an "Alternative Acquisition System" to address concerns that many of the Pentagon's rules for procurement programs create unnecessary burdens and squelch innovation. The report outlines a series of proposed changes, some of which require congressional action to implement. However, the final version of the report lacked a proposal found in an earlier draft that called for a Senior Procurement Executive for the Space Force under the Department of the Air Force. The final report said that such a position "creates the potential for increased administrative burden" that would slow down, not streamline, procurement. (5/22)
USAF Wants SDA Transferred to USSF (Source: Space News)
The Secretary of the Air Force says that the Pentagon's Space Development Agency (SDA) needs to be transferred to the new Space Force sooner rather than later. In a May 6 memo to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Barrett said the SDA, currently a Pentagon agency under the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, should be part of the Space Force "as soon as possible." Current plans would delay moving SDA to the Space Force until October 2022, but Barrett argued that such a delay would not meet the intent of Congress and postpones alignment of space acquisition activities. The Pentagon created the SDA early last year, prior to the establishment of the Space Force, in response to criticism that the military was not keeping up with the innovation happening in the space industry. (5/20)
DoD Pressures Congress to Fix Ligado 5G Issue (Source: Space News)
The Defense Department is pressuring Congress to act on the FCC's approval of a 5G network that could interfere with GPS. Mike Griffin, undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, said Wednesday that if the FCC's license to Ligado is upheld, the GPS L1 signal will be compromised because of interference. Griffin was among the Defense Department officials who testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month about their concerns. Gen. John Raymond, chief of space operations of the U.S. Space Force, said officials will brief the House Armed Services Committee on the issue Thursday. (5/21)
DoD's SDA RFI for Constellation Launchers (Source: Space News)
The Pentagon's Space Development Agency (SDA) is looking for information from launch providers that could support its constellation plans. The SDA released a request for information this week, asking launch providers what services they can offer for its communications and missile tracking constellations. The first SDA manifest, called Tranche 0, will consist of up to 30 large spacecraft of four different types that will be deployed 1,000 kilometers above Earth in a polar inclination. A contract award for the Tranche 0 mission is expected in early 2021. (5/22)
Senators Urge Air Force to Support Launch Procurement Losers (Source: Space News)
Two senators are asking the Air Force to continue funding companies that received agreements to support launch vehicle development even if they don't win an upcoming contract. In a letter last week, Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rick Scott (R-FL) asked the Air Force to ensure that the companies that received Launch Service Agreement (LSA) awards to support launch vehicle development will retain those agreements even if they are not selected for a National Security Space Launch Phase 2 procurement contract. Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman and United Launch Alliance received LSA funding in 2018, and all three, along with SpaceX, are competing for two Phase 2 contracts. The Air Force has stated only companies that win Phase 2 procurement contracts scheduled to be awarded this summer will keep receiving LSA funds. (5/18)
DoD Spaceplane Carries Solar Power Experiment (Source: Space News)
The X-37B military spaceplane includes an experiment to demonstrate technology for space-based solar power. The spaceplane, launched Sunday, is flying a "photovoltaic radio-frequency antenna module" from the Naval Research Lab that will test converting power generated by a solar panel into microwaves that can be transmitted. That technology is critical to long-running aspirations for space-based solar power that is beamed down to Earth. If the experiment is successful, it could lead to a dedicated satellite mission to test the transmission of energy back to Earth. (5/19)
ManTech Wins Space Force Launch Engineering Contract (Source: Space News)
ManTech has won a $20.9 million contract extension for Space Force launch engineering work. The extension covers work through September as the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) continues to evaluate proposals for a 10-year launch systems engineering and integration contract, work currently performed by ManTech. The contract supports the SMC launch enterprise at Los Angeles Air Force Base as well as the Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg launch sites. (5/20)
Northrop Grumman Wins Big Contract for Missile Warning Satellites (Source: Space News)
Northrop Grumman has won a $2.3 billion contract for missile warning satellites. The Air Force contract, announced Monday, covers two Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared missile warning satellites to be deployed in polar orbits. This latest award funds the development of the satellites and early procurement of hardware, with another contract for production and integration to follow in 2022. Lockheed Martin has separate contracts worth more than $3 billion for three geostationary orbit satellites as part of the same program. All five satellites will be launched by 2029 to provide initial warning of a ballistic or tactical missile attack. (5/19)
NOAA Nominee Gets Senate Committee Nod (Source: Space News)
The Senate Commerce Committee advanced the nomination of Neil Jacobs to be head of NOAA. The committee approved Jacobs' nomination Wednesday on a voice vote, although three Democratic members formally recorded no votes. Jacobs has been acting NOAA administrator since early last year, but was nominated to take the job permanently last December after Barry Myers, the White House's original nominee, withdrew. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), ranking member of the subcommittee, said that while she would vote to advance the nomination, she wanted the full Senate to hold off on a confirmation vote until the Commerce Department's inspector general completes an investigation into NOAA activities during Hurricane Dorian last year. (5/21)
Space Council Advisory Group Grows (Source: Space News)
The White House announced a revised roster for the National Space Council's Users' Advisory Group Friday. The advisory committee has five new members, including former congressman John Culberson, who previously chaired the House appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA. Four members originally named to the group when it was reconstituted two years ago will no longer be on the committee. The White House also announced Saturday that the National Space Council will meet Tuesday morning at NASA Headquarters. The agenda for that meeting has not yet been disclosed. (5/18)
United Launch Alliance Still On Track to Meet 2020 Launch Schedule (Source: Defense News)
United Launch Alliance does not project any delays to rocket launches scheduled this year despite the ongoing global pandemic, its chief executive said Saturday. “I’m not anticipating any impacts at all — knock on wood — to our manifest,” ULA CEO Tory Bruno told journalists during a roundtable ahead of the May 17 launch of the Atlas V, which put the X-37B space plane back into orbit. “The rockets are coming through the factory, we have 29 rockets in build right now.” So far, the company, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, has had only one confirmed COVID-19 case among its employees, Bruno added. (5/18)
Potential Anomaly for SpaceX Starship Test (Source: Teslarati)
A static-fire test of a SpaceX Starship prototype appears to have gone awry. The SN4 Starship vehicle, mounted on a test stand at the company's Boca Chica, Texas, site, fired its single Raptor engine for a few seconds Tuesday afternoon. However, flames were visible around the base of the vehicle after the engine shut down. Road closures, normally lifted after the completion of a test, remain in place, suggesting crews may be having problems safing the vehicle after the test. SpaceX was preparing to perform a low-altitude hop test of the vehicle in the near future, although the FAA has yet to publish a new or revised experimental permit needed for the flight. (5/20)
SpaceX Rideshares Push Down Small Launcher Prices (Source: Space News)
Satellite operators say that SpaceX's rideshare program is pushing down launch prices. The rideshare program offers low-cost smallsat launch options on both dedicated launches as well as Starlink missions. Planet, which announced last week it will launch six SkySat satellites on two Falcon 9 missions though that program, called the pricing "incredibly competitive," forcing other launch providers to offer similar pricing or otherwise "get more creative" in their services. (5/19)
Relativity Space Captures SpaceX VP to Lead Rocket Development (Source: Space News)
Relativity Space has hired a SpaceX executive to lead development of its rocket factory. Zachary Dunn will join Relativity next month as its vice president of factory development, charged with overseeing work on production of the company's Terran 1 rocket. Dunn worked for more than a decade at SpaceX, most recently as senior vice president of propulsion and launch. Relativity says its Terran 1, build using 3D-printing technology, will make its first launch next year. (5/19)
Virgin Orbit Downplays Expectations for First Launch (Source: Space News)
Virgin Orbit will launch its LauncherOne rocket Sunday, using the company's modified Boeing 747 flying off the coast of Southern California. A backup launch date is Monday. The company is setting modest expectations for the flight, which is carrying on a test payload, noting that only about 50% of first launches of new rockets are successful. Virgin Orbit has tested all aspects of the LauncherOne system, including a captive carry flight last month, but this launch will be the first time they're attempted a midair ignition of the rocket. (5/21)
Branson Sells Virgin Galactic Shares (Source: Bloomberg)
Richard Branson has started to sell his Virgin Galactic shares. The company reported that Branson's holding company, Vieco 10, sold 2.6 million shares, valued at $41 million, last week. Virgin Galactic announced early last week that Vieco 10 was planning to sell up to 25 million shares, a little more than 20% of its stake in the company. Branson is working to raise money to finance some of his other ventures, like airline Virgin Atlantic, that are in distress because of the economic effects of the pandemic. (5/20)
Rocket Crafters Preps for First Free Flight of 3D Printed Rocket Fuel (Source: Florida Today)
The next time space startup Rocket Crafters fires its engine packed with 3D printed rocket fuel, it won’t be bolted to a test stand; it will be at Spaceport America in New Mexico to test its unique design in a launch on an open range. “This will be our first time flying it free,” said Rocket Crafters President Rob Fabian. “We’re going up and coming back down. It will hit about 60,000 feet.”
Florida-based Rocket Crafters, which is the first space launch company to use additive manufacturing to 3D print rocket fuel, has completed 52 launch stand engine tests. The flight test will be the next milestone for the company that is looking to get into the small satellite launching business. They are using data from the three largest-scale tests to prepare for their upcoming launch, which was expected to be in the coming months, but has been pushed back because of the coronavirus pandemic. (5/22)
Forgivable Loans in an Unforgiving Environment (Source: Space News)
Oakman Aerospace hasn’t furloughed anyone. In fact, the Colorado company is training two recent hires thanks in part to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a U.S. Small Business Administration initiative designed to limit the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We likened it to winning the Powerball,” said Oakman Aerospace CEO Maureen O’Brien. That’s because Oakman Aerospace, one of the thousands of small businesses sharing more than half a trillion dollars in relief loans underwritten by the SBA, won’t have to repay the money if they meet the terms for loan forgiveness — namely, maintaining a steady payroll for the next two months.
The PPP is a $669 billion federal loan program established by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in late March and expanded by a follow-on relief bill Congress passed in late April. Space companies needed no encouragement. Many began working with their banks to apply as soon as PPP was unveiled in March, but were frustrated when the initial tranche of $320 million was committed in less than two weeks. (5/22)
Study Explores Space's Impact on Our Daily Lives (Source: Space Daily)
Satellites surveying the environmental and economic impacts of COVID-19, rocket launches, and plans for the next lunar landing have been featured in the news recently. Despite this, it is still easy to miss all of the ways in which satellites contribute to daily life. A new study released by The Aerospace Corporation's Center for Space Policy and Strategy (CSPS) discusses the value and use of space-based capabilities and our reliance on space, sector by sector.
"More than 2,200 active satellites support earthly infrastructure, economies, and national security systems, enabling hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of benefits over their lifetimes," said Jamie Morin, Executive Director of CSPS. "The breakthrough technologies and satellite constellations currently in development will deepen our relationship with space even further, bringing more space-enabled capabilities and opportunities to their everyday lives."
The CSPS study focuses on the fundamental uses of space-based assets and the world's continuous reliance on them. The study also provides examples of how its usage will widen as satellite operators innovate and offer new products and services. Click here. (5/22)
New Regulations for Satellite Remote Sensing (Source: Space News)
The Commerce Department released Tuesday long-awaited reforms to commercial remote sensing regulations. The new regulations, completed a year after the release of a draft rule and months of interagency coordination, does away with many of the restrictions previously imposed on commercial imaging spacecraft. Those systems with capabilities similar to what's available from foreign competitors will be subject to just a "bare minimum of conditions." Those that offer better capabilities only available from other U.S. systems will face slightly more stringent regulations, primarily involving shutter control and limitations on imaging other space objects. (5/20)
Revised Remote Sensing Regs Welcomed by Industry (Source: Space News)
Satellite imaging companies have welcomed new commercial remote sensing regulations. Several companies said they believed the revised regulations, released by the Commerce Department this week, will make it easier for them to license new satellite systems. The revised regulations do away with many of the restrictions of earlier regulations, placing systems in tiers based on how their capabilities compare with other systems not licensed by the U.S. government. Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX), ranking member of the House space subcommittee, agreed the new regulations were a step forward, but said there still needs to be an update of the underlying law, enacted in 1992, for commercial remote sensing regulations. (5/22)
OneWeb Wants Bonuses for Remaining Staff (Source: Space News)
OneWeb is seeking court permission to provide retention bonuses to its remaining staff. The satellite operator, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March, said it needs to provide incentive payments to its "skeletal team" of employees to prevent them from leaving. OneWeb laid off about 85% of its staff when it filed for Chapter 11. The exact size of the incentive payments would be based on the proceeds of OneWeb's spectrum sale, for which an auction is scheduled for July 2. (5/20)
Momentus Signs New Customers (Source: Space News)
In-space propulsion company Momentus Space has signed up three new customers. In one week, Momentus announced contracts with video streaming company Sen, satellite manufacturer Alba Orbital and Polish nanosatellite startup SatRevolution. All three will use Momentus' Vigoride in-space transportation service to deliver their satellites to their final orbits after being launched as rideshare payloads. Momentus is also developing a Vigoride variant, called Ardoride, capable of transferring payloads from geostationary transfer orbit to GEO or beyond Earth. (5/21)
York Space Systems Opens Colorado Production Facility (Source: Space News)
Smallsat manufacturer York Space Systems has opened a new production facility in Denver. The factory, three times larger than its previous facility, will allow the company to work on 20 satellites simultaneously. The company has a goal of delivering a satellite within two months of contract award by next year. The company has also hired Barry Behnken as its new vice president of engineering. He had a 20-year Air Force career that included work as a National Reconnaissance Office program director, and later worked for Raytheon. (5/20)
Ruag CEO Steps Down (Source: Ruag)
The longtime chief executive of Ruag Space, Peter Guggenbach, is leaving to “take on a new challenge outside the company,” Ruag announced May 19. Guggenbach was CEO of Ruag Space, a supplier of rocket and satellite parts, for 11 years, according to LinkedIn. While at Ruag, he helped the Swiss company expand into the U.S. market, which now counts for a third of Ruag Space’s revenue. Luis De León Chardel, the deputy head of Ruag Space, is taking over management on an interim basis. (5/20)
Lockheed Martin to Pay $300 Million More to Suppliers Hit by Coronavirus (Source: Reuters)
Lockheed Martin said on Friday it would pay an additional $300 million to its suppliers hurt by a sharp economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus crisis. The company, which makes the F-35 fighter jets, has already injected $450 million in payments to suppliers. Lockheed’s advances comes as the Pentagon has increased the amount of interim payments it makes to defense contractors in an effort to give them a financial boost amid the pandemic.
The company has hired over 3,400 new employees in the United States since the pandemic began, and said it remains on track with its plans to hire 12,000 new employees by the end of the year. (5/18)
Space Experts Call For US Unity On Tackling Orbital Junk (Source: Law360)
As the expanding mass of space junk in orbit continues to up the risk of collisions in space missions, the U.S. government can only combat the hazard if it taps a single agency to spearhead the country's mitigation efforts, experts said at a virtual event Wednesday. (5/14)
Germany Begins Construction of Space Debris Observatory (Source: DLR)
The German space agency DLR is starting construction of an observatory to monitor space debris. The Multi-Spectral Large Aperture Receiver Telescope will use a 1.75-meter diameter mirror housed in a 15-meter-high tower with a rotating dome. The telescope’s primary focus will be space debris in low Earth orbit between 400 and 2,000 kilometers above the Earth. DLR and Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, BMWi, are investing 2.5 million euros into the telescope, which DLR says will be the largest of its kind in Europe. DLR said the telescope itself is already built by ASA Astrosysteme GmbH. DLR expects to inaugurate the site in the spring of 2021 once the telescope’s building is completed. (5/20)
US Links With Peru on Space Situational Awareness (Source: Space News)
The United States has signed a new space situational awareness agreement with Peru. The agreement, signed last week between U.S. Space Command and the Peruvian space agency CONIDA, will give Peru access to high-quality satellite tracking data. Peru operates the PerúSat-1 Earth observation satellite and plans to deploy a follow-on satellite. A total of 25 nations have now joined the U.S. space situational awareness data-sharing and safety of spaceflight network. (5/21)
Ariane 6 Maiden Flight Likely Slipping to 2021 (Source: Space News)
The inaugural launch of Europe’s Ariane 6 rocket appears all but certain to slip into 2021 because of development delays the European Space Agency and the rocket’s manufacturer ArianeGroup attribute to the coronavirus pandemic. Daniel Neuenschwander, the director of space transportation at the European Space Agency, told SpaceNews the coronavirus slowed or halted work on three Ariane 6 development projects.
Arianespace, the Evry, France-based company that markets Europe’s Ariane and Vega family of rockets, began the year banking on Ariane 6 making its debut between October and December. But that launch forecast was made two months before the coronavirus pandemic led to widespread shutdowns, including one that idled the Guiana Space Centre where the Ariane 6 launchpad remains unfinished. That work is expected to ramp back up next week as workers who flew to French Guiana from mainland Europe to help reopen the spaceport complete a 14-day quarantine. (5/20)
Avio Hopes for Three Vega Launches Before 2021 (Source: Space News)
Avio hopes to compress schedules enough to allow three Vega launches to take place by the end of the year. The company is planning a return-to-flight mission for the small launch vehicle in June, followed by a second launch in August. The company then expects to perform a third launch by the end of the year. The closure of Vega's spaceport in French Guiana by the pandemic delayed that return-to-flight mission of dozens of smallsats, which had been scheduled for March. As part of efforts to tighten launch timelines, Avio will keep a team of launch personnel at the spaceport between the June and August launches. (5/20)
UK's Skyrora Tests Skylark-L Suborbital Rocket (Source: Skyrora)
British launch startup Skyrora completed a full-duration static fire of its Skylark-L suborbital rocket, the company said May 20. Skylark-L is designed to carry 60 kilograms up to 100 kilometers and back. Skyrora says the rocket will be ready to launch from a British spaceport by spring 2021, followed by its larger orbital-class Skyrora XL rocket by 2023. Skylark-L uses hydrogen peroxide and kerosene as propellant. Skyrora plans to eventually introduce its own fuel, called Ecosene, which the company describes as a kerosene equivalent made from un-recyclable plastic waste. (5/20)
Norwegian Spaceport Gets Government Backing (Source: High North News)
A proposed spaceport in Norway has the backing of a parliamentary committee. The Committee on Business and Industry of Norway's Parliament unanimously endorsed plans to establish a commercial spaceport at the Andøya Space Center, which currently hosts sounding rocket launches. The proposed spaceport still requires funding, but backers of the site hope will that be included in a new budget in June. (5/22)
Japan Launches HTV to ISS (Source: Spaceflight Now)
The last of an initial generation of Japanese cargo spacecraft has launched. An H-2B rocket lifted off from the Tanegashima Space Center on Wednesday, placing the HTV-9 cargo spacecraft into orbit. The spacecraft is carrying more than four tons of cargo for the station, including a final set of new batteries for the station's power system. A new version of the cargo spacecraft, called HTV-X, will begin flights to the station in 2022. The H-2 Transfer Vehicle has been deployed from the H-2B rocket's upper stage, setting the stage for the ship's rendezvous and arrival at the International Space Station on Monday, May 25. (5/20)
Japan Delivers Space Studio to ISS (Source: Mainichi)
A Japanese cargo spacecraft en route to the International Space Station includes equipment for a "space studio." The cargo on the HTV-9 spacecraft, launched Wednesday, includes the "Space Frontier Studio Kibo," which will be installed in the Japanese Kibo module in the station. The studio, a partnership between the Japanese space agency JAXA and Japanese digital entertainment firm Bascule, includes a screen that will be installed next to a window in the module. The screen will show pictures and messages from people on Earth, and an astronaut will capture video of both the display and the view out the window to transmit back to Earth. (5/22)
Japanese Artificial Meteor Satellite Malfunctions (Source: Space.com)
A satellite launched by a Japanese startup won't be able to generate artificial meteor showers as expected. Astro Live Experiences (ALE) launched last December ALE-2, a satellite loaded with pellets that, when released, would create colorful displays as they burn up in the Earth's atmosphere. However, the company recently said it found that the mechanism for releasing the pellets on the spacecraft is not working. ALE will instead move ahead with a new satellite, ALE-3, scheduled for launch in late 2022. (5/18)
Japan Formalizes New Space Squadron (Source: AP)
The Japanese military has formally established a unit devoted to space operations. The Space Operations Squadron, part of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force, is charged with protecting Japanese satellites from both orbital debris and potential attack. The unit starts with a staff of 20, and will grow to 100 by 2023. (5/19)
Russia Launches Milsat on Soyuz (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
Russia launched a military satellite on a Soyuz rocket early Friday. A Soyuz-2.1b rocket lifted off from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia at 3:31 a.m. Eastern carrying an unidentified military satellite. That payload is believed to be a missile warning satellite that will operate in a highly elliptical Molniya orbit. (5/22)
Indian Astronauts Resume Training in Russia (Source: The Hindu)
Indian astronaut candidates have resumed training in Russia. Four Indian Air Force pilots went to the Russian cosmonaut training center in Star City, Russia, early this year as India prepares to carry out its first crewed spaceflight by 2022. That training was interrupted in late March by the coronavirus pandemic, and the pilots were locked down at the training center. Russian space company Glavkosmos said that the training resumed last week. (5/22)
Made In India Moon Analog Soil Gets Patent for ISRO (Source: IANS)
The Indian space agency has got the patent for its method of manufacturing highland lunar soil simulant or simply lunar/moon soil. As a part of its Moon landing mission Chandrayaan-2, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) had to prepare an artificial moon surface so that the Vikram lander and Pragyaan rover could be tested. On May 18, the Indian Patent Office granted patent to ISRO for an invention as to the method of manufacturing highland lunar soil simulant. The patent is valid for 20 years from the date of filing the application, i.e., May 15, 2014. (5/22)
Why India Should Exit the Moon Agreement (Source: The Hindu)
On the face of it, the Moon Agreement is benign—it seeks to “promote rule of law in this human endeavor”, and says that human activities on the Moon should be peaceful, never hostile and in accordance with international law. This means, no military bases on the Moon, no “disruption of the existing balance of its (Moon’s) environment”, share information etc. But deeper hidden meanings in the provisions have been found to be problematic. As such, only 18 countries signed the agreement, including India and France, but not including the US, Russia and China.
Now, in the recent order signed by Donald Trump, there is a curious sentence, “Uncertainty regarding the right to recover and use space resources, including the extension of the right to commercial recovery and use of lunar resources, however, has discouraged some commercial entities from participating in this enterprise.” The order further notes that “questions as to whether the 1979 Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (the “Moon Agreement”) establishes the legal framework for nation states concerning the recovery and use of space resources have deepened this uncertainty.”
India must formally exit this agreement, says Dr Chaitanya Giri, a Gateway House Fellow of Space and Ocean Studies Programme, who was earlier affiliated to the Earth-Life Science Institute at Tokyo Institute of Technology and the Geophysical Laboratory at Carnegie Institution for Science. The problem with the Moon Agreement, Dr Giri told BusinessLine, lies in the Article 4.1, which says that “the exploration and use of the Moon shall be the province of all mankind and shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic and scientific development.” (5/20)
Italy's D-Orbit to Fly Cubesat Deployer on Vega (Source: Space News)
Italian space company D-Orbit will launch its first cubesat deployer in June on a Vega. The company's first ION deployer will release into a single orbit 12 Doves for Earth observation company Planet on the Vega's return-to-flight mission. D-Orbit is working on an upgraded version of ION capable of in-space maneuvers, and the deployer ultimately will have the ability to host payloads, relay communications to the ground and retrieve satellites to deorbit them. (5/22)
Lockheed Martin Joins Inmarsat and Others to Pursue UK Space Opportunities (Source: Inmarsat)
U.K. companies Inmarsat and Serco have joined forces with the British divisions of Lockheed Martin and CGI Inc. to create a “national team in space.” The team, called Athena, will collaborate to jointly pursue space-related business opportunities in the U.K. The companies’ expertise spans space, telecommunications, defense and information technology. (5/20)
Explaining China’s Space Ambitions and Goals Through the Lens of Strategic Culture (Source: Space Review)
The recent successful launch of a Long March 5B rocket allows China to proceed with development of a permanent space station, among other projects. Namrata Goswami discusses why Chinese space efforts should be understood through the lessons of Chinese history, rather than grafting Western rationales onto it. Click here. (5/18)
Learning to Live and Work Off-Planet (Source: Supercluster)
NASA and its industry partners are aiming to send humans to Mars as early as the 2030s. After the iconic Apollo missions to the Moon, landing humans on our neighboring world is the next giant leap, and we’ve been preparing for that moment right here, in Earth orbit. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the ISS. For two decades, there’s been a giant space laboratory speeding around Earth. Bigger than a Boeing 747 airplane, the International Space Station (ISS) is the largest human satellite ever built. Click here. (5/20)
To Safely Explore the Solar System and Beyond, Spaceships Need to Go Faster – Nuclear-Powered Rockets May Be the Answer (Source: The Conversation)
There are a lot of reasons that a faster spaceship is a better one, and nuclear-powered rockets are a way to do this. They offer many benefits over traditional fuel-burning rockets or modern solar-powered electric rockets, but there have been only eight U.S. space launches carrying nuclear reactors in the last 40 years. However, last year the laws regulating nuclear space flights changed and work has already begun on this next generation of rockets.
To escape Earth’s gravity and reach deep space destinations, ships need additional acceleration. This is where nuclear systems come into play. If astronauts want to explore anything farther than the Moon and perhaps Mars, they are going to need to be going very very fast. Space is massive, and everything is far away. There are two reasons faster rockets are better for long-distance space travel: safety and time.
Astronauts on a trip to Mars would be exposed to very high levels of radiation which can cause serious long-term health problems such as cancer and sterility. Radiation shielding can help, but it is extremely heavy, and the longer the mission, the more shielding is needed. A better way to reduce radiation exposure is to simply get where you are going quicker. But human safety isn’t the only benefit. As space agencies probe farther out into space, it is important to get data from unmanned missions as soon as possible. (5/22)
NASA Delays OSIRIS-REx Sample Collection (Source: Space.com)
A NASA mission is delaying plans to capture a sample from the surface of an asteroid. The OSIRIS-REx mission was scheduled to perform a "touch-and-go" maneuver on the surface of the asteroid Bennu in August, collecting samples for later return to Earth. NASA said Wednesday that it is pushing back that sample collection attempt until October, saying the coronavirus pandemic had slowed its planning efforts. That delay will not affect the spacecraft's schedule for leaving the asteroid next year, returning the samples to Earth in 2023. (5/21)
NASA Renames WFIRST to Honor Nancy Grace Roman (Source: Space News)
NASA has renamed a space telescope under development after a pioneering woman astronomer. NASA said Wednesday that the that the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) will now be known as the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope. Roman joined NASA in 1959 as its first chief of astronomy, overseeing work on an initial series of space-based telescopes and helping start development of what would become the Hubble Space Telescope, earning her the nickname "Mother of Hubble." The Roman Space Telescope is set to launch in the mid-2020s, although NASA requested no funding for the mission in its fiscal year 2021 budget request. NASA also zeroed out the telescope in its fiscal year 2019 and 2020 requests, but Congress funded the mission both years. (5/21)
Massive Rotating Disk in Early Universe Discovered by Largest Radio Telescope in the World (Source: SciTech Daily)
In our 13.8 billion-year-old universe, most galaxies like our Milky Way form gradually, reaching their large mass relatively late. But a new discovery made with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) of a massive rotating disk galaxy, seen when the universe was only ten percent of its current age, challenges the traditional models of galaxy formation. Galaxy DLA0817g, nicknamed the Wolfe Disk after the late astronomer Arthur M. Wolfe, is the most distant rotating disk galaxy ever observed. The unparalleled power of ALMA made it possible to see this galaxy spinning at 170 miles per second, similar to our Milky Way. (5/20)
In an Orange Swirl, Astronomers Say Humanity Has its First Look at the Birth of a Planet (Source: NBC News)
An image of a mesmerizing cosmic spiral, twisting and swirling around a galactic maw, may be the first direct evidence of the birth of a planet ever captured by humanity. The European Southern Observatory released a picture Wednesday of what astronomers believe shows the process of cosmic matter at a gravitational tipping point, collapsing into a new world around a nearby star. Astronomers said the dramatic scene offers a rare glimpse into the formation of a baby planet, which could help scientists better understand how planets come to exist around stars. (5/20)
NASA Scientists Detect Evidence of Parallel Universe Where Time Runs Backward (Source: New York Post)
A group of NASA scientists working on an experiment in Antarctica have detected evidence of a parallel universe — where the rules of physics are the opposite of our own. The concept of a parallel universe has been around since the early 1960s, mostly in the minds of fans of sci-fi TV shows and comics, but now a cosmic ray detection experiment has found particles that could be from a parallel realm that also was born in the Big Bang. The experts used a giant balloon to carry NASA’s Antarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna, or ANITA, high above Antarctica, where the frigid, dry air provided the perfect environment with little to no radio noise to distort its findings.
A constant “wind” of high-energy particles constantly arrives on Earth from outer space. Low-energy, subatomic neutrinos with a mass close to zero can pass completely through Earth, but higher-energy objects are stopped by the solid matter of our planet, according to the report. That means the high-energy particles can only be detected coming “down” from space, but the team’s ANITA detected heavier particles, so-called tau neutrinos, which come “up” out of the Earth. The finding implies that these particles are actually traveling backward in time, suggesting evidence of a parallel universe, according to the Daily Star. (5/19)
How Cosmic Rays May Have Shaped Life (Source: Space Daily)
Before there were animals, bacteria or even DNA on Earth, self-replicating molecules were slowly evolving their way from simple matter to life beneath a constant shower of energetic particles from space. In a new paper, a Stanford professor and a former post-doctoral scholar speculate that this interaction between ancient proto-organisms and cosmic rays may be responsible for a crucial structural preference, called chirality, in biological molecules. If their idea is correct, it suggests that all life throughout the universe could share the same chiral preference.
Chirality, also known as handedness, is the existence of mirror-image versions of molecules. Like the left and right hand, two chiral forms of a single molecule reflect each other in shape but don't line up if stacked. In every major biomolecule - amino acids, DNA, RNA - life only uses one form of molecular handedness. If the mirror version of a molecule is substituted for the regular version within a biological system, the system will often malfunction or stop functioning entirely. In the case of DNA, a single wrong handed sugar would disrupt the stable helical structure of the molecule. (5/21)
The Bold Plan to See Continents and Oceans on Another Earth (Source: Space Daily)
What if we could take a picture of an Earth-like planet around another star that was sharp enough to see continents, oceans, and clouds? Right now, it's impossible. From our vantage point, exoplanets - planets orbiting other stars - look like fireflies next to spotlights. In the few images we've managed to take of them, the exoplanets are mere dots. Even as the next generation of space telescopes comes online, this won't change - you'd need a 90-kilometer-wide telescope to see surface features on a planet 100 light-years away.
A group of researchers has an audacious plan to overcome these difficulties. It involves using solar sail spacecraft - possibly an entire fleet of them - to fly faster and farther away from Earth than any previous space probe, turn around, and use our distant Sun's gravity as a giant magnifying glass. If it works, we'll capture an image of an exoplanet so sharp that we can see features just 10 kilometers across. The project, called the Solar Gravity Lens, or SGL, sounds like something straight out of science fiction. NASA and a collection of universities, aerospace companies and other organizations are involved, as well as Planetary Society co-founder Lou Friedman, the original solar sailing guru. (5/22)
The Weirdest Images Ever Taken on Mars (Source: Gizmodo)
We so very, very badly want to find life on Mars, making the planet a gigantic Rorschach test onto which we can project our hopes and dreams. It doesn’t help that these images, taken by satellites and rovers, are often grainy, ambiguous, and lacking a sense of scale. As our wishful eyes gaze upon this alien landscape, our minds play tricks, causing us to substitute the known for the unknown. We’ve assembled a slideshow of our favorite Martian optical illusions. Click here. (5/18)
Mars Mud May Flow Like Pahoehoe (Source: BBC)
On Mars, mud could flow like lava. Newly published research examined how mud would flow in Martian conditions and found that, because of the planet's low atmospheric pressure, the mud moved in flows like ropes, resembling a type of lava called pahoehoe. As seen from space, scientists said it's not possible to tell the difference between lava and mud flows on Mars. "Without a geologist on the ground to hit them with a hammer, it will be hard to tell," one researcher said. (5/19)
John Glenn's Widow Dies From COVID-19 (Source: Columbus Dispatch)
Annie Glenn, widow of John Glenn, has died at the age of 100. Glenn died of complications from COVID-19 early Tuesday at a nursing home in Minnesota. The Glenns met in childhood and married in 1943. John Glenn passed away in 2016. A memorial service, held online because of the pandemic, is scheduled for June 6. (5/20)
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