Showing posts from February, 2018

Space Council acts to streamline regulations, encourage commercial missions

The newly re-activated National Space Council is acting quickly to streamline convoluted regulatory requirements that frequently slow development of new commercial space initiatives, a shift in focus in keeping with the Trump administration's directive to encourage more private sector development on the high frontier.

Chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, the space council met at the Kennedy Space Center Wednesday to review recommendations that will be sent to the president for approval, reiterating the administration's push to end government funding of the International Space Station in 2025 in favor of one or more commercially-developed follow-on outposts.

"President Trump and our entire administration believe that America's prosperity, security and even our national character depend on American leadership in space," Pence said in the cavernous room where space station components were once assembled and tested before launch.

But U.S. companies "are often …

NASA doubles down on deep space exploration, but uncertain future for International Space Station

Nearly 50 years after Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made the first human landing on the moon, NASA said it’s renewing its focus so that similar missions can become a reality a once again.

“For exploration, NASA’s budget proposes $10.5 billion with a primary focus on three areas of our exploration campaign – lunar and deep space, low earth orbit commercialization, and exploration research and technology,” said Robert Lightfoot Jr., NASA’s acting administrator.

The 2019 budget proposal allocates $4.5 billion for deep space exploration initiatives – a $374 million increase from the agency’s 2017 fiscal year.

This would support robotic missions to the moon, develop the Space Launch System and the Orion spacecraft, and build momentum to lead humans around the moon in 2023. This would be the first human mission to the moon since 1972. The agency said it would be a stepping stone to more ambitious goals.

“We are on a path to return to the moon with an eye towards Mars,…

NASA's Next Exoplanet-Hunter, TESS, Arrives at Kennedy Space Center Ahead of Launch

NASA is getting closer to taking the next big step in exoplanet-hunting – the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) space telescope has just arrived at Kennedy Space Center in Florida in preparation for launch no earlier than April 16. It was built and tested during 2017 at Orbital ATK in Dulles, Virginia, and now will be readied for launch in the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility (PHSF) at Kennedy. This is the same clean room used for the Cassini, New Horizons, Mars rovers, OSIRIS-REx and other missions. TESS will be launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Complex 40 launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

TESS is the next exoplanet-hunting mission following the Kepler Space Telescope mission. Kepler has already discovered thousands of exoplanets and TESS is expected to find thousands more. Unlike Kepler however, TESS will survey almost the entire sky over at least two years, looking at 200,000 of the nearest and brightest stars. Kepler focused on one small p…

Bigelow Aerospace establishes space operations company to look at commercial space station market

WASHINGTON — Bigelow Aerospace has established a space operations subsidiary whose first task will be to study the market for the company’s commercial space stations as it grapples with competition from China and NASA.

Bigelow Space Operations, formally announced by Bigelow Aerospace founder Robert Bigelow Feb. 20, will handles the sales, customer service and ultimately the operations of the commercial space stations that Bigelow Aerospace will manufacture.

The first task for the new company, Bigelow said in a conference call with reporters, is to perform a detailed market study for the company’s B330 expandable modules, and future larger variants, to determine what demand exists and whether it’s worthwhile to proceed with the launch of the first two B330 modules in the early 2020s.

“We intend to spend millions of dollars this year in drilling down, hopefully, to a conclusion one way or the other as to what the global market is going to look like,” he said. That work will be finished…

Mike Pence to lead talk on America 'winning' the moon, Mars and 'worlds beyond'

Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday will oversee a discussion on America's plans to travel once more to the moon, and then to Mars and "worlds beyond" when he leads a meeting of the National Space Council at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Leaders in the civil, commercial, and national security sectors will brief Pence during the "Moon, Mars, and Worlds beyond: Winning the Next Frontier" meeting about the United States' space endeavors at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

The names of the companies participating in the meeting have not been released and the vice president's office did not respond to a request for comment. The topic for Wednesday's meeting is expected to be regulatory reform, according to

Pence will tour the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station launch facilities and Kennedy Space Center during his two-day trip to Florida.

The White House's space council held its first meetin…

ISRO technically ready for human space missions

ISRO technically ready for human space missions

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is ready with technologies needed for human space missions and only political clearance is needed, according to a senior professor.

Delivering the spotlight address at the fourth ORF-Kalpana Chawla Space Dialogue here today, B N Suresh, Honorary Distinguished Professor of the ISRO, said as far as ISRO is concerned, its team is ready to undertake such missions.

This year's Dialogue was kicked off on Thursday night with the inaugural address by Lt. Gen. Amit Sharma, former Commander-in-chief, Strategic Forces Command and special address by Sunil Gupta, Secretary, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. ORF Chairman Sunjoy Joshi delivered the welcome address.

Prof. Suresh said ISRO is now working on building the heavy lift launch vehicle that can lift five to eight tonnes of payload. These vehicles will be backed by highly powerful Cryo Engine Cluster .

He said the future plans of heavy lift…

95 new exoplanets discovered during NASA's K2 mission

Scientists have confirmed 95 additional exoplanets outside the solar system based on analysis of NASA's K2 mission data.

Since the first planet orbiting a star similar to the solar system's sun was detected in 1995, more than 3,300 exoplanets -- ranging from rocky Earth-sized planets to large gas giants like Jupiter -- have been found.

The first data from the K2 was released in 2014, with the latest findings released in a paper published in the Astronomical Journal.

"We started out analyzing 275 candidates of which 149 were validated as real exoplanets. In turn 95 of these planets have proved to be new discoveries," Andrew Mayo, a doctoral student at the National Space Institute at the Technical University of Denmark, said in a press release.

The work also involved colleagues from institutions such as NASA, Caltech, UC Berkeley, the University of Copenhagen and the University of Tokyo.

"Exoplanets are a very exciting field of space science," said Mayo, who…

Orion spacecraft planned for lunar mission begins construction by Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin has begun producing the Orion spacecraft that is planned to send NASA astronauts on a journey around the Moon. NASA’s Exploration Mission 2 (EM-2) which is currently slated for a 2022 launch date has seen the first two components of the craft’s pressure vessel welded together.

“Each of these spacecraft are important, but we realize that the EM-2 capsule is special as it’s the first one to carry astronauts back out to the Moon, something we haven’t done in a long time. It’s something we think about every day,” said Paul Anderson, director of Orion EM-2 production at Lockheed Martin via a company-issued release.

Engineers working at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility located near New Orleans welded together the first two parts that are planned for use on the EM-2 mission which should see astronauts travel to the Moon. If everything goes off without a hitch, this flight should mark the first time that a crew has been sent to the Moon’s vicinity since the Apollo 17 mission …

NASA budget proposal plans end of NASA funding of ISS, seeks commercial transition

WASHINGTON — NASA’s fiscal year 2019 budget proposal will include plans to end funding for the International Space Station in 2025, but leaves open the possibility of handing part or all of the station over to private operators.

The budget proposal, due to be released Feb. 12, will include a request for $150 million to support the development of commercial capabilities in low Earth orbit to succeed the ISS, for which NASA could be a customer, according to an internal agency document obtained by SpaceNews.

As part of a congressionally-mandated ISS transition plan yet to be released, NASA examined several options for the station’s future, according to that document. Those options ranged from continuing the ISS “as is” beyond 2024 to deorbiting the entire station, as well as options to operate the station as a public-private partnership or transfer parts of the station to a private platform.

The approach the administration has chosen is one that would end NASA funding of the ISS in 2025…

Distant Earth-like planets could harbor water — and maybe life

Several planets in a distant solar system have temperatures that could sustain liquid water, thought to be a key for life, a series of studies released Monday report.

The planets, which scientists say are the best-studied worlds outside our solar system, “remarkably resemble Mercury, Venus, our Earth, its moon and Mars,” said Amaury Triaud, a University of Birmingham astronomer who co-authored one of the studies.

The worlds in question circle a dim star called TRAPPIST-1, which shares its name with the Belgian-operated telescope (Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope) located in Chile. It's also a reference to the famous Trappist beer.

Astronomers peering through the scope first discovered the system two years ago and continue to uncover more details about the star and its worlds.

The new studies say that, as had been theorized, all of the planets are rocky and not gaseous.

The planets' densities, now known much more precisely than before, suggest some planets c…

Live coverage: SpaceX Falcon Heavy Test Flight

Live coverage of the countdown and launch of SpaceX’s first Falcon Heavy rocket from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  The launch will happen on 02/06/18 at 1:30 pm EST.

SpaceX confirms it will try to land all of Falcon Heavy's boosters

It'll be a spectacular feat -- if it works.

SpaceX hasn't been shy about wanting to land Falcon Heavy's three booster rockets (it formally proposed its plans a year ago), but will it try now that the launch has finally been nailed down? Yes. Elon Musk's outfit has confirmed that it will attempt to land all three boosters on Falcon Heavy's launch, which is now slated for a 2.5-hour window starting at 1:30PM Eastern on February 6th. As expected, the two side boosters will come back to the on-ground landing zones at Cape Canaveral, while the center booster should land on a drone ship off the coast.

The company is no stranger to successful rocket landings -- they're considered routine at this point. With Falcon Heavy, however, there are challenges SpaceX just didn't have to face before. It has to separate and land the boosters in an elegant, coordinated fashion that avoids collisions and other erratic behavior. And of course, having three rockets increases the …

SpaceX receives launch license for first Falcon Heavy launch

WASHINGTON — The Federal Aviation Administration has issued a launch license for the inaugural launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, scheduled for Feb. 6.

The license by the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, or AST, is dated Feb. 2 and covers only the first launch of the Falcon Heavy, the largest U.S. launch vehicle since the Saturn 5. A license is required for any commercial launch from the United States or by a U.S. company regardless of location.

The license describes the rocket’s payload as a “modified Tesla Roadster (mass simulator)” that will be launched into a hyperbolic orbit with respect to the Earth. SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk said in December that the Roadster, an electric sports car, would be the payload, launched into a heliocentric orbit that will take it past Mars. The license does not describe the modifications to the car.

The license was the final regulatory hurdle to the upcoming launch. While there were no significant doubts that the company would o…