by Edward Ellegood
Florida Space Development Council
February 24, 2017

 

SpaceX Launches From NASA’s Historic Moon Pad, Lands Nearby

NASA’s historic moonshot pad is back in business. A SpaceX Falcon rocket blasted off Sunday morning from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A. It was visible for just seconds before ducking into clouds on its way to the International Space Station, with a load of supplies. Astronauts flew to the Moon from this very spot nearly a half-century ago. The pad was last used for NASA’s final shuttle mission nearly six years ago. This is SpaceX’s first launch from Florida since a rocket explosion last summer. As an extra special treat, SpaceX landed the booster rocket back at Cape Canaveral following liftoff, for only the third time. — AP

 

 

NASA, Heeding Trump, May Add Astronauts to a Test Flight Moon Mission

President Trump has indicated that he wants to make a splash in space. During his transition, he spoke with historian Douglas Brinkley about John F. Kennedy’s famous 1961 vow to go to the moon before the decade was out. Now Trump and his aides may do something very similar: demand that NASA send astronauts to orbit the moon before the end of Trump’s first term — a move that one Trump adviser said would be a clear signal to the Chinese that the U.S. intends to retain dominance in space.

NASA already has a plan to launch its new, jumbo Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with an Orion capsule on top in late 2018, a mission known as EM-1. As things stand currently, no one would be aboard. The capsule would orbit the moon and return to Earth, splashing down in the ocean. This has been intended as the first test flight of SLS and part of the integration of the new rocket and new capsule. Significantly, the SLS and Orion are both still under construction. — Washington Post

However, in response to the Trump Administration, NASA is now considering putting a crew on the first flight of the space agency’s heavy-lift Space Launch System. The current plan calls for an uncrewed test flight of the SLS and NASA’s Orion capsule in late 2018, known as Exploration Mission-1 or EM-1. That mission would be followed by a crewed test flight called EM-2 in the 2021-2023 time frame. NASA said acting administrator Robert Lightfoot asked Bill Gerstenmaier, the agency’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations, to assess whether the first crew could fly on EM-1 instead of EM-2. — Geek Wire

 

Winston Churchill’s Essay on Alien Life Found

Winston Churchill is best known as a wartime leader, one of the most influential politicians of the twentieth century, a clear-eyed historian and an eloquent orator. He was also passionate about science and technology. It was a great surprise last year, while I was on a visit to the US National Churchill Museum in Fulton, Missouri, when the director Timothy Riley thrust a typewritten essay by Churchill into my hands. In the 11-page article, ‘Are We Alone in the Universe?’, he muses presciently about the search for extraterrestrial life. —

Winston Churchill is best known as a wartime leader, one of the most influential politicians of the twentieth century, a clear-eyed historian and an eloquent orator. He was also passionate about science and technology. It was a great surprise last year, while I was on a visit to the US National Churchill Museum in Fulton, Missouri, when the director Timothy Riley thrust a typewritten essay by Churchill into my hands. In the 11-page article, ‘Are We Alone in the Universe?’, he muses presciently about the search for extraterrestrial life.

He penned the first draft, perhaps for London’s News of the World Sunday newspaper, in 1939 — when Europe was on the brink of war. He revised it lightly in the late 1950s while staying in the south of France at the villa of his publisher, Emery Reves. For example, he changed the title from ‘Are We Alone in Space?’ to ‘Are We Alone in the Universe?’ — Nature

 

NASA Bets Big on Private Sector to Put Humans on Mars

NASA will continue tapping the private sector to fund space exploration efforts under President Trump. “Public-private partnerships are the future of space exploration,” Dava Newman, a former NASA deputy administrator who resigned before Trump took office, told CNBC on Tuesday. “I call it the new NASA.” In total, 22 companies—all American—have won contracts with the agency across a diverse range of sectors, from in-space manufacturing to engine development. One specific goal of NASA’s public-private partnerships is putting humans on Mars by the 2030s, a journey that’s already underway. — CNBC

 

Finally, Someone Has a Realistic Timeline for Mars Colonization—the UAE

NASA says it intends to send humans to Mars in the 2030s, but the space agency does not have a realistic budget to do so. SpaceX’s Elon Musk says he will send the first human colonists to Mars in the 2020s, but his company also lacks the funding to implement its bold plans without a major government partner.

We can now add the United Arab Emirates to the list of those entities who want to see Mars colonized. However, even if it too lacks the space exploration budget or technology to do so at this time, the federation of seven Arab emirates appears to have a much more reasonable timeline for sending humans to the red planet—the year 2117, a century from now. — Ars Technica

 

Moon is Star of Congressional Hearing on NASA’s Future

The Oklahoma lawmaker considered the front-runner to be NASA’s next administrator wants the U.S. to re-establish its dominance on and around the Moon. “We all want to get to Mars in 2033 (but the Moon) is critically important to the geo-political position of the United States of America,” GOP Rep. Jim Bridenstine said Thursday. “Mars is the horizon goal. It’s critical. We need to get there (but) the Moon I believe is necessary.” Bridenstine’s comments, made during a House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing on NASA’s future, adds more fuel to the speculation that the Trump administration favors a return to the Moon that President Obama largely abandoned due to cost concerns. — USA Today

 

Cruz, Nelson Champion American Leadership and Exploration in Space

The U.S. Senate unanimously passed S. 442, The NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017, which was introduced by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), along with Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Gary Peters (D-MI), John Thune (R-SD), Tom Udall (D-NM), Patty Murray (D-WA), and John Cornyn (R-TX). The legislation provides stability for NASA to sustain and build upon existing national space investments designed to advance space exploration and science with an overall authorization level of $19.508 billion for fiscal year 2017. — Senate CST

 

Republicans Aim to Prioritize NASA Space Exploration Efforts Over Environmental Research

Republican lawmakers have begun working to fund space exploration projects over environmental research within NASA. The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee held a hearing on the future of NASA on Thursday morning. Republicans, many of whom doubt the validity of concerns surrounding climate change, took issue with Obama-era increases in NASA earth science funding.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, emerged as a leader in the fight to re-prioritize space exploration. The Senate could pass Cruz’s NASA reauthorization legislation once again as early as Friday. Republicans in both houses of Congress are in agreement with Cruz’s priorities for NASA.

A spokesman for Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL), a member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, told IJR about his goals for NASA in the new Congress: “The shift back towards NASA should be focused on space exploration. We have one agency that studies space. We have something like sixteen others that focus on climate issues.” IJR

 

Florida’s Space Coast Is Filling the ‘Crater’ Left by NASA

The pad’s rebirth illustrates the economic rebound of Florida’s Space Coast as it transitions to a more-diverse aerospace economy, with a significant commercial sector, from one powered by government investment dating back to the administration of John F. Kennedy. In the past six years, the area’s economic development agency has announced projects bringing in $1.4 billion in capital investment and generating an estimated 7,900 jobs. That includes 1,800 new jobs announced by Northrop Grumman, which landed a Pentagon contract in 2015 to build long-range bombers. “The Space Coast is kind of on fire right now,” said Greg Wyler, founder of OneWeb Ltd., which aims to use hundreds of satellites to provide internet access in rural and emerging markets. In a joint venture with a division of Airbus SE, OneWeb plans to break ground soon on a high-tech manufacturing facility at Exploration Park at KSC. The facility, expected to employ 250 people, is designed to crank out three satellites a day when it opens next year. Commercial space companies like SpaceX, founded by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, and Blue Origin, started by Amazon.com Inc. Chairman Jeff Bezos, are setting up facilities. Smaller startups such as Moon Express Inc., which plans to send a tiny spacecraft to the lunar surface later this year, also are making investments. And a host of others are expanding operations and hiring engineers and technicians, including Brazilian aircraft maker Embraer SA, which employs 650 people in the area. — Wall Street Journal

 

Russia’s First Private Space Tourism Craft Flight Test Set for 2020

First flight tests of Russia’s reusable suborbital space tourism craft are slated for 2020, the head of the company that is spearheading the effort told Sputnik. Pavel Pushkin, director of CosmoCourse company, said the spacecraft’s production is funded by a private investor. It is expected to be launched from a Russian cosmodrome and conduct space tours at an altitude of 100 kilometers (62 miles). — Space Daily

 

Scientists Measure African Crop Yields From Space

Researchers at Stanford University have developed a new method for accurately measuring crop yields using satellite images. Scientists hope their new strategy will help researchers track agricultural productivity in developing countries where farming data is limited.

“Improving agricultural productivity is going to be one of the main ways to reduce hunger and improve livelihoods in poor parts of the world,” Marshall Burke, an assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences at Stanford, said in a news release. “But to improve agricultural productivity, we first have to measure it, and unfortunately this isn’t done on most farms around the world.” — Space Daily

 

ISRO Sets Historic World Record, Launches 104 Satellites In One Go

The Indian Space Research Organization created history on Wednesday when it launched 104 satellites on the PSLV-C37 rocket from the Sriharikota spaceport. This is the highest number of satellites ever launched in a single mission. With this feat, India broke the previous record when Russia sent 37 satellites in 2014. ISRO, interestingly, launched 67 more satellites today than Russia did in their single mission. ISRO had earlier successfully attempted to launch 23 satellites in a single rocket in June, 2015. — NDTV

 

Planet Launches Satellite Constellation to Image the Whole Planet Daily

Today Planet successfully launched 88 Dove satellites to orbit—the largest satellite constellation ever to reach orbit. This is not just a launch (or a world record, for that matter!); for our team this is a major milestone. With these satellites in orbit, Planet will reach its Mission 1: the ability to image all of Earth’s landmass every day. Tonight is the culmination of a huge effort over the past 5 years. In 2011 we set ourselves the audacious mission of imaging the entire Earth land area every day. We were convinced that armed with such data, humanity would be able to have a significant positive impact on many of the world’s greatest challenges. We calculated that it would take between 100-150 satellites to achieve this, and we started building them. After today’s launch, Planet operates 144 satellites in orbit. We have reached our milestone. — Planet

 

Why NASA is Sending a Superbug to the Space Station

An antibiotic-resistant superbug will be launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket Sunday from the same Kennedy Space Center launch complex where the first manned mission to the moon lifted off and then the bug will be studied by astronauts on the International Space Station. Before you start to worry, this isn’t a sign of an impending apocalypse.

Working in conjunction with NASA, lead researcher Dr. Anita Goel hopes that by sending MRSA bacteria to a zero-gravity environment, we can better understand how superbugs mutate to become resistant to available antibiotics. Goel is also interested to see the changes in the gene expression patterns of this bacteria. — CNN

 

Scientists Are About to Switch on a Telescope That Could Photograph a Black Hole’s Event Horizon

Called the Event Horizon Telescope, the new device is made up of a network of radio receivers located across the planet, including at the South Pole, in the US, Chile, and the French alps. The network will be switched on between 5 and 14 April, and the results will put Einstein’s theory of general relativity through its paces like never before.

The Event Horizon Telescope works using a technique known as very-long-baseline interferometry (VLBI), which means the network of receivers will focus in on radio waves emitted by a particular object in space at one time. Because there are so many of these antennae all tuned in on a single spot, the resolution of the telescope should be 50 microarcseconds. To put that into perspective, it’s the equivalent of being able to see a grapefruit on the surface of the Moon. — Science Alert