A regular update on the most important news stories in astronomy and space from the best United States and North American news sources. Breaking news, latest discoveries plus the weird and wonderful. Updated regularly


Only 60% Lunar Missions In Last 6 Decades Successful, Says NASA
 (Source: NDTV)
Lunar missions undertaken in the last 6 decades has had a success rate of 60 percent, NASA has said. On Saturday morning, the Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO) attempt at a soft-landing on the moon did not go as planned, with the ground control losing communication with Chandrayaan 2’s lander Vikram during its final descent. ISRO officials said the Chandrayaan 2 orbiter is functional and will remain working for a year or more.

It was just last year that Israel’s lunar mission – Beresheet – crash-landed on the moon in April. From 1958 to 2019, India as well as the US, the USSR (now Russia), Japan, the European Union, China and Israel launched different lunar missions – from orbiters, landers and flybys. The first mission to the moon was planned by the US in August 17, 1958, but the launch of Pioneer spacecraft was unsuccessful. The first successful mission to the moon was Luna 1 by the USSR on January 4, 1959. It was also the first moon flyby mission. The success came only in the sixth mission. (9/7)

An Astronaut is Urging NASA to Form a New Spacesuit Program Now if it Hopes to Get Back to the Moon in 2024 (Source: Business Insider)
NASA, you have a spacesuit problem. That was the crux of a message delivered on Friday by Sandra “Sandy” Magnus, a seasoned former astronaut, during an official meeting of spaceflight safety experts in Texas, on Friday. Magnus brought up the issue on behalf of NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP). The group operates independently and is tasked with “evaluating NASA’s safety performance and advising the Agency on ways to improve that performance.”

Right now, NASA’s only operational EVA spacesuits are aboard the ISS. They’re each about 40 years old. The panel previously reported that NASA is struggling to upgrade the suits, let alone maintain them. “The problem does not lie simply in the fact that the suits are old; the fact that manufacturers of several critical suit components, including the very fabric of the suits, have now gone out of business,” ASAP wrote in April. This in part led to the cancellation in March of what was supposed to be the first all-female spacewalk. (9/7)

European Space Agency Teams Up with NASA for Mission to Deflect Dangerous Earth-bound Asteroids (Source: EuroNews)
Researchers and spacecraft engineers are set to meet in Rome next week to discuss a common goal of how to deflect dangerous, Earth-bound asteroids. The ambitious, double-spacecraft mission, known as the Asteroid Impact Deflection Assessment (AIDA), will see experts from the US space agency, NASA, and the European Space Agency (ESA) come together. “It is vital that Europe plays a leading role in AIDA, an innovative mission originally developed through ESA research back in 2003, said Ian Carnelli from ESA.

“An international effort is the appropriate way forward – planetary defence is in everyone’s interest,” he added. Researchers are looking into the viability of diverting an asteroid by crashing a spacecraft into its surface, to see whether the technique is a viable method of planetary defence. In their sights is one of two double Didymos asteroids between Earth and Mars, which they aim to deflect the orbit of using the impact of one spacecraft. A second observer craft will survey the crash site and gather data on the effect of the collision. (9/5)

Are We All Wrong About Black Holes? (Source: Quantum)
Modern researchers insist that any candidate for a theory of quantum gravity must explain how the laws of black hole thermodynamics arise from microscopic gravity, and in particular, why the entropy-to-area connection happens. And few question the truth of the connection between black hole thermodynamics and ordinary thermodynamics.

But what if the connection between the two really is little more than a rough analogy, with little physical reality? What would that mean for the past decades of work in string theory, loop quantum gravity, and beyond? Craig Callender, a philosopher of science at the University of California, San Diego, argues that the notorious laws of black hole thermodynamics may be nothing more than a useful analogy stretched too far. The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. Click here. (9/5)

UAE Wants to Train More Astronauts for Arab World (Source: Sputnik)
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) plan to train more astronauts for the Arab world, Yousuf Hamad Al Shaibani, the director general of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC), said on Monday. He was speaking on the occasion of the end of UAE future spacemen’s examination training in Russia’s Gagarin State Scientific Research and Testing Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC). (9/4)

US Sanctions Iran’s Space Agency, Space Research Center Days After Failed Satellite Launch (Source: Sputnik)
Iran stated on 29 August that a rocket had exploded at its Imam Khomeini Space Center due to a malfunction during testing, rejecting claims that the incident had been “manipulated” from outside. The US has imposed sanctions on the Iranian Space Agency, Space Research Center, and Astronautics Research Institute, the US Treasury said in a statement.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has stated that Iran’s space and research agencies were sanctioned for “engaging in proliferation-sensitive activities”. He also stated that this is the first time that the US sanctions Iran’s civilian space agency for activities advancing the ballistic missile program. The statement comes just days after Washington imposed sanctions on five people and five entities allegedly involved in two covert networks that supply Iran’s missile program. (9/4)

Study Tests Performance of Electric Solid Propellant (Source: Space Daily)
Electric solid propellants are being explored for use in dual-mode rocket engines because they aren’t susceptible to ignite from a spark or flame and can be turned on and off electrically. Researchers from the University of Illinois, Missouri University of Science and Technology, and NASA conducted experiments to understand the behavior of a high-performance electric propellant compared with a traditional propellant. “What we focused on is studying these types of propellants for electric propulsion systems–so, not the fire, smoke, and combustion you see in chemical rocket engines but for in-space electric pulsed plasma thrusters,” said Joshua Rovey. (9/4)

Kennedy Space Center and Visitor Complex Reopen After Hurricane Dorian (Source: NASA)
The workforce returned Friday to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida after a close brush with Hurricane Dorian earlier in the week. After the storm passed to the east of the spaceport overnight between Tuesday, Sept. 3, and Wednesday, Sept. 4, Kennedy’s Damage Assessment and Recovery Team checked out the center’s facilities and infrastructure. Officials determined the center received some isolated damage and limited water intrusion, along with some beach erosion, although the storm surge was less than expected. Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex also reopened on Friday. (9/6)

Malaysia Interested in Having Access to Russian Space Tech, Prime Minister Says (Source: Sputnik)
Malaysia is interested in receiving access to Russian technologies, including those in the space industry, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said during his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday. Malaysia, on its part, could help Russia boost its presence in South East Asia, the prime minister added. The Russian president, in his turn, said that Malaysia was a priority partner of Russia in Asia. (9/6)

Firefly Aerospace pushes back first launch to 2020 (Source: Space Daily)
Firefly Aerospace, one of several new rocket companies working on orbital launch services, has pushed back its first launch to early 2020 due to supplier delays. “We were trying for this year, but won’t get there,” Eric Salwan, Firefly’s director of commercial business development told UPI. “Primarily, we are having issues with a few externally sourced components, such as the flight termination system.”

Issues include late delivery of components and testing or qualifying them for launch, he said. “We are on very solid ground in terms of our funding. No change there.” Firefly said in February it had $1.3 billion in launch business lined up. It has been funded by Noosphere Ventures, the strategic venture arm of Noosphere Global. A leading investor in Noosphere is Ukrainian technologist and investor Max Polyakov. Eventually, the company plans to build a rocket plant near Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It also is renovating two old launch pads, one at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and one at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Space Florida, the state’s marketing and development agency for space, is seeking $18.9 million in state funding for Firefly’s operation, which is expected to support 239 jobs in Florida with anticipated annual average salaries of $70,000. Dale Ketcham, a vice president with Space Florida, said Wednesday the agency has full confidence in Firefly. “They’re like every other company that is trying to put something into orbit. It takes time and there are usually delays,” Ketcham said. “We don’t hand out the state’s money easily. We don’t guarantee any company that comes here will be successful, but so far we are pretty good at picking winners.” (9/6)

Open Lunar Foundation Comes Out in the Open With its Plan to Build a Moon Village (Source: GeekWire)
After spending five years in semi-stealth mode, a San Francisco venture called the Open Lunar Foundation is talking about its plan to create a settlement on the moon at a cost in the range of $5 billion. “At $5B, it’s not only achievable within current NASA budgets, it offers the tantalizing possibility that a single passionate individual could fund the entire program as their legacy!” Silicon Valley venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson said today in a tweet.

Details about the campaign came to light in a Bloomberg News report, which said Jurvetson provided the nonprofit foundation’s initial funding. Open Lunar currently has a “war chest” of about $5 million, with aspirations of raising more funding for hardware as well as policy initiatives, Bloomberg’s Ashlee Vance reported. The idea of having a nonprofit group lead the charge for a moon settlement, as opposed to a government program, may sound a bit airy-fairy — particularly since it’s not coming directly from the likes of SpaceX CEO Elon Musk or Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, founder of the Blue Origin space venture.

But this is not just any run-of-the-mill nonprofit group: Jurvetson, for example, was the investor to whom Musk turned when SpaceX nearly went bankrupt in 2008, and he continues to be a big SpaceX supporter. Will Marshall and Robbie Schingler, co-founders of the Planet satellite venture, are part of the Open Lunar campaign. Open Lunar’s other luminaries include Chris Hadfield, the retired Canadian astronaut, and Pete Worden, the former director of NASA’s Ames Research Center. (9/5)

SpaceX’s New Ride-Sharing Launches to Boost Small-Satellite Industry (Source: Space Daily)
SpaceX’s plans for more frequent, regularly scheduled ride-sharing launches will unleash new growth in the small-satellite industry, leading to easier and cheaper rollouts for new communication networks, experts said. SpaceX recently published a schedule of 30 rocket launches for small satellites in 2020 and 2021. Its customers can buy space on the missions for as low as $1 million, a previously unprecedented price to put a satellite into orbit.

Reserving an entire launch on the company’s Falcon 9 rocket costs $62 million. The small-satellite market is poised to generate $1 billion a year over the next decade, according to Northern Sky Research, which is based in Cambridge, Mass., and specializes in the satellite and space markets. The new SpaceX schedule for small satellites is in addition to its regular missions to the International Space Station or for large customers like the U.S. military. The first date on the new schedule is in March, when a Falcon 9 rocket is to lift off from California, but other launches will be in Florida, the company said. (9/5)

Safety Panel Pleased with Artemis Project But Concerned About Leadership (Source: Space News)
Members of a NASA safety panel praised the agency for moving ahead quickly with aspects of its Artemis program to return humans to the moon, but warned about perceptions of a leadership vacuum for that effort. At a Sep. 6 meeting at the Johnson Space Center, the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) largely complemented NASA for implementing aspects of the Artemis program in recent months, from selecting companies to provide the first elements of the lunar Gateway to plans to solicit proposals for lunar landers.

“I was particularly impressed with the kinds of things that NASA is doing to position the Artemis program for success,” said George Nield, former associate administrator for commercial space transportation at the Federal Aviation Administration and a current member of ASAP, during the 45-minute meeting. He said the various requests for information and solicitations, primarily using commercial approaches, was “really impressive.”

An example he discussed was NASA’s Human Landing System program, which released a second draft solicitation Aug. 30, with plans to make multiple awards for nine-month studies by the end of this year. “That is quite a procurement pace, and certainly is not an indication of a business-as-usual schedule,” he said. “The bottom line is that it appears that Artemis is off to a great start,” Nield concluded. “If Congress agrees to provide the needed funding, NASA may have a real shot at achieving the 2024 goal.” (9/6)

New US Space Command Creates a Black Hole of Waste (Source: Washington Examiner)
Ultimately, the Space Command has more to do with expanding military bureaucracy than space defense capabilities. A new, unified combatant command will mean dedicated staff and leadership solely focused on space related issues. Underlying defense capabilities won’t change but will presumably be managed by a greater number of employees hired or poached from other areas of the Pentagon. The Space Command is supposed to serve as a stepping stone to a new, fully independent military branch called the Space Force.

This endeavor will cost taxpayers at least $13 billion from 2020 through 2025, including the reorganization of existing resources and funding to “organize, train, equip and develop space forces” according to former Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson. These costs are likely significant underestimates, as the Pentagon isn’t exactly known for efficient, streamlined operations. An internal 2016 report found more than $125 billion in bureaucratic waste at the DoD, with more than a million employees sitting at desks compared to (at the time) 1.3 million active-duty troops.

Despite the Pentagon’s attempted burial of this study, the brass would be hard-pressed to deny their epic ineptitude. DoD failed its first-ever audit, after years of pushing back against congressional attempts to examine the organization. While taxpayers are still in the dark as to the Pentagon’s specific shortcomings, the Department’s “inventory accuracy” (i.e. stated supplies versus actual supplies) wasn’t up to auditors’ standards. And even when the Pentagon gets basic accounting correct, they tend to hold onto infrastructure long after it is needed. (9/6)

Small Tech Business in Manoa Works on Big NASA Project (Source: Hawaii News Now)
In an office in the Manoa Innovation Center, a tech-savvy team specializes in designing small circuitry. “We’re making these advanced microchips,” Nalu Scientific CEO Isar Mostafanezhad said, holding up a black circuit board the size of a Pop-Tart. The circuits and the secrets belong to the small business that is now working on a big project for NASA. NASA uses lasers in LIDAR systems to measure distances in space and to map the earth. It gave Nalu Scientific a $120,000 grant and six months to figure out a way to help make LIDAR units smaller. (9/5)

India’s Attempt To Land Rover At Moon’s South Pole Fails (Source: NPR)
India’s attempt to become the first country to land a robotic mission at the Moon’s south pole has failed, after engineers lost contact with the Vikram lander — part of the Chandrayaan-2 probe. Scientists at the Indian Space Research Organization lost signal from the lander as it descended to the surface, moments away from what was supposed to be a successful soft-landing. ISRO’s Mission Control Center provided a brief explanation of what went wrong, saying the unmanned landing module’s “descent was as planned and normal performance was observed up to an altitude of 2.1 km. Subsequently, communication from Lander to the ground stations was lost.” (9/6)

The Unique Friendship Between Astronauts (Source: The Atlantic)
This week she talks with two NASA astronauts who have been friends since they were in the same training class. Together, they’ve weathered lows (both were present for the explosion of the space shuttle Columbia in 2003) and highs (they were in each other’s weddings), and now they’re preparing to fly to space together for the first time, as the first astronauts aboard one of SpaceX’s commercial rockets. They will ride inside the company’s Crew Dragon capsule; no launch date has been set yet. Click here. (9/6)


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