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


SpaceX Launch – First Ground-Landing on West Coast

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SpaceX conducted its seventeenth launch of the year Oct. 7, sending an Argentine radar satellite into low-Earth orbit on a Falcon 9 rocket. The mission was also SpaceX’s first to include a successful land recovery of the rocket’s booster stage at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. All previous recoveries in California used a drone ship to land boosters out at sea.

The Falcon 9 Block 5 lifted off at 10:21 p.m. Eastern during an instantaneous launch window. The satellite, Saocom-1A, separated from the launcher’s upper stage about 13 minutes later. SpaceX landed the rocket’s first stage at a newly built landing pad called LZ-4 that is located near Vandenberg’s SLC-4E launch pad where the rocket took off. The company views ground-based rocket landings as better for expediting reuse, since drone ship landings require time to return to port.

SpaceX used the same first stage for the Saocom-1A mission that launched 10 satellites for Iridium about 10-and-a-half weeks ago, also from Vandenberg. Saocom-1A is a 3,000-kilogram synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite for the Argentine space agency CONAE that was originally contracted in 2009 for a launch in 2012. (10/8) (Source: Space News)

Blue Origin’s Anticlimactic Victory and Aerojet’s Plan B (Source: Space News)
ULA didn’t explain why it waited until now to select the BE-4. Some industry sources speculated that the announcement was delayed until the companies worked out final terms of the deal for the engines. However, Bruno said in April he already had a firm fixed-price deal for an initial set of engines that Blue Origin planned to produce at its headquarters in Kent, Washington.

Later sets of BE-4 engines will be assembled at a new factory Blue Origin plans to construct in Huntsville, Alabama, a site it announced in June 2017 but was pending a final decision on Vulcan. That choice not only allowed Blue Origin to tap into another pool of aerospace talent, but also secure additional political support. Aerojet’s AR1 was long considered the underdog, in part because the engine was well behind the BE-4 in development.

Aerojet is now required to only “design, build and assemble” a single prototype engine by the end of 2019. Aerojet Rocketdyne spokesman Steve Warren said that the company was still interested in developing the AR1, arguing that the engine could instead be used to power medium-class launch vehicles. It’s unclear any such vehicles are actively being considered given the focus on both large vehicles like Vulcan and much smaller vehicles intended for smallsats. (10/5)

Hypersat Raises $85 Million (Source: Space News)
A startup company planning to develop hyperspectral imaging satellites emerged from stealth mode recently with a large funding round. HyperSat LLC said it has raised $85 million to launch two hyperspectral satellites, each weighing 200 to 300 kilograms, in 2020. The company sees demand from defense agencies as well as the agriculture, energy and natural resources sectors. Several other companies have proposed developing hyperspectral satellite systems, although some of those efforts failed before getting satellites launched. (10/8)

Kopra Departs Astronaut Corps (Source: NASA)
NASA astronaut Tim Kopra left the agency last week. Kopra, selected as an astronaut in 2000, spent 244 days in space on two International Space Station expeditions in 2009 and 2015–2016. Kopra, who retired from NASA Oct. 1, did not announce his future plans, but he is listed as a partner in Blue Bear Capital, which invests in companies in the energy industry. (10/8)

Higher Atmospheric CO2 Levels Could Keep Orbital Debris Aloft (Source: E&E News)
Increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere could affect the population of orbital debris. While an increase in carbon dioxide warms the lower atmosphere, it also cools the upper atmosphere, lowering its density. That reduces the amount of drag that objects in low Earth orbit experience, increasing their lifetimes. That helps operational satellites, but also means it takes longer for atmospheric drag to remove debris from those orbits. (10/8)


Russian Jet Could See Role as Microsatellite Launcher, Anti-Sat Weapon (Source: Aviation Week)
The Mikoyan MiG-31 interceptor has found a second life—in fact, more than one. Not only has the aircraft known to NATO as the Foxhound been extensively upgraded, but it has also taken on new tasks: as an air-launcher for the Kinzhal ground-strike system and as an aerospace missile system to deliver small satellites to orbit or fight enemy satellites. (10/1)

US-Russia Space Cooperation Needs Continued Insulation from Politics (Source: Sputnik)
The United States will work with Russia to maintain cooperation in space programs and keep joint exploration efforts separate from terrestrial tensions between Washington and Moscow, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstein told guests at the Space Business Roundtable on Monday.

“We’ve been able to make sure that space is set apart from all of these sometimes terrestrial challenges we have with our international partners, especially Russia,” Bridenstein said. “So it is my intent to keep that relationship strong.” (9/25)

NASA/NOAA Open Investigation into GOES 17 Anomaly (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
An “anomaly” that one of the GOES 17 satellite’s instruments has encountered has required NASA and NOAA to open an investigation. The agencies are concerned that the issue might impact future missions. Everything appeared to be going well with the GOES-17 (formerly known as GOES S) satellite after its deployment and the early days of the mission. However, a problem discovered during the checkout of the spacecraft’s Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) found that the device’s infrared detectors were unable to operate at the temperatures necessary.

The issue appears to extend to revolve around “certain seasonal and orbital conditions,” and only impacts the ABI’s availability for approximately three percent of the year. The ABI’s primary manufacturer was Harris Corporation Space and Intelligence Systems. The defect with the ABI affects a key design requirement and, as such, NASA and NOAA are forming a panel to discover what caused the problem so as to develop methods to ensure that the situation isn’t repeated on future satellites. (10/2)

NASA Voyager 2 Could Be Nearing Interstellar Space (Source: Phys.org)
NASA’s Voyager 2 probe, currently on a journey toward interstellar space, has detected an increase in cosmic rays that originate outside our solar system. Launched in 1977, Voyager 2 is a little less than 11 billion miles from Earth, or more than 118 times the distance from Earth to the Sun.

Since 2007 the probe has been traveling through the outermost layer of the heliosphere—the vast bubble around the Sun and the planets dominated by solar material and magnetic fields. Voyager scientists have been watching for the spacecraft to reach the outer boundary of the heliosphere, known as the heliopause. Once Voyager 2 exits the heliosphere, it will become the second human-made object, after Voyager 1, to enter interstellar space. (10/5)

Buzz Aldrin Attorney Withdraws from Moonwalker’s Fight with Kids (Source: Florida Today)
One of former astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s attorneys in a legal fight with two of his children and a business manager is withdrawing, citing “irreconcilable differences.” Attorney Steven Selz last week filed court papers in state court in Florida seeking to withdraw from the case. The lawyer says he and Aldrin have “irreconcilable differences” that have made it improper for him to represent the Apollo 11 moonwalker.

Court documents show that two other attorneys remain on behalf of Aldrin. Aldrin sued two of his children and a business manager in June, accusing them of misusing his credit cards, transferring money from an account, and slandering him by saying he has dementia. Earlier, the two children had filed a petition claiming their father was suffering from memory loss, delusions, paranoia and confusion. (10/7)

Russia’s Space-Based Communications Grouping to Get Over 20 Satellites by 2023 (Source: Tass)
Russia intends to launch over 20 communications satellites into various orbits by 2023 to expand its operational space-based grouping, Head of the Federal Communications Agency (Rossvyaz) Oleg Dukhovnitsky said. “There are plans to launch 12 satellites into the geostationary orbit in 2018 and five new satellites in 2022 and four new satellites into the highly elliptical orbit in 2023,” Dukhovnitsky told a conference of communications satellite operators. (10/3)

Houston Spaceport Will Take Region to New Heights (Source: Community Impact)
The Ellington Airport in Southeast Houston is home to the country’s 10th spaceport, which officials say will eventually be a takeoff site for space vehicles, allow for commercial supersonic air travel that could take flyers to Europe in a couple of hours, and bring in thousands of spaceport-based jobs.

The spaceport has remained mostly empty land since the FAA officially licensed it as a spaceport in June 2015, but project officials have a long-term vision to make the Houston Airport System a commercial aerospace industry leader. The 100-year-old Ellington Airport is a military airport that allows for private takeoffs and landings. Plans for the spaceport would make it Houston’s third international airport, a first for the country, said Bob Mitchell, Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership president.

“Our intent back in those days was to plan for supersonic commercial air travel. In order to do that you have to be a spaceport,” Mitchell said. “We did this to look to the future.” The first part of the spaceport alone is expected to produce 2,400 direct jobs and an additional 3,500 indirect jobs, resulting in over $830 million in economic output into the local and regional economies, said Dave Martin, Houston City Council District E council member. (10/5)

New Mexico Should Increase State Investment in Spaceport America; Sunset Local Tax (Source: Las Cruces Sun News)
We were encouraged to learn that Spaceport America Chief Executive Officer Dan Hicks had a mostly positive reception from state legislators recently when he updated them on progress at the spaceport, and prepared them for an upcoming request for additional funding.

The spaceport will ask for an additional $700,000 in annual operating expenses, and $7.76 million spread out over four years in one-time spending for new facilities like an additional hangar and a visitor’s center.

We strongly support an increase in state funding for this state facility. We also believe there needs to be a firm sunset date for the local gross receipts tax collected in Doña Ana and Sierra counties to support the spaceport. The promise to voters who narrowly approved the tax in 2007 was that the revenue would be used to pay off the bonds needed for construction. Once the bonds are paid off, the tax should be ended. (10/3)

NASA-Funded Study Says Long Trips in Space Could Destroy Astronauts’ Stomachs and Cause Cancer (Source: CNN)
Astronauts may not be able to stomach long voyages into space — literally speaking. A new NASA-funded study reveals that exposure to space radiation on long trips, like a voyage to Mars, could permanently harm astronauts’ intestines and lead to stomach and colon cancer.

The study, published by cancer researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center, used mice to test exposure to heavy ion radiation, which mimics the galactic cosmic radiation found in deep space. If that sounds complicated, essentially researchers compared “space” radiation to X-ray radiation and found its effects to be much more dangerous. (10/2)

Why Donald Trump’s New Space Force Can’t Hurt China Like Star Wars Hurt the Soviet Union (Source: South China Morning Post)
When US President Donald Trump announced in June that he was ordering his defence department to create Space Force, Chinese state media reports were quick to draw comparisons with a previous US president’s out-of-this-world military aspirations. The hawkish state-run tabloid Global Times told its readers the proposed military branch targeted China with the “same trick” Ronald Reagan attempted in the 1980s with his “Star Wars” space system to defend against Soviet nuclear missiles.

Star Wars, officially known as the Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI), was never developed, but it cast a long shadow over Moscow’s political and economic calculations and arguably contributed to the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union. However, while Trump’s new Space Force may target a rising China, Beijing’s confidence about its technological development make it unlikely to be destabilised in the way the Soviet Union was by Star Wars, say military analysts. (10/4)

German and New Zealand Agencies Sign Agreement for Space Research (Source: Stuff)
It’s one small step for New Zealand, one giant leap for space research – New Zealand and German space agencies have announced they will work together. A Letter of Intent was signed by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) at the 69th International Astronautical Congress in Bremen this week.

MBIE general manager of science innovation and international Dr Peter Crabtree, who leads the New Zealand Space Agency, said “innovation does not happen in isolation”. Early this year it was suggested New Zealand was a contender for a proposed satellite base for DLR. DLR doesn’t have a ground station in the South Pacific, and New Zealand sits almost directly opposite to Germany on the earth. (10/4)

Microquasar Detected Emitting High Energy Radiation from its Outer Reaches, Not its Core (Source: Cosmos)
For the first time, scientists have detected a stream of gamma-radiation coming from the outermost regions of a microquasar – a compact stellar object that mimics the behaviour of a quasar. The research, led by Jordan Goodman from the University of Maryland, US, is published in the journal Nature.

Microquasars are black holes that consume matter from nearby companion stars. Their interaction blasts out two powerful jets of very high energy particles and radiation. The microquasar that has intrigued astronomers in this study, named SS 433, is about 15,000 light-years from Earth. (10/4)

Russian Scientists Develop High-Precision Laser for Satellite Navigation (Source: ITMO University)
Scientists from ITMO University developed a laser for precise measurement of the distance between the Moon and Earth. Short pulse duration and high power of this laser help to reduce error in determining the distance to the Moon to just a few millimeters. This data can be used to specify the coordinates of artificial satellites in accordance with the lunar mass influence to make navigation systems more accurate.

Both GPS and GLONASS systems are based on accurate measurement of the distance between a terrestrial object and several artificial satellites. Satellite coordinates must be as accurate as possible to ensure precise object location. On top of that, the Moon’s mass affects satellite trajectories, therefore lunar coordinates must be taken into account when calculating satellites position. The lunar coordinates are obtained by measuring the distance to the Moon with laser locators. The accuracy of such locators depends on the laser features. (9/3)

Why the Space Tourism Industry Needs Flight Attendants (Source: Space.com)
All the talk about space tourism seems to be about when rather than why. While the time has not yet come for private citizens to start booking tickets for out-of-this-world adventures, now is the right time to start thinking about the comfort and safety of the tourists that will soon start blasting off into space.

Flight attendants are professionals whose expertise is essential to in-flight safety. Without their help, passengers could jeopardize their health and risk their lives by flying the not-so-friendly skies. For example, passengers would not necessarily know where to find or how to use safety equipment like oxygen masks and flotation devices in case of an emergency. With the guidance of a well-trained spaceflight attendant, passengers can put themselves at ease and enjoy their flights, taking in the incredible views of Earth from space without having to worry too much about their own safety and comfort..

Excellent flight crews make both spaceflight and ordinary airplane flights possible both before and after a spacecraft or an airplane leaves the ground. For example, the Delta Air Lines Flight Attendant Training Center has a 1 percent acceptance rate for new flight attendants. In six weeks, students learn FAA regulations, how to defend themselves and others against unruly passengers and hijackers, how to evacuate on water and land, how to handle medical emergencies, and how to use all the equipment at their disposal to assist passengers during a flight. (10/3)

‘Moon Race’ Backed by Blue Origin, Airbus Aims for 2024 Lunar Flight (Source: Space.com)
There’s a new private moon race gearing up to fly new lunar technologies by 2024, but aside from the fact that it has support from Blue Origin, Airbus and other spaceflight companies and agencies, there are few details on how the new space competition will work.

The contest, called “The Moon Race,” was unveiled Monday (Oct. 1) by Airbus Space at the International Astronautical Congress in Bremen, Germany, promising to develop technologies for a trip to the moon in 2024. Participating entities include the European Space Agency, the Mexican Space Agency, Airbus, Blue Origin and Vinci Construction. In the months to come, prize money will be announced, as well as details to apply, the coalition said, according to contest organizers. (10/3)

Should We Land on Venus Again? Scientists Are Trying to Decide (Source: Space.com)
Venus is an extraordinarily beautiful hellscape: Its clouds are made of sulfuric acid, its surface is so hot it would melt lead, and its winds constantly hit hurricane-force speeds. That’s why very few robots have made their mark on the Venusian surface, and why none have lasted more than 2 hours. But scientists are desperate for a better understanding of what’s happening on the planet’s surface — and that’s why they’re talking through the science a long-lived lander, dubbed Venera-D, could do on Venus. (10/2)

Most Ambitious Mercury Mission Yet Will Explore Mysteries of Innermost Planet (Source: Science)
Tiny and relatively ignored, Mercury holds outsize mysteries. Only two spacecraft have made the difficult journey to its sunbaked environs. Now comes the planet’s third and most ambitious visitor, the European-Japanese mission BepiColombo, a pair of probes due to launch on 20 October. Picking up where the last visitor, NASA’s MESSENGER mission, left off in 2015, BepiColombo will probe puzzles including Mercury’s skewed magnetic field, its overstuffed iron core, and strange lakelike depressions perhaps carved by escaping volatile elements. (9/3)

Harris Corp. Supports Blue Origin with Antennas for New Glenn-Launched Satellites (Source: Florida Today)
Harris Corporation plans to work with Blue Origin on satellite antennas optimized for the New Glenn rocket. Harris said it has developed a larger version of its fixed satellite antennas, about five meters in diameter, that will be able to fit inside the seven-meter payload fairing of the New Glenn rocket. Those antennas would be able to provide cost savings over deployable antennas needed for rockets with smaller payload fairings. (9/5)

Orbcomm Gains China Partnership (Source: Orbcomm)
An Orbcomm partner in China has gained government approval to use the operator’s low-Earth-orbit constellation for satellite services in the country. Orbcomm said the partner, Asia Pacific Navigation Telecommunications Satellite, will help provide service in China. Orbcomm plans to build a satellite gateway in China to support its Internet of Things products, with more gateways “in the planning stages.” (9/5)

UK and Singapore Launch Cubesat Quantum Communications Project (Source: UKSTFC)
The United Kingdom and Singapore launched a $13 million project to jointly build and operate a cubesat that supports quantum encryption. The British government’s RAL Space and the National University of Singapore’s Centre for Quantum Technologies are leading the project, which aims to demonstrate highly secure communications from space. The satellite, called QKD Qubesat, will test the transmission of quantum-encrypted keys across “globe-spanning distances.” QKD Qubesat is expected to begin operations in 2021. (9/5)

Orion Service Module Ready to Ship Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: Space.com)
NASA and ESA say the service module for the first Orion mission is ready for shipment to the United States. During a news conference Wednesday, they said the service module, built by Airbus in Germany, is on schedule to be transported Oct. 29 to the Kennedy Space Center, where it will be mated to the Lockheed-built crew capsule and tested. That schedule would keep the first SLS/Orion mission, EM-1, on track for launch in mid-2020. The service module has been one of the pacing items in the schedule for that mission. ESA is also working on plans to build additional service modules, including a future agreement with NASA that could also incorporate contributions to the lunar Gateway. (9/5)

Russia Finds ISS Hole Made Deliberately (Source: Space Daily
Russian investigators looking into the origin of a hole that caused an oxygen leak on the International Space Station have said it was caused deliberately, the space agency chief said. A first commission had delivered its report, Dmitry Rogozin, the head of the Russian space agency Roskosmos, said in televised remarks late Monday. (9/3)

Breakthrough Listen Expands SETI to Southern Hemisphere with MeerKAT (Source: Space.com)
Breakthrough Listen has announced at the International Astronautical Congress the commencement of a major new program with the MeerKAT telescope in partnership with the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO). Breakthrough Listen’s MeerKAT survey will examine a million individual stars – 1,000 times the number of targets in any previous search – in the quietest part of the radio spectrum, monitoring for signs of extraterrestrial technology. With the addition of MeerKAT’s observations to its existing surveys, Listen will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in parallel with other surveys. (10/3)

Russia’s Lunar Exploration Program Should Be Part of Internatinal Project (Source: Sputnik)
Russia’s lunar exploration program should be a part of an international project, as none of major space powers is capable to explore Earth’s only permanent natural satellite without support of other states, the director of the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Anatoly Petrukovich, told Sputnik.

Earlier in September, Dmitry Rogozin, the director general of Russian Roscosmos state space corporation, said that the United States was offering Russia to participate in its lunar program, but the corporation was not satisfied with playing the second fiddle in the mission. The official was planning to meet his NASA colleagues to discuss the options of equal participation, independent exploration or engaging BRICS states in the mission. (10/1)

On NASA’s 60th Birthday, Our Readers Say it’s Still Looking Good (Source: Popular Science)
On October 1, 1958 NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics) formally turned into NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration). The formal opening capped nearly a year of government negotiations as the United States started its push to catch up to the USSR in the early days of the space race.

In the next six decades, the government agency went through triumphs, tragedies, massive exploratory undertakings, and new periods of international cooperation. It’s still going strong today, with 38 current aeronautic and aerospace missions from the recent launch of the Parker Solar Probe to the ongoing Voyager crafts launched in 1977. We asked you what you thought of NASA, 60 years after its formation. Here are some of your responses. Click here. (10/1)

Safety Zones a Concern at Georgia Spaceport (Source: Brunswick News)
Opponents of a proposed spaceport expressed their concerns about how launches could impact them during a public meeting Thursday in Kingsland. No one at the meeting, conducted by the Coast Guard, spoke in favor of the safety zones. Prior to the public comment period, Coast Guard officials told the audience they could only comment on the safety zones, and they were not seeking input about support or opposition to the spaceport project.

The Coast Guard conducted the meeting because it will be the agency responsible for enforcing the safety zones for launches and engine tests. A map with all the possible zones were superimposed to show the entire area that could be impacted. It encompasses an area from St. Andrews Sound to the north half of Cumberland Island and stretches 13 nautical miles into the Atlantic Ocean.

The size of the zones would depend on the size of the rockets launched, but most zones would be smaller than the one shown on the map. None of the zones would go outside those boundaries, Coast Guard officials said. Another zone encompassing an area 1.25 miles around the launch site would be established during testing. The zones for launches would last four to six hours on average and for a maximum of 12 hours. Engine tests would require a safety zone for no longer than an hour. Click here. (10/1)


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