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


  Small Step for China: Mars Base for Teens Opens in Desert

Image result for Mars Base for Teens Opens in Desert 
In the middle of China’s Gobi desert sits a Mars base simulator, but instead of housing astronauts training to live on the Red Planet, the facility is full of teenagers on a school trip. Surrounded by barren hills in northwestern Gansu province, “Mars Base 1” opened on Wednesday with the aim of exposing teens—and soon tourists—to what life could be like on the planet.

The facility’s unveiling comes as China is making progress in its efforts to catch up to the United States and become a space power, with ambitions of sending humans to the moon someday. The white-colored base has a silver dome and nine modules, including living quarters, a control room, a greenhouse and an airlock. Built at a cost of 50 million yuan ($7.47 million), the base was constructed with help from the Astronauts Center of China and the China Intercontinental Communication Center, a state television production organization. (4/17) (Source: Phys.org)

Explosion on Jupiter-Sized Star 10 Times More Powerful Than Ever Seen on the Sun (Source: Phys.org)
A stellar flare ten times more powerful than anything seen on our sun has burst from an ultracool star almost the same size as Jupiter. The star is the coolest and smallest to give off a rare white-light superflare, and by some definitions could be too small be considered a star. Flares are thought to be driven by a sudden release of magnetic energy generated in the star’s interior. This causes charged particles to heat plasma on the stellar surface, releasing vast amounts of optical, UV and X-ray radiation.

“The activity of low mass stars decreases as you go to lower and lower masses and we expect the chromosphere (a region of the star which support flares) to get cooler or weaker. The fact that we’ve observed this incredibly low mass star, where the chromosphere should be almost at its weakest, but we have a white-light flare occurring shows that strong magnetic activity can still persist down to this level.” (4/17)

Astronauts to Extend ISS Stay (Source: Space News)
Two NASA astronauts will get extended stays on the ISS, including one that will set a record. NASA announced Wednesday that Christina Koch, who arrived on the station a month ago, will remain there until February 2020. That stay, of about 328 days, will break the record for the longest spaceflight by a woman currently held by Peggy Whitson. Andrew Morgan, scheduled to launch to the station in July, will remain there until next spring, a stay of about 255 days. NASA said the extended stays will give researchers more data on the effects of long-duration spaceflight on the human body. It also gives NASA more time to certify commercial crew vehicles that will transport future crews to the station. (4/18)

California Congressmen Challenge DOD Space Reorganization (Source: Space News)
Two members of Congress from California are questioning the creation of the Space Development Authority (SDA). In a letter to Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, Reps. Ken Calvert (R-CA) and Ted Lieu (D-CA) raised “strong objections” for taking missions away from the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), based in Los Angeles, to the new agency.

The California lawmakers specifically challenge Shanahan to define the role of the SDA versus SMC, a 65-year-old organization that employs 6,000 people. Shanahan and other Pentagon officials said SDA is not meant to replace SMC, but that SDA will take on new programs while SMC manages legacy ones. (4/18)

Congress Pushes for Air Force Launch Procurement Delay (Source: Roll Call)
A growing number of lawmakers are speaking out about the Air Force’s upcoming launch procurement. In a letter last week, a bipartisan group of 28 House members asked Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson not to delay that Launch Service Procurement, scheduled for release later this month. The members are all supporters of United Launch Alliance, which has advocated for keeping the program on its current schedule.

Other members, notably Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, have called for a delay, saying the procurement is premature because companies like Blue Origin are still developing their launch vehicles. (4/18)

LyteLoop Plans Laser-Comm Space-Based Satellite Data Storage Constellation (Source: Space News)
A startup is proposing a constellation of smallsats to provide secure data storage in space. LyteLoop, founded in 2015 but only now coming out of stealth mode, plans to use satellites to meet the growing demand for secure data storage without building large, energy-intensive, ground-based centers. The company’s satellites would be capable of storing hundreds of petabytes of data in space, moving them from satellite to satellite using high-bandwidth laser communications. LyteLoop will seek to raise a round of funding in the near future and request proposals for the development of dozens of satellites next year. (4/18)

How Safe Are New Satellite Constellations From Space Junk? (Source: ABC.net)
According to SpaceX, there’s a 1 per cent chance that at least one of its satellites will collide with a piece of debris during its 10-year stint in the sky. But that calculation, given in a report to the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC), only incorporates trackable debris — pieces larger than around 10cm. Satellite operators can track where those pieces are and maneuver their equipment out of the way. And while the millions of tiniest bits — less than 1cm wide — are too small to track, colliding with them is unlikely to blast a satellite to pieces, said Samantha Le May, who is modelling the behavior of orbital debris for her PhD at RMIT University.

It’s the middle-sized fragments, between 1 and 10cm, that are cause for concern. They’re also too small to track but, at speed, are big enough to obliterate a satellite, creating clouds of more debris. When Ms Le May and her colleagues took these chunks into account, the likelihood of a SpaceX satellite having a catastrophic collision jumped to over 12 per cent during 5 years of operation. And that was based on SpaceX’s plans at the time, which was to deploy 4,425 satellites. The company has since registered a further 7,518 satellites to slot into low Earth orbit. Click here. (4/17)

Russia: Indian ASAT Debris Threatens ISS (Source: Sputnik)
Russia’s defense ministry is warning that debris from India’s anti-satellite test could threaten the ISS. The head of the Main Space Intelligence Centre of the Russian Defence Ministry said Thursday there were more than 100 fragments from last month’s ASAT test “which may create threats in the near future” to the station. NASA previously warned that the ASAT test increased the threat to the station, at least in the near term, although there’s been no evidence that the station has yet had to take measures to avoid any collisions from debris created by that test. (4/18)

Not a Total Loss: Falcon Heavy Booster Engines May Be Okay (Source: Teslarati)
The Falcon Heavy booster core that launched last week has returned to port — or part of it, at least. The center booster core from the April 11 launch landed on a droneship in the Atlantic, but later toppled over in heavy seas when crews could not board the ship to secure it. The droneship returned to port last night, and observers noted that only the lower half of the booster was lying on its side on the deck of the ship. SpaceX previously said that the mishap won’t affect the schedule for the next Falcon Heavy flight, since that mission already planned to use a new center booster core. (4/17)

China Offers Rides for International Payloads on Lunar Lander & Orbiter(Source: Xinhua)
China will fly international payloads on a future sample return mission. The China National Space Administration says it will reserve 20 kilograms of payload space on its Chang’e-6 mission, split evenly between its orbiter and lander. The mission will land in the south polar region of the moon to collect samples for return to Earth, likely in the early 2020s. Universities and private enterprises in China will also be eligible to propose payloads for the mission. (4/18)

Helium Hydride Detected in NGC 7027 (Source: Science News)
Astronomers have detected what they believe to be the earliest molecule to form in the universe. Observations of a planetary nebula called NGC 7027, 3,000 light-years away, turned up evidence of helium hydride ions, which consist of one atom of hydrogen and one of helium. While those ions likely formed in the relatively recent past, they demonstrate that such molecules can exist outside of the laboratory. Scientists believe that helium hydride was the first molecule to form after the Big Bang in a period where the only elements in the universe were hydrogen and helium. (4/17)

Lockheed Martin Wants to Take NASA to the Moon (Source: Axios)
Lockheed Martin has a plan to get NASA astronauts back to the surface of the moon by 2024, the company revealed during the National Space Symposium in Colorado last week. The plan would take its Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle — which the government contractor has been developing for the better part of a decade for previous space exploration plans — and direct it to the moon. The plan would require a test flight of the Orion with its European Service Module on NASA’s Space Launch System rocket in June 2020, with the first crewed test flight in late 2022. Click here. (4/17)

NASA Wallops Flight Facility Gains Ground in Space, Scrambles to Save Ground on Earth (Source: Fredericksburg.com)
NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore is scheduled to launch a resupply mission to the International Space Station this afternoon. The launch pad is one of two that sit at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean and a spot where rising waters and stronger storms believed to be fueled by climate change are eroding the shoreline.

The first lesson in understanding what’s happening at Wallops is that not all beaches erode equally. And that’s the crux of the problem for NASA’s $1.2 billion flight facility. Built out on a barrier island to reduce risk to the local population in Accomack County, the beach helps to protect the island from scouring waves. But the thing about barrier islands is they are always moving and changing, and the area where launches take place sits at an erosion hot spot. (4/17)

Multiple Entities in Favor of Potential Michigan Spaceport (Source: Iosco News-Herald)
Inclusion in a trillion-dollar industry, support of more environmentally-friendly projects and involvement in cutting edge technology. These are just a few examples of the perceived benefits, should Oscoda Township become home to a spaceport operation. Gavin Brown – executive director of Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association (MAMA) –  gave a presentation at the April 11 meeting of the Oscoda-Wurtsmith Airport Authority (OWAA) to  discuss the possibility of bringing a launch facility, both vertical and horizontal, to the state.

In attendance were representatives of Oscoda and AuSable townships, Phoenix Composite Solutions, the Oscoda-Wurtsmith Airport (OWA) and Kalitta Air, including CEO Connie Kalitta. Consensus from attendees was that such an endeavor would have a significant, positive impact on the community and surrounding areas. Oscoda has been named as one of the possible site locations for the Michigan Launch Initiative (MLI), and Brown explained that funding is being awaited which was approved by former Governor Rick Snyder. This is currently under discussion with Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

“For some reason, there’s language that did not sit well with her budget director, so that’s where it stands,” according to Brown, who noted that money was already approved and appropriated to bring forward Phase I of the proposed project. Should the plan proceed, he advised that activity at the launch site in Oscoda would involve low earth orbit (LEO) satellites. There is no intention to carry out any manned or deep-space operations, as the idea would be to specifically put low orbit satellites into the LEO constellations. (4/17)

Why Space Tourism is an Incredible Waste of Money (Source: Traveller)
Space tourism is here. It’s real. It’s not some outlandish vision of a distant future. Right now, if you have the money, you can pay to get in a spacecraft and fly around the moon and back. Of course, you don’t have the money. That journey, with SpaceX, costs somewhere in the region of US$100 million, which is not the sort of change many people have to throw around. There’s a Japanese man, Yusaku Maezawa, who does have that sort of change to throw around, and will undertake his interstellar journey sometime around 2023. For the rest of us, however, that will remain a dream.

But that isn’t where space tourism begins and ends. And for those looking for the next frontier, who are so obsessed with travel that they want to take this thing as far as it can go, the space travel experience is already possible. For those who are only stupidly rich, there’s the chance to spend US$20 million and fly into orbit, before visiting the International Space Station. That Russia-led program is currently on hold, though it’s hoped it will be resuming soon. Other orbital space rides are in the works, like the Aurora Space Station, in orbit by 2021. That date seems highly ambitious, but still, it’s an interesting concept.

Virgin Galactic was all set to launch its first commercial sub-orbital flight by 2015, but unfortunately its winged spacecraft disintegrated during a test flight over the Mojave Desert in 2014. The company hopes to fly paying customers by end of this year, for about $250,000 a pop. Blue Origin may beat them there with its New Shepard rocket. And then there are parabolic weightless flights. The question, of course, is if it’s worth it – if any of this is worth it. Click here. (4/17)

Does a Year in Space Make You Older or Younger? (Source: The Conversation)
The NASA TWINS Study represents the most comprehensive view of the human body’s response to space flight ever conducted. Results will guide future studies and personalized approaches for evaluating health effects of individual astronauts for years to come. As a cancer biologist at Colorado State University I study the impact of radiation exposure on human cells. As part of the TWINS Study, I was particularly interested in evaluating how the ends of the chromosomes, called telomeres, were altered by a year in space.

One question often asked is whether Scott will return from space younger than Mark – a situation reminiscent of “Interstellar” or Einstein’s so-called “Twin Paradox.” However, because the ISS is not traveling anywhere near the speed of light relative to us, time dilation – or the slowing of time due to motion – is very minimal. So any age difference between the brothers would only be a few milliseconds. Even so, the question of spaceflight-associated aging and the accompanying risk of developing age-related diseases like dementia, cardiovascular disease and cancer – during or after a mission – is an important one, and one that we aimed to address directly with our study of telomere length.

Telomeres are the ends of chromosomes that protect them from damage and from “fraying” – much like the end of a shoestring. Telomeres are critical for maintaining chromosome and genome stability. However, telomeres naturally shorten as our cells divide, and so also as we age. The rate at which telomeres shorten over time is influenced by many factors, including oxidative stress and inflammation, nutrition, physical activity, psychological stresses and environmental exposures like air pollution, UV rays and ionizing radiation. (4/16)

NASA, Blue Origin Agreement Signals Rocketing Growth of Commercial Space (Source: NASA)
Officials from NASA and Blue Origin have signed an agreement that grants the company use of a historic test stand as the agency focuses on returning to the Moon and on to Mars, and America’s commercial space industry continues to grow. Under a Commercial Space Launch Act agreement, Blue Origin will upgrade and refurbish Test Stand 4670, at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville to support testing of their BE-3U and BE-4 rocket engines. The BE-4 engine was selected to power United Launch Alliance’s new Vulcan rocket and Blue Origin’s New Glenn launch vehicle – both being developed to serve the expanding civil, commercial and national security space markets.

“This test stand once helped power NASA’s first launches to the Moon, which eventually led to the emergence of an entirely new economic sector – commercial space,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard. “Now, it will have a role in our ongoing commitment to facilitate growth in this sector.” Constructed in 1965, Test Stand 4670 served as the backbone for Saturn V propulsion testing for the Apollo program, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Later, it was modified to support testing of the space shuttle external tank and main engine systems. The facility has been inactive since 1998. (4/17)

Antares Rocket Launches Cygnus Cargo Ship on Marathon Mission for NASA (Source; Space.com)
An Antares rocket soared into the afternoon sky over Virginia on Wednesday (April 17) carrying tons of NASA supplies — and 40 intrepid mice — to the International Space Station. The Northrop Grumman Antares rocket and its uncrewed Cygnus spacecraft launched into the cosmos from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, kicking off a two-day voyage to the space station. Liftoff occurred at 4:46 p.m. EDT (2046 GMT).

If all goes well, the spacecraft will arrive at the orbiting lab early Friday (April 19) to deliver 7,600 lbs. (3,447 kilograms) of science gear and supplies to the six-person crew of the International Space Station. The mission, called NG-11, is the eleventh cargo flight for NASA by Northrop Grumman and will be the company’s longest one to date. (4/17)

Canada Funds Space Research Grants (Source: SpaceQ)
The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) announced that it had awarded 31 grants totalling $16.2M for its Flights and Fieldwork for the Advancement of Science and Technology (FAST) program to 16 universities. According to the CSA the FAST Program “supports the development of space science and technologies and enables students and young researchers to gain hands-on experience in space-like missions. Grants are issued to Canadian post-secondary institutions (colleges and universities) following a competitive process.”

The grants awarded during this funding round will go to remote sensing investigations, CubeSat technologies including a novel Reflector Array SAR Antenna, atmospheric and other studies using balloons, propulsion innovations for rockets and more. (4/17)

China’s Plans to Dominate Space (Source: National Interest)
The essential requirement for informatization is not lost on Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is making a determined effort to ensure that PLA modernization is complete by 2035 and that it results in a ‘world-class’ force capable of fighting and winning wars anywhere by 2050. Space capability and ‘space power’ are central components of PLA informatization and China is developing sophisticated thinking and capability for waging war in space.

The key document driving the modernization agenda is China’s 2015 defense white paper, which notes that: ‘Outer space has become a commanding height in international strategic competition. Countries concerned are developing their space forces and instruments, and the first signs of weaponization of outer space have appeared.’ The 2015 white paper also resulted in the formation of the PLA Strategic Support Force, which was created as part of a major reorganisation of the PLA. The PLASSF focuses on the roles of space, cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum in Chinese military operations, and highlights doing more in space as a priority for the PLA. (4/17)

China Charting a Course to Mars and Jupiter (Source: Asia Times)
Future Chinese spacecraft will go beyond the Moon and fly to Mars and even deeper into space to reach Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system, according to official plans. In a space exploration plan spanning the next decade, Beijing has set its sights on Mars and Jupiter. However, China’s Mars program made a bad start in 2011 when the Yinghuo-1, intended to be the first Chinese spacecraft to Mars to study its surface, atmosphere, ionosphere and magnetic field, disintegrated over the Pacific Ocean after its Russian ride to space failed to escape the Earth’s gravitational pull.

Sun Zezhou, the chief architect of the Chang’e-4, which landed on the Moon’s far side, will also be responsible for the design of China’s new Mars probe. Sun revealed that the new probe, Yinghuo-2, would be similar to the Chang’e-4, but twice as heavy with a sizeable, autonomous rover, the Chitu, weighing about 200 kilograms. One of the goals of the mission is to search for evidence of both current and past life on the Martian surface, like biomolecules and biosignatures.

As for China’s audacious plans for future exploration beyond the inner solar system, including a mission to Jupiter, the country still needs new rocket and solar panel technologies for its probe to traverse 588 million kilometers to its destination. For instance, Chinese engineers still need to crack technical hurdles to develop a cutting-edge radioisotope thermoelectric generator as well as its gigantic solar array wings to power the future Jupiter probe. Xinhua reported last year that a mission to Jupiter would be launched in about 2029. (4/17)

How Will Space Law Work When We Begin to Colonize Planets? (Source: Open Access Government)
We are rapidly moving towards colonizing other planets for human life: SpaceX, Blue Origin, and other smaller businesses in the space sector are all hoping to win lucrative contracts from the likes of NASA and other national space agencies to begin the colonisation process. Space travel is steadily becoming cheaper, easier, and more accessible thanks to advancements in technology, and some experts are claiming that we may be living on the Moon by 2030. And while we haven’t even set foot on Mars, there are already plans in place to colonize our closest planetary neighbor.

But beyond the practical problems of moving people and resources into space, and the technology that would be required for the long journeys to the destination, there is the question of how colonies would be governed. How would laws work in space? Space lawyers are already in employment, with many private entities attempting to understand how legal issues in space will operate in the future. Space lawyers are experts in traditional fields of law as well as understanding the complexities of space travel. Click here. (4/17)





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