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


How a Focused, Agile Australian Space Agency Can Succeed

Momentum grows for an Australian Space Agency

Despite being involved in space projects for so long, just two Australian astronauts have been into space. That’s something Dr Clark is hoping to change. “We’ve been advising NASA on human space flight for over 40 years, and yet we haven’t had one of our Australian doctors as head of one of those medical missions,” she said. “So we do need to create those opportunities for the next generation and the generations after.”

But parts, not people, are more likely to be Australia’s first contributions. “We can certainly put Australian technology into shared missions,” she said. “We don’t have the budget of NASA, we’re not NASA. But can we make sure, in those missions, we have the very best Australia has to put forward as part of that? Absolutely, we can do that.”

The new agency is meant to be lean. It has just $41 million in funding to establish itself over the next four years. And it has wasted no time in getting down to business. “We’ve approved licences for an overseas launch for assets that will go into space,” Dr Clark said. “And we have a pipeline for the next 12-18 months. This is more than what we’ve done for decades.” (8/12)(Source: ABC Australia)

Road to Mars Travels Through Louisiana (Source: The Advocate)
Louisiana doesn’t always come to mind when people think of America’s space legacy the same way that Texas and Florida do, but the most critical part of the road to space on NASA’s historic exploration programs has come through the Michoud Assembly Facility in southeast Louisiana for much of the past 50 years. When we think of the truly iconic moments in space, most were a result of the rockets built in Louisiana by NASA and its industry partners.

So this week, as NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine visits the Bayou State, he will see that NASA’s Michoud facility is America’s rocket factory and produces NASA’s greatest space exploration systems. From the Apollo program’s Saturn V, to the space shuttle, and now America’s next great deep space rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), Michoud is where the vital parts of these rockets come together.

The SLS program has restored Michoud’s critical role in building America’s most powerful rockets and restoring U.S. leadership in deep space to transport astronauts further than ever before. Additionally, the SLS program is supporting hundreds of NASA, Boeing and supplier jobs at Michoud and other supplier companies across the state that are contributing critical manufacturing and components for this rocket. (8/12)

Trump’s Space Force Among Topics at Las Cruces Space Travel Symposium (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
This fall, leaders and experts in the commercial space industry will gather in Las Cruces for the 14th annual International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight to discuss the progress in space travel technologies, investments and policies. This year’s group of speakers features the son of an Apollo 11 astronaut and a United States government official who will offer details into the proposed Space Force.

Jared Stout, the executive deputy secretary and chief of staff for the National Space Council, is expected to attend the symposium to discuss the Trump administration’s proposed sixth branch of the U.S. military that would be dedicated to national security in outer space. Stout’s visit to Las Cruces comes on the heels of President Donald Trump’s announcement in June that he would direct the Pentagon to create the nation’s first Space Force. (8/12)

North Carolina-Made Compression Suits May Fly on Orion Missions (Source: Winston-Salem Journal)
Astronauts face tremendous G forces at blast off and then weightlessness in space. But what happens when astronauts return home? Their homecoming not only involves returning to friends and family, but also a reunion with gravity. This change can cause orthostatic intolerance (OI), which is the inability to stand upright without experiencing an increased heart rate, low blood pressure and/or lightheadedness after being in a weightless environment, according to the NASA website.

To aid astronauts who experience the condition, NASA scientists and researchers set out to find a wearable compression garment or system to slowly reintroduce astronauts’ bodies to Earth’s gravity. NASA found what it was looking for right here in Catawba County. Previously known as BSN Medical, Essity produces compression garments for people with conditions such as lymphedema, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) and other vascular conditions. The business has operations in Conover and Hickory. (8/12)

Stratolaunch Venture Rolls Out World’s Biggest Airplane for Weekend Tests (Source: GeekWire)
Stratolaunch, the launch venture created by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, took the world’s biggest airplane out of its hangar this weekend at California’s Mojave Air and Space Port and revved up its engines in preparation for the next step toward shooting rockets into space from midair. The rocket-launching part is still a year or two away, but Stratolaunch is aiming to put the 385-foot-wide, twin-fuselage plane through its first test flight within the next couple of months.

In order to do that, the test program calls for flying five on-the-ground runway taxi tests at increasing speeds. Two of those tests have been done already, and in a tweet on Friday, Stratolaunch CEO Jean Floyd hinted at a third runway race. The taxi test didn’t end up happening this weekend, but Stratolaunch’s team did put the plane through a couple of days’ worth of fueling operations. full-power engine tests and communication tests. And folks in Mojave got a good look at the monster plane (which has carried the nickname “Roc” in honor of the giant bird of Eastern mythology). (8/12)

India Planning January Lunar Mission (Source: IANS)
ISRO is planning an early January launch of its Chandrayaan-2 lunar lander. ISRO Chairman K. Sivan said the launch of the mission on a GSLV Mark 3 rocket is now scheduled for Jan. 3, but with a window that extends into March. The mission was to launch in October but was postponed by technical issues. ISRO also announced that the Chandrayaan-2 lander will be named “Vikram” in honor of Vikram Sarabhai, the father of the Indian space program. (8/12)

General Warns of Significant Costs for Space Force (Source: Space News)
A top general warns that the formation of the Space Force as a separate military branch will carry potentially significant costs. Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Friday there is a misconception that creating the Space Force from parts of the Air Force and other services will be “absolutely resource neutral” and that everyone involved needs to be “wide-eyed” about the potential costs. Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said last week that cost estimates for establishing the Space Force have not been completed yet. (8/12)

DOD Chief Changes Tune on Space Force (Source: AP)
Secretary of Defense James Mattis defended his apparent change of opinion regarding the Space Force. In a letter to Congress last year, Mattis argued against creating a separate military branch for space “that would likely present a narrower and even parochial approach to space operations.” Mattis, though, says he is on board with the creation of a Space Force, and denied he was ever really opposed. “What I was against was rushing to do that before we could define the problem,” he told reporters Sunday while on a visit to Brazil. (8/12)

Griffin (Potential Space Force Chief) Urges Improvements for Space Tech Development (Source: Space News)
Mike Griffin, the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, called on industry for greater urgency when working on military space programs. Government programs are “mired in process” and take far longer to develop. China, he said, is making much faster progress on technologies like hypersonic weapons because they “are not consulting a lot of people that plain just do not need to be consulted.” He noted he was concerned that he might not get everything he wanted done in the next two and a half years without process improvements. Griffin, in his comments last week at the Space and Missile Defense Symposium, did not touch on the Space Force, even as his name comes up for roles within that new military branch if it is created. (8/12)

Virgin Galactic’s Rocket Man (Source: New Yorker)
Virgin Galactic is one of three prominent startups that are racing to build and test manned rockets. Its rivals are Blue Origin, which is owned by Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon; and SpaceX, which is owned by Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla. Musk has said that he hopes that all this rocket building will “inspire the public to get excited about space again.” Branson recently told CNN, “I hope that Virgin Galactic will be the first of the three entrepreneurs fighting to put people into space to get there.”

The companies have different visions for the journey. Virgin Galactic plans to take half a dozen passengers on a “suborbital” flight, cresting at more than fifty miles above the Earth. Blue Origin has a similar altitude goal for its first manned flights, but it is developing the kind of vertical-launch system that one associates with nasa rockets. SpaceX is perhaps the most ambitious: Musk wants to colonize Mars. Click here. (8/13)

Trump’s Space Force Logos are Just as Dumb as Space Force (Source: Fast Company)
According to astronaut Mark Kelly and plenty of other experts, Donald Trump’s Space Force is, simply put, a pretty dumb idea. Nonetheless, last night the president’s reelection campaign released a slew of possible Space Force logos–and they’re right in line with the stupefyingly bad design Trump’s team is known for.

Let’s take a moment to breathe, because these logos aren’t official in any way. They weren’t created by anyone at the Pentagon, NASA, or any other federal agency. They were created by the Trump-Pence 2020 campaign PAC. And, as Parscale notes, they’re going to be used to “commemorate” the Space Force with a new “line of gear.” In other words, this is for merch. Ultimately, this is just a poor attempt to distract Trump supporters from the president’s legal troubles–and a way to sell more campaign merch. Click here. (8/10)

Military Space Plane Wings Toward Year in Earth Orbit (Source: Inside Outer Space)
The U.S. Air Force X-37B mini-space plane has winged past 340 days of flight performing secretive duties during the program’s fifth flight. Labeled the Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV-5), the robotic craft was rocketed into Earth orbit on September 7, 2017 atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

On this latest clandestine mission of the space plane, all that’s known according to Air Force officials is that one payload flying on OTV-5 is the Advanced Structurally Embedded Thermal Spreader, or ASETS-11. Developed by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), this cargo is testing experimental electronics and oscillating heat pipes for long durations in the space environment. (8/13)

Parker Solar Probe Launches From Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
A spacecraft designed to unlock the mysteries of the Sun was sent on its way early Sunday in a fiery liftoff from Cape Canaveral. United Launch Alliance sent the $1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe into the night sky, setting it on a voyage that will bring it within 3.8 million miles of our Solar System’s star at the highest speeds ever attained by a human-made device. The Delta IV Heavy lit the sky over Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on time at 3:31 a.m., engulfing the launch pad with flames as it slowly took flight. (8/12)

Trump Wants a Space Force — But We Have an Air Force Space Command (Source: Space.com)
President Donald Trump’s administration is pushing to form a U.S. Space Force, a new military branch, but how would that agency differ from the Air Force Space Command, which already oversees much of the country’s defense assets in space?

In 1982, the U.S. Air Force established the Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) to provide “space capabilities” for spaceflight missions, navigation, satellite communications, missile warning and space control. The AFSPC has units at Air Force bases all over the United States. These units provide space capabilities including “services, facilities and range safety control for the conduct of DOD, NASA and commercial launches” of satellties, according to AFSPC’s website.

But if the AFSPC is already dedicated to space, why do we need a Space Force? Michael Dodge, an assistant professor in the Department of Space Studies at the University of North Dakota, likened the creation of a Space Force with the birth of the Air Force in the 20th century. The early version of the U.S. Air Force existed as the U.S. Army Air Corps, an aerial warfare sector of the U.S. Army. But as planes continued to advance technologically and find their way into mainstream travel, “Congress decided they needed to have a new branch of the military,” Dodge said. (8/10)

Space Force Logo Push Smells Like Trump Steaks (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
The Trump Administration rolled out plans Thursday for the creation of Space Force, a new military branch deigned to keep us from getting blasted into submission by Russian or Chinese satellites. To drum up support, the PAC behind getting Trump re-elected is asking Americans to vote for the logo and offered six candidates.

I’m all for prevailing in an intergalactic war, but something smells funny here. Six designs were sent out via email to supporters by the Trump Make America Great Again Committee. I don’t know enough Space Force and future of intergalactic defense needs to have an opinion. I do find it amusing that, like Trump Steaks and Trump University, the president is turning space defense into a marketing ploy. It’s so… Trumpian. (8/10)

NASA Awards $2.3 Million in Grants to Minority Serving Institutions to Expand STEM Education (Source: NASA)
NASA’s Minority University Research and Education Program (MUREP) Aerospace Academy (MAA) has selected seven Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) for cooperative agreement awards totaling nearly $2.3 million. The grants will be used to build the interest, skills and knowledge necessary for K-12 students to pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers.

These selections will increase the participation and retention of historically underserved and underrepresented youth in grades K-12 through hands-on STEM activities. Awardees will receive up to $325,000 for a two-year period. MUREP investments enhance the academic, research and technological capabilities of MSIs through multiyear grants. The MUREP Aerospace Academy provides opportunities for participatory and experiential learning activities in formal and informal education settings to connect learners to unique NASA resources. (8/10)

Rocket Lab Chooses RUAG Space as Preferred Supplier (Source: SpaceRef)
Today, Rocket Lab of Huntington Beach, Calif., an independent developer and manufacturer of small launch vehicles, and RUAG Space, a leading product supplier for satellites and launchers, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) creating a new agreement in the small launcher market, in support of flying RUAG separation systems on the Electron Launch Vehicle.

Rocket Lab, the developer of the world’s first fully carbon composite orbital launch vehicle, Electron, powered by 3D printed, electric pump-fed engines selected RUAG Space as its preferred supplier to provide a 15” microsatellite separation system for future missions of its Electron Small Launch Vehicles (SLV). These adapters connect satellites and rockets during the launch, and ensure a smooth separation in orbit. The new partnership was announced at the 2018 SmallSat Conference in Logan, Utah with representatives from both companies coming together to celebrate the agreement. (8/9)

New Horizons Spacecraft Sees Possible Hydrogen Wall at the End of the Solar System (Source: Gizmodo)
As it speeds away from the Sun, the New Horizons mission may be approaching a “wall.” The New Horizons spacecraft, now at a distance nearly four billion miles from Earth and already far beyond Pluto, has measured what appears to be a signature of the furthest reaches of the Sun’s energy—a wall of hydrogen. It nearly matches the same measurement made by the Voyager mission 30 years ago, and offers more information as to the furthest limits of our Sun’s reach.

The Voyager probe measured a similar signature three decades ago. Recent re-analysis demonstrated that Voyager’s scientists probably overestimated the signal’s strength. But once the Voyager data was corrected, New Horizon’s results looked almost exactly the same.

Perhaps the signal is something else, said Gladstone, but the corroboration of the data at least adds credence to its existence, whether it’s coming from the hydrogen wall or some other feature. Scientists plan to observe the signal perhaps twice a year, according to the paper. (8/10)

Ex-Astronaut: Trump’s Plan for a Space Force ‘Redundant,’ ‘Wasteful’ (Source: The Hill)
Former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly says President Trump’s plan for a military branch with jurisdiction over outer space is “redundant” and “wasteful.” Kelly, who participated in several NASA missions to the International Space Station, said during an interview Thursday on MSNBC that Trump is the only person who thinks a “Space Force” is a good idea.

“The only person that I’ve heard say this is a fantastic idea is the commander in chief, the president of the United States,” Kelly said. “Everybody else says it’s redundant, it’s wasteful.” … “There is a threat out there,” he added, “but it’s being handled by the U.S. Air Force today, doesn’t make sense to build a whole other level of bureaucracy in an incredibly bureaucratic [Defense Department],” he added. (8/9)

U.S. Would Need a Megaconstellation to Counter China’s Hypersonic Weapons (Source: Space News)
The Pentagon admittedly is already five to 10 years behind in the development of an anti-missile system to thwart advanced hypersonic weapons that are now being tested by China and Russia. The good news for the Defense Department is that the commercial space technology boom that is fueling the development of megaconstellations could help the military reach that goal.

The Pentagon is studying options to build a space-based surveillance network to fill blind spots in the nation’s current defenses — which were designed to counter ballistic missiles that fly on a predictable arch-shaped pattern. To detect and track hypersonic weapons — which fly into space at supersonic speeds and then descend back down to Earth directly on top of targets — the answer is a large constellation of small satellites. “Our response has to be a proliferated space sensor layer, possibly based off commercial space developments,” said Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Michael Griffin. (8/9)

New Space Camp for Adults Scheduled for Indiana (Source: Clinton County Daily News)
IN Space Adult Camp is your chance to play like a kid, but use your years of knowledge to create adult experiments to travel to the edge of space. This short, but fun camp starts on Friday evening, at 6 p.m. on August 24 with a BBQ Meet and Greet. Get to know your teammates and plan what you will launch. The day will end at 8 p.m. On Saturday, August 25, we meet again at 9 a.m. and begin predicting, building and launching your BalloonSat satellite. We finish the day at 5 p.m. having recovered the platform and evaluating our experiments. This event will be held at the Frankfort Municipal Airport. (8/8)

Trump’s Space Force Plan Is Already Making the Military Desperate and Dumb (Source: Daily Beast)
The Trump administration’s plan to establish a separate branch of the U.S. military for space operations has experts scratching their heads in confusion. The proposal for a so-called Space Force also seems to have inspired a desperate scramble by the U.S. Air Force, which currently leads military space operations, to justify its manpower and funding.

To that end, Carlton Everhart — the general in charge of Air Mobility Command, which oversees the Air Force’s transport planes — has proposed a frankly bizarre scheme to boost military supplies into orbit and then drop them to U.S. forces in distant war zones. Experts said the orbital supply runs would be enormously expensive and impractical. “It seems like an answer in search of a problem and willfully misunderstanding how orbital mechanics works,” said Victoria Samson. (8/9)

Across the U.S., the Spaceport Race Is On (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Camden County, Ga., played a bit part in aerospace history as home to a 1960s plant that built and tested NASA rocket motors. Now, county leaders want to revive that heritage with a new commercial spaceport. “We can be part of the new space race in the 21st Century,” said Steve Howard, project leader and the Camden County administrator.

Companies like Blue Origin and SpaceX are investing millions trying to lead the way in a space gold rush. The Trump administration has emphasized a growing role for the private sector in space exploration and this week presented a plan for a sixth military branch dedicated to space. Local and state officials across the U.S. are trying to get in on the action.

There are now 10 licensed commercial spaceports in the U.S., from Alaska to Florida, double the number in 2004. Some of them grew out of existing government launch sites. At least two other proposed spaceports are under federal review: Spaceport Camden and Spaceport Colorado. Despite the enthusiasm, the commercial sector is still nascent. Some facilities have hosted only a few launches, or none at all. “I would caution against irrational exuberance,” said Frank Slazer. Click here. (8/11)

The GPS Satellite Praised by Mike Pence for Space Force Is Delayed Yet Again (Source: Bloomberg)
Announcing plans for a new U.S. Space Force on Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence singled out the Pentagon’s “new generation of jam-resistant GPS and communication satellites” as a harbinger of the push to “secure American leadership in space.” But the advanced satellite has been hobbled by four years of delivery delays. And now the launch the first of the new satellites — originally planned for April 2014 — has slipped once again, according to the Air Force.



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