Sunday, November 29, 2015

Obama Signs Law Granting Property Rights To Asteroid Miners

President Obama signed the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (H.R. 2262) into law on Wednesday which grants proprietary rights to companies that endeavor to mine asteroids in outer space.

“This is the single greatest recognition of property rights in history,” said Eric Anderson, Co-Founder and Co-Chairman, Planetary Resources, Inc., an asteroid mining company that deployed a test demonstration spacecraft from the International Space Station this past summer. “This legislation establishes the same supportive framework that created the great economies of history, and will encourage the sustained development of space.”

Although harvesting rare metals are a long term goal of asteroid mining, water extraction is a near-term goal for asteroid mining because it is costly to launch water from Earth into outer space. In addition to human consumption, water found in space can also be converted into rocket fuel without expending the resources to launch the fuel from Earth.

The passage of the bill was hailed by Florida lawmakers as a jobs creator for Florida's Space Coast where many of the commercial mining rocket launches are expected to take place. 

"The reforms included here make it easier for our innovators to return Americans to suborbital space and will help the American space industry continue pushing further into space than ever before," U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) said. "I’m proud the final bill includes proposals I had previously introduced in the Senate, including one related to commercial recovery of space resources. This bill is an important win for Florida’s space coast and the entire space exploration community.”

“Recognizing basic legal protections in space will help pave the way for exciting future commercial space endeavors," said U.S. Congressman Bill Posey (R-FL), who represents Brevard County on Florida's Space Coast. "Asteroids and other objects in space are excellent potential sources of rare minerals and other resources that can be used to manufacture a wide range of products here on Earth and to support future space exploration missions. Americans willing to invest in space mining operations need legal certainty that they can keep the fruits of their labor, and this bill provides that certainty.”

Conflict With International Law

Although the law was enacted to clarify that resources mined from an asteroid or other celestial objects are the property of the U.S. entity that obtained them, the law appears to be in direct conflict with the Outer Space Treaty which was approved by the United Nation General Assembly in 1966 and signed by the United States and Russia in 1967. The international law states, in relevant part, that:

 - the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind;

 - outer space shall be free for exploration and use by all States;

 - outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means;

- States shall be responsible for national space activities whether carried out by governmental or non-governmental entities; and

- States shall avoid harmful contamination of space and celestial bodies.

Image Credit: NASA

Atlas V Rocket Launch From Cape Canaveral Will Resupply Space Station

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida -- The launch of a cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 401 rocket from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida is scheduled for 5:48 p.m. EST on Thursday, December 3, 2015. The mission has a 30-minute launch window.

This launch will be the fourth International Space Station cargo resupply mission (CRS-4) for Orbital ATK's Cygnus spacecraft. However, this Cygnus spacecraft was modified to carry a larger payload and will ferry approximately 7,700 pounds of equipment and experiments to the ISS. 

In addition to being the first flight (second attempt following the Antares explosion) of the enhanced version of the Cygnus, the launch marks the first use of ULA's workhorse Atlas V rocket to lift a payload to the space station.

"Atlas V has put satellites in orbit reliably and we are thrilled to be partners both with ULA on the Atlas and with NASA for to fly Cygnus to deliver this important cargo to the space station," said Dan Tani, a former astronaut who is now Orbital ATK's senior director of Mission and Cargo Operations.

Cygnus will use autonomous systems and be guided by ground controllers to maneuver carefully near the space station until it is close enough for station astronaut Kjell Lindgren to grasp it with the station's robotic arm. Cygnus will then be maneuvered into place and latched to the station for unloading. It will remain docked at the ISS for about three weeks.

Where to watch the Cygnus / Atlas V Rocket Launch On December 3rd:

There are several locations available for guests to view the launch at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. General admission tickets required.  Visit the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex website for directions and more information.

Free areas to watch the December 3rd rocket launch (in order of best viewing): 

1. Titusville, Florida southward along the Indian River on the east side of US Highway 1.
2. Between Merritt Island and Cape Canaveral along the north side of State Road 528.
3. Port Canaveral, with best viewing and paid parking available at Jetty Park.
4. Along the beaches of Cape Canaveral and Cocoa Beach, Florida.

ABOVE IMAGE: A view of the enhanced Cygnus spacecraft before it is enclosed in a protective fairing. Credits: NASA/Dmitri Gerondidakis

Study: Earth's Magnetic Field Will Not Flip Soon

The Earth's magnetic field will not flip as soon as previously predicted, according to a new research paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Earth's magnetic poles have reversed several hundred times over the past 100 million years, most recently about 780,000 years ago when humans were present. Some scientists believe a dip in the magnetic field's intensity 41,000 years ago was also a brief reversal. 

When scientists recently began noticing a decline in the magnetic field - about 10 percent over the past two centuries - it led to speculation that another polarity flip would happen soon.  But the magnetic field's intensity could simply be coming down from an unusual high rather than approaching a reversal, new research suggests. That's because the magnetic field's intensity rises and falls without a clear pattern, only sometimes dipping far enough to become unstable and possibly reverse. During a reversal, geomagnetic intensity declines during a transition period that typically lasts hundreds to thousands of years, then rebuilds.

"The field may be decreasing rapidly, but we're not yet down to the long-term average. In 100 years, the field may even go back the other direction [in intensity]," said Dennis Kent, an expert in paleomagnetism at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and co-author of the study with his former student, Huapel Wang.

As lava cools, iron-bearing minerals form inside and act like tiny magnets, aligning with the Earth's magnetic field. Scientists can analyze ancient lava to determine both the direction and the intensity of the magnetic field at the time the lava formed.

For the new study, the scientists used ancient lava flows from sites near the equator and compared the paleointensity data with what had been regarded as an anomalously low intensity obtained by others from lavas from near the South Pole.  

The researchers found that the magnetic field's long-term average intensity over the past five million years was much weaker than the global database of paleointensity suggests - only about 60 percent of the field's strength today. The findings raise questions both about claims that the magnetic field may be nearing a reversal and about the database itself.

The scientists believe the difference is in how the samples are analyzed. They say the database, which catalogs paleointensity data from published papers, includes a variety of methods and doesn't clearly delineate data from two different types of magnetized mineral samples, tiny single-domain grains that come from sites that cooled quickly, like basalt glass on the outer edges of lava flows, and more common larger multi-domain grains found deeper inside lava whose magnetic behavior is more complex and require a different type of analysis.

Above image: An artistic impression of how auroras could be more widespread under a geomagnetic field much weaker than today's. Credit: Huapei Wang, with source files courtesy of NASA's Earth Observatory/NOAA/DOD

Friday, November 27, 2015

SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Debris Recovered At Sea In United Kingdom

SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Debris
Debris from a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that exploded off of Floridaon June 28 was recovered from the sea in southwestern Great Britain on Thursday. Credit: MCA

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida -  Debris which apparently came from a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that exploded off of Florida's Space Coast on June 28, 2015 was recovered from the sea near the Isles of Scilly in southwestern Great Britain on Thursday.

The debris, a barnacle-encrusted section of metal alloy that measured 33 feet by 10 feet (10 meters by 4 meters), was discovered floating on the water's surface between the islands of Bryher and Tresco which is 4,000 miles away from where the spaceflight disaster occurred five months ago.

The UK Coastguard immediately issued a warning to shipping in the area after the wreckage sighting was reported. The UK Coastguard then set out to recover the flotsam with the help of a local professional boatman. The rocket remains were later towed in into New Grimsby and securely held on the beach at Tresco where it was examined.

"The markings show an American flag. It looks like it’s an American rocket and is similar to the unmanned Space X Falcon 9 which blew up shortly after take-off from Cape Canaveral in June, said Martin Leslie, Coastal Area Commander in a release. "We’re grateful for all those who helped in its recovery – it was a great example of the community working together." 

According to the National Weather Service radar, debris from the rocket, Dragon 9 capsule, and payload fell into the Atlantic Ocean on June 28 from an altitude of 150,000 feet with a debris field that spanned just east of New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Data provided by a NOAA buoy closest to the debris fields at the time of the explosion indicated that 1.6 ft. waves were traveling in an east-northeasterly direction while winds were coming from the south-southwest at 9-10 knots. 

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket exploded off of Florida on June 28, 2015. Credit: SpaceX

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

VIDEO: Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin Successfully Lands A Reusable Rocket

VAN HORN, Texas -- Blue Origin, a private commercial space company founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, successfully launched and landed its New Shepard reusable rocket from west Texas on Monday, November 23, 2015.

Blue Origin  announced that the New Shepard space vehicle successfully flew to space, reaching its planned test altitude of 329,839 feet (100.5 kilometers) before executing a historic landing back at the launch site in West Texas.

“Now safely tucked away at our launch site in West Texas is the rarest of beasts—a used rocket,” said Bezos. “Blue Origin’s reusable New Shepard space vehicle flew a flawless mission—soaring to 329,839 feet and then returning through 119-mph high-altitude crosswinds to make a gentle, controlled landing just four and a half feet from the center of the pad. Full reuse is a game changer, and we can’t wait to fuel up and fly again.”

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, who's company is also in the reusable rocket business, tweeted: "Congrats to Jeff Bezos and the BO team for achieving VTOL on their booster."

Named in honor of the first American in space, Alan Shepard, the New Shepard vertical takeoff and vertical landing vehicle will carry six astronauts to altitudes beyond 100 kilometers, the internationally-recognized boundary of space.  The vehicle is comprised of two elements—a crew capsule in which the astronauts ride and a rocket booster powered by a single American-made BE-3 liquid hydrogen, liquid oxygen engine. At liftoff, the BE-3 delivers 110,000 pounds of thrust. 

Following powered flight, the crew capsule separates from the booster and coasts into space, providing several minutes of weightlessness. As the crew capsule descends, it reenters the atmosphere with astronauts experiencing about 5x the force of gravity before deploying three main parachutes for landing. Meanwhile, the booster descends under guided flight to the landing pad. Just prior to landing, the booster re-ignites its BE-3 engine which slows the vehicle to 4.4 mph for a gentle, powered vertical landing, enabling vehicle reuse.

"This flight validates our vehicle architecture and design," Bezos said. "Our unique ring fin shifted the center of pressure aft to help control reentry and descent; eight large drag brakes deployed and reduced the vehicle’s terminal speed to 387 mph; hydraulically actuated fins steered the vehicle through 119-mph high-altitude crosswinds to a location precisely aligned with and 5,000 feet above the landing pad; then the highly-throttleable BE-3 engine re-ignited to slow the booster as the landing gear deployed and the vehicle descended the last 100 feet at 4.4 mph to touchdown on the pad.

Blue Origin was selected by United Launch Alliance to serve as the primary propulsion provider for its Next Generation Launch System capable of carrying humans to low-Earth orbit.  Blue Origin announced in Sepetember that the company will begin launch operations at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 36 on Florida's Space Coast later in the decade.

Image and Video Credit: Blue Origin

Monday, November 23, 2015

Astronauts Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren Display Thanksgiving Meal

U.S. astronauts Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren displayed what they will eat aboard the International Space Station for Thanksgiving. On the astronauts' menu for Thanksgiving 2015 in outer space is: smoked turkey; candied yams; rehydratable corn; and potatoes au gratin.

In a YouTube video uploaded by NASA's Johnson Space Center, both astronauts expressed what they are thankful for.

"We're thankful for the thousands, if not tens of thousands of people at NASA and its contractor companies and all the international partner space agencies around the world that work so hard to keep us safe and make us so successful up here on the International Space Station," said Lindgren. 

"Being on the Space Station here and looking down at our incredibly beautiful planet gives us a different perspective on what it means to be citizens of planet Earth," Kelly said. "Since I've been up here, seen so many bad things that often happen down there, we follow that on the news. And it just makes me really thankful to live in a country like the United States that provides us with freedom and opportunity. For me being a middle-class kid from New Jersey to just have the privilege to come up here and represent my country like this - this is what I am thankful for this Thanksgiving."

After giving thanks, the astronauts opened plastic food packages containing their Thanksgiving dinner. Lindgren munched on the smoked turkey while Kelly sampled the candied yams.

Image and video credit: NASA

More stories about Thanksgiving

Sunday, November 22, 2015

November Full Moon on Thanksgiving Morning

Full Moon
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida -- There will be a Full Moon overnight on Thanksgiving Eve, Wednesday, November 25, 2015, beginning with a moonrise over the Atlantic Ocean at 5:37 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (with a few minutes of variation depending on your exact location). 

The Full Moon will technically be 99.7% full at 12:29 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning before it sets at 7:23 a.m. on Thursday, November 26, 2015. A Full Moon in November has seasonal names such as a "Beaver's Moon" or "Frosty Moon."

For those planning a moonlit stroll along the beach on the U.S. East Coast, this Full Moon brings along with it a 4.5-foot  Atlantic Ocean high tide that will occur around 7 p.m. on November 25, with a few minutes of variation depending on your exact location.  Another 4.8 ft. high tide will occur around 7:35 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning.

Image Credit: NASA 

NASA Contracts With SpaceX To Launch Astronauts From U.S. Soil

Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida undergoes modifications by SpaceX to adapt it to the needs of the company's Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, which are slated to lift off from the historic pad in the near future. Credit: SpaceX

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida - SpaceX received its first order from NASA to launch astronauts from U.S. soil to the International Space Station.

NASA officials said that this was the second in a series of four guaranteed orders NASA will make under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts. Boeing received its first crew mission order back in May.

"It’s really exciting to see SpaceX and Boeing with hardware in flow for their first crew rotation missions," said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. "It is important to have at least two healthy and robust capabilities from U.S. companies to deliver crew and critical scientific experiments from American soil to the space station throughout its lifespan."

Determination of which company will fly its mission to the station first will be made at a later time, NASA said. The contracts call for orders to take place prior to certification to support the lead time necessary for missions in late 2017, provided the contractors meet readiness conditions.

Commercial crew missions to the space station aboard the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft will restore America’s human spaceflight capabilities which ended in 2011 when the Space Shuttle fleet was retired.

SpaceX’s crew transportation system, including the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket, has advanced through several development and certification phases. The company recently performed a critical design review, which demonstrated the transportation system has reached a sufficient level of design maturity to work toward fabrication, assembly, integration and test activities.

"The authority to proceed with Dragon's first operational crew mission is a significant milestone in the Commercial Crew Program and a great source of pride for the entire SpaceX team," said Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX. “When Crew Dragon takes NASA astronauts to the space station in 2017, they will be riding in one of the safest, most reliable spacecraft ever flown. We're honored to be developing this capability for NASA and our country.”

Commercial crew launches will reduce the cost, per seat, of transporting NASA astronauts to the space station compared to what the agency must pay the Russian Federal Space Agency for the same service. If, however, NASA does not receive the full requested funding for CCtCap contracts in fiscal year 2016 and beyond, the agency will be forced to delay future milestones for both U.S. companies and continue its sole reliance on Russia to transport American astronauts to the space station.

A standard commercial crew mission to the station will carry up to four NASA or NASA-sponsored crew members and about 220 pounds of pressurized cargo. The spacecraft will remain at the station for up to 210 days, available as an emergency lifeboat during that time.

Astronaut Scott Kelly's Space Station "UFO" Photo Explained

A photo taken by U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly aboard the International Space Station over India on November 15 has generated UFO speculation. Credit: NASA via Twitter

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida - A photo taken by U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly aboard the International Space Station over India on November 15 has generated speculation on the internet that a U.F.O. - which stands for Unidentified Flying Object - was captured in the background hovering in low orbit above the Earth.

"Last night aboard the International Space Station astronaut Scott Kelly tweeted this photo," wrote U.F.O. hunter sonofmabarker on YouTube on November 16. "It was taken while the ISS was over India. In the upper right of the photo you can clearly see a large object with two lights on each end. It also appears to be very large and constructed."

However, that same "U.F.O." object was captured much more clearly in the background of another photo taken by Kelly four days later on November 19 which shows that the image was caused by a reflection of the Sun off of a part of the International Space Station.

Another photo taken by Kelly aboard the ISS over the United States on November 19 shows that the UFO was actually part of the ISS reflecting sunlight. Credit: NASA via Twitter

Friday, November 20, 2015

Recovered Apollo Program Engines Unveiled At Seattle's Museum of Flight

Jeff Bezos at the Apollo rocket engine unveiling ceremony at The Museum of Flight, showing the injector plate from an F-1 rocket used on Apollo 12

SEATTLE, Washington - The Museum of Flight made the first public showing of the restored remains of the F-1 rocket engines used to launch NASA's historic Apollo 12 and Apollo 16 missions to the Moon on Thursday, which was also the anniversary of the Apollo 12 Moon landing on November 19, 1969.