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The Red Planet may have had intense snowstorms long ago when it was wetter, but a model shows it could still have violent snowfall at night when the clouds cool
For the first time in 60 years astronomy could be reborn in one of its most iconic locations, the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, London
We have always hunted meaning in total eclipses. As the US prepares for a total eclipse, four new books tell us all about them and remind us to enjoy them too
MOSCOW — In the days that followed Monday’s report in The New York Times that North Korea may have illicitly procured advanced Soviet-era rocket engines from Ukraine, the response out of the post-Soviet nation could best be described as trolling.
Not long after the report was published, outraged Ukrainian social media users directed their outrage at the source of the allegations: Michael Elleman, a missile defense expert with the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
The New York Times story referenced in detail a report published by Elleman that same day, in which he noted apparent similarities between North Korea’s new missile engines and those once produced by Yuzmash, the Ukrainian rocket factory that builds the Zenit, Dnepr and Cyclone satellite launchers and the main stage of Orbital ATK’s Antares rocket.
Rather than challenge Elleman’s argument, Ukrainian social media users quickly made things personal. Freelance investigators scoured his Facebook and Twitter profiles to find evidence that Elleman was a Russian agent peddling propaganda.
This is low. Ukrainians going after @Elleman_IISS online with his own social posts, claiming ‘ties to Russia.’ https://t.co/Y9zHxrd9eG
— Christopher Miller (@ChristopherJM) August 15, 2017
“It was extremely interesting to read the Facebook page of someone who, in The New York Times story, was presented as a rocket expert,” Artem Sokolenko, the head of a communications firm in Kiev wrote on Facebook Sunday.
“He does not like to show his wife on his page, but there are some photos,” Sokolonko wrote, sharing photos purportedly of Elleman’s Russian wife, Tatyana, dressed in a Russian military uniform — one that was obviously not her own.
Elleman was the head of a cooperative nuclear missile dismantlement program in Chelyabinsk, Russia, from 1995 to 2001, and is a respected expert in the field of arms control and missile defense.
“The initial Ukrainian response was unhelpful,” Michael Kofman, an expert in Russian military affairs at the Virginia-based CNA think tank told SpaceNews.
“They blamed the expert and then Russian information warfare, which had nothing to do with the matter,” Kofman said. “After categorical denials, only now are they launching an investigation to see if there was any connection.”
On Wednesday, two days after the reports were published, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko finally stepped up with a proactive response.
“No matter how absurd the accusations,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko wrote on his Facebook page Wednesday, “as responsible partners…we shall carefully verify…the alleged supply of missile engines … to North Korea.”
Poroshenko ordered Yuzhmash, the Ukrainian rocket firm in question, along with state investigators, to conduct a thorough investigation into the claims and report back to him. The report is expected imminently.
A graphic included in IISS’s Aug. 14 report, “The secret to North Korea’s ICBM success.” shows that all three missiles North Korea recently tested were “powered by the same engine complex, with one main engine and four steering engines.” Credit: IISS
Also on Wednesday, the Yuzhnoe design bureau — the R&D wing of Yuzhmash — released a strongly worded statement refuting The New York Times and IISS reports.
“This material is riddled with technical inaccuracies,” the statement said, “amateur level assessments of technology, and a clear lack of understanding of rocket and missile technology.”
The statement echoed online sentiment questioning Elleman’s expertise. And Elleman was subject to such intense pressure online that he was prompted to delete his social media accounts. Elleman did not respond to a request for comment on this report.
Sokolenko, along with his followers and other Ukrainians on Twitter, also took note of Elleman’s dog — named Sobaka, the Russian word for dog — and photos of an empty bottle of Putina vodka.
All of this, in their mind, was evidence he was compromised.
The idea that Elleman’s report was somehow the product of a Russian disinformation campaign was initially echoed by Ukrainian officials, namely the Oleksandr Turchinov, secretary of the National Security and Defense Council.
“This information is baseless,” Turchinov wrote Monday on his blog, “it is provocative in content and most likely provoked by the Russian intelligence services to cover up their own crimes.”
It is, perhaps, understandable that Ukraine’s initial reaction was unsavory. After all, Elleman’s report comes after three years of conflict with neighboring Russia — a struggle that is waged in eastern Ukraine and in the global information space.
“The claims of Russian disinformation were probably inevitable,” says Russian nuclear weapons expert Pavel Podvig, “as were the attacks on Elleman.”
“I think Yuzhmash had the right to question his expertise and they were understandably angry,” Podvig continued, “but the campaign against [Elleman] of course turned rather ugly on social media — but I’m not sure officials made it worse. There are plenty of freelancing trolls in Ukraine.”
For Ukrainians, the timing must have certainly been suspect. At a time when tensions are flaring between North Korea and the United States, no allegation could perhaps be more damaging for Ukraine’s reputation in Washington.
Mikhail Barabanov, an expert with the Moscow-based Center for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, said that politics likely played a role in the assessment that Ukraine may have transferred technology to North Korea.
“This excessive searching for ‘foreign assistance’ in the North Korean missile program is purely political in nature,” Barabanov argued, “and is the result of shock, especially in the United States, from North Korea’s recent missile success.”
Barabanov argued that North Korea’s indigenous missile program is 50 years old, and that information on rocket technology has proliferated in the past two decades thanks in part to the internet. That said, he believes Ukraine could have played a role in helping North Korea.
“This story would be completely in the spirit and customs of Ukrainian military-technical cooperation,” Baravanov said. “Ukraine has a bad reputation with regards to the sale of former Soviet military hardware, including high-tech equipment.”
The most famous example, said Barabanov, was a 2001 sale to Iran and China of the USSR’s Kh-55 air-launched cruise missiles. Ukraine admitted to the sale in 2005. The idea of Russia giving North Korea the engines would go against Russia’s interests, he said.
But amid renewed talk of arming Ukraine with lethal American defensive weapons in Washington, information warriors in Ukraine — as well as their fellow travellers in the West — see motive for Russia to frame Ukraine at a time when U.S. tension with North Korea are high.
The sentiment that Elleman was somehow compromised by his Russian wife was echoed by anti-Putin Twitter activists in the West. One of these activists, Julia Davis, doubled down on the idea that his Russian wife was evidence.
— Julia Davis (@JuliaDavisNews) August 15, 2017
Russian info warriors had their own fun.
Two famous Russian telephone pranksters, renowned for prank calling singer Elton John and convincing him he was talking to Russian President Vladimir Putin, managed to get the head of Yuzhmash on the line and talked him into admitting ties to North Korea.
Luckily, the expert-level discussion on all sides appears to be more level-headed. Podvig, who runs the Russianforces.com blog, said that he doubts Elleman’s conclusions.
“Although it’s not entirely impossible, sending actual rocket engines to North Korea would be a very difficult thing to pull off, whether in Russia or Ukraine. And I thought Yuzhmash handled the situation reasonable well,” Podvig said.
Yuzhmash has said all engines of the type Elleman believes are being used by North Korea were produced by the plant and sent to Russia long ago.
“They must have the records. It is a bit unfair to put the burden of proof on them, but maybe they’ll come around to realizing that this kind of openness would help them,” Podvig said.
Kofman echoed Podvig’s sentiment: “Ultimately, I think that Ukraine will be vindicated in this scandal.”
WASHINGTON — The successful launch of a NASA communications satellite Aug. 18 is the final flight of the current generation of data relay spacecraft as well as for a venerable satellite bus.
A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 401 rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 8:29 a.m. Eastern. The launch was delayed by 26 minutes because of an issue with the temperature on the Centaur upper stage detected during the standard T-4 minute hold.
The Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) M spacecraft separated from the Centaur in a geostationary transfer orbit nearly two hours after liftoff. In a statement, NASA confirmed TDRS-M was in good health and in contact with controllers after separation.
The launch, previously scheduled for early August, was postponed by two weeks because of an incident during payload processing that damaged an S-band antenna on the Boeing-built spacecraft. That antenna was later replaced.
During a pre-launch news conference Aug. 17 at the Kennedy Space Center, a Boeing manager said the antenna suffered some “minor damage” when a crane bumped it. “It was prepping to the lift the satellite, and the crane did come down and touch it,” said James Wilson III, Boeing program manager for NASA and civil space programs.
Wilson suggested, but did not explicitly state, that the incident was the result of human error. Asked at the press conference if the crane mishap was a mechanical problem or human error, he said, “There was no machine problem.”
End of the lines
TDRS-M is the third and final satellite in the latest generation of TDRS satellites. Boeing won a contract from NASA for the satellites in 2007 that included two satellites and options for two more. NASA exercised the option for one satellite, but not the other, which would have been TDRS-N.
“The deployment of the satellites depends on the requirements. At this moment, there is no need a TDRS-N,” said Badri Younes, deputy associate administrator for Space Communications and Navigation at NASA Headquarters. “We are seeing a need for additional data relaying capability around the 2025 time frame.”
Those future needs will be met by a later generation of communications satellites. Younes, at the press conference, said those future spacecraft will likely incorporate new technologies, including laser communications, which he said can offer up to 100 times the bandwidth for the same amount of power. “We have declared the next decade to be the decade of light, as we intend to light up the communications highways over the solar system,” he said.
Other technologies he said NASA was considering incorporating on future satellites include disruption tolerant networking and quantum entanglement, which would provide essentially unbreakable encryption for satellite communications. China has been testing quantum entanglement for communications using a satellite launched last year.
Younes suggested that those future data relay satellites might be owned and operated by commercial entities rather than NASA. “NASA’s optimum goal is to push the technology to enable the commercial sector such that these services can be provided by commercial providers, and NASA will not need in the future to build these kinds of capabilities,” he said. “They can become a user, like any other user.”
TDRS-M also marks the end of the line for the Boeing 601 family of communications satellites. The 601 was introduced in 1987 by Hughes Space and Communications, which was acquired by Boeing in 2000. The companies built more than 80 spacecraft using the Boeing 601 bus for commercial and government customers.
“I started out on 601s when I was a young engineer,” said Boeing’s Wilson. “It’s incredibly exciting for me, as an engineer and now as a manager, to have gone through that and see the final launch.”
NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite-M (TDRS-M), which is the third and final in a series of next generation communications satellites, has successfully been placed into orbit following separation from an United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket.
Apollo 15 astronaut Al Worden flew to the moon and holds two Guinness world records. Now you can have lunch with him in our exclusive competition
The stage is set for the first total solar eclipse in the continental US since 1979. Here’s our guide to the best way to enjoy the spectacle
The upcoming solar eclipse isn’t just about watching the Moon block out the Sun. A suite of NASA-funded science experiments will to study the unseen effects of the eclipse on Earth's atmosphere.
The nonprofit Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) awarded a grant Aug. 17 to Audacy that will enable the Silicon Valley startup to demonstrate its high data-rate radio on the International Space Station.
Audacy, a company established in 2015 to create a commercial space-based communications network, plans to send the Audacy Lynq demonstration mission to the space station’s NanoRacks External Payload Platform on a NASA commercial cargo fight in late 2018.
“We plan to demonstrate the efficacy of Audacy’s high-rate customer terminal, as well as the utility of Audacy’s communications services for downloading science and imagery data from customers onboard the ISS,” Ellaine Talle, Audacy project lead, said by email.
On Aug. 8, Audacy announced a related project. The firm is working with Scotland’s Clyde Space to send a cubesat into orbit in 2018 to demonstrate the performance of terminals customers flying small satellites can use to transmit data to Audacy’s ground stations.
Talle declined to say the value of the CASIS award but said it was large enough to cover the cost of launching Audacy Lynq on a commercial cargo flight and a six-month test of Audacy K-band antenna and radio on the space station.
In 2019, Audacy plans to launch three large satellites into medium Earth orbit to relay data from spacecraft in low Earth orbit to ground stations. Audacy is establishing a global network of ground stations to communicate with its future relay satellites and to support customers operating missions beyond the relay satellites’ field of view, Talle said.
“While we hope future ISS demonstrations will utilize the relays, this initial mission will only exercise the ground segment,” she added.
Sunday, August 20 marks the 40th anniversary of the launch of Voyager 2. Tuesday, September 5, will be the 40th anniversary for Voyager 1. Throughout the next three weeks, we'll be posting new and classic material in honor of the Voyagers. Here's a preview.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force has named Shawn Barnes to be assistant deputy chief of staff for space operations directorate, and Maj. Gen. Pamela Lincoln to be mobilization assistant to the deputy chief of staff for space operations.
The Air Force has yet to name the deputy chief for the new directorate, but Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein noted in June the job will be filled by a “a new three-star deputy chief of staff for space” who “will increase decision making speed and help ensure freedom from attack and freedom to maneuver,”
Barnes is now Air Force’s Legislative Liaison Directorate deputy director. He had served in the Air Force between 1985 and 2013, retiring as a colonel. He had served in a wide variety of ICBM and space operations and staff positions including instructor, crew commander, executive officer, and chief of special operations. He commanded the 12th Space Warning Squadron at Thule Air Base, Greenland, and the 595th Space Group at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado.
Lincoln is the now mobilization assistant to the Commander, 14th Air Force (Air Forces Strategic), Air Force Space Command; and commander, Joint Functional Component Command for Space, U.S. Strategic Command, Vandenberg Air Force Base. She received her commission in 1989. She served on active duty in various assignments until 1998 when she joined the Air Force Reserve. She has held leadership positions at the squadron, wing, and Air Staff levels.
Initially, the new directorate will include 43 military members, government civilians, and contractors, with an official start date of Aug. 21.
The new directorate is part of the Air Force effort to adapt its operations, processes and organizational structure to recognize space as a warfighting domain. The service also is instituting a new space warfighting concept of operations, changing its space force training model, streamlining its acquisition processes, and designing more resilient and survivable space systems.
The Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson will continue to serve as the principal space adviser to the Defense Secretary James Mattis over the next year.
The 21 August solar eclipse gives scientists and the public alike a chance to observe the sun’s corona, a ring of plasma that stretches as far as Earth
LOGAN, Utah — As the number of small satellites seeking launch continues to grow, new opportunities are emerging fly those satellites as secondary payloads on other launches as well as tools to identify those opportunities.
The latest entrant in the field is Precious Payload, a company that seeks to provide a global reservation service for smallsat secondary payloads analogous to booking airline tickets or hotel rooms.
Andrey Maksimov, the company’s founder, said in an Aug. 6 interview that he decided to pursue the venture after talking with people developing smallsats who found it difficult and expensive to find accommodations for their spacecraft. “When I started to engage with different companies, I easily recognized that the bottleneck, the biggest problem for them, is actually to find a space launch,” he said.
Maksimov, who had been doing software development for mobile satellite operator Thuraya, decided to bring his expertise in information technology (IT) to the problem. “Coming from the IT market, I know there should be a tool that will allow investors, satellite operators and brokers to look at one place and reserve the flight for the payload,” he said.
His company’s initial offering is called Watch List, which obtains information on prospective payloads and matches it against flight opportunities it collects from various companies. Maksimov said Precious Payload has memoranda of understanding with 12 launch providers, but declined to close them.
In the longer term, he sees his company taking on a greater role in due diligence of potential payloads for launch providers. Precious Payload would require a fee from the satellite operator to perform that due diligence work, but refund it once a launch was arranged. Precious Payload would then take a commission from the launch provider.
Maksimov said his company can work with, rather than compete against, brokers of secondary payloads, providing flexibility in the form of alternative payloads or launch opportunities should a satellite or a launch suffer delays, which he said is a major issue for the industry today. “Rideshare is a mess,” he said.
More satellites, more options
While rideshare may be a mess, it remains an attractive option for the affordable launch of small satellites. Companies that offer such services are taking steps to launch more satellites and provide more payload opportunities.
Dutch company Innovative Solutions In Space (ISIS) arranged the largest single rideshare mission to date, an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) launch of 104 satellites in February. The Indian space agency ISRO was responsible for three Indian satellites on the launch, including the primary payload, while ISIS lined up the 101 other satellites.
Abe Bonnema of ISIS said in an Aug. 6 talk during the 31st Annual Conference on Small Satellites here that his company had talked with Indian officials last year about a launch, then scheduled for the end of last year, that had significant excess capacity. “They didn’t have bigger satellites to place on there, so they were actually looking for a whole bunch of cubesats,” he said.
Original plans, he said, called for launching 81 cubesats as secondary payloads on that launch. Later, he said, India changed the mission’s primary payload, freeing up additional capacity that ISIS filled with 20 more cubesats, as the launch slipped to February.
Bonnema said his company was able to fill that capacity in relatively short order thanks to relationships with both ISRO and customers. Of the 101 satellites, 88 came from Planet.
The large number of cubesats also posed a deployment challenge. “We had to deploy all 101 satellites in about 20 minutes,” he said. The release of the satellites was carefully choreographed, and assisted by a slow roll of the PSLV upper stage. “I have to give credit to the Indians for showcasing what they were really capable of with their upper stage.”
Other companies are taking advantage of the frequent rideshare opportunities on PSLV to diversify their offerings. NanoRacks announced Aug. 7 that it was planning to offer smallsat secondary payload opportunities on PSLV missions in cooperation with a German company, Astro- und Feinwerktechnik Adlershof.
NanoRacks has become known for providing smallsat launch opportunities from the International Space Station, with satellites delivered to the station on cargo missions for later deployment from the airlock on the Japanese module Kibo. While NanoRacks has deployed more than 170 satellites from the ISS, the station’s orbit makes it less desirable for some customers.
“We have received significant customer demand for polar orbits,” said Rich Pournelle, senior vice president of business development at NanoRacks, in a statement announcing the PSLV opportunity. Those orbits are not accessible from the ISS, but are on PSLV missions.
NanoRacks said it expects to start providing secondary payload services on PSLV missions in 2018, with three to four launches per year for satellites ranging from single-unit cubesats to microsatellites.
Type Iax supernovae are weak enough that part of the exploding star may be able to survive. Now, we may have spotted the first star that lived to tell the tale
WASHINGTON — After months of stating that it would offer no further extensions of the Google Lunar X Prize competition, the X Prize Foundation announced Aug. 16 it was effectively giving the five remaining teams a little extra time.
In a statement, the foundation, which administers the lunar landing competition, said that teams now had until March 31, 2018, to complete all the requirements of the prize, which include landing on the lunar surface, traveling at least 500 meters, and returning video and other data.
Prior to the announcement, teams had until the end of 2017 to launch their missions. The revised deadline, therefore, offers an extension of less than three months, to account for the time needed for each team’s spacecraft to travel to and land on the moon and perform required activities there.
The foundation, in the statement announcing the revised deadline, did not give a reason for the change. In a later statement provided to SpaceNews, Chanda Gonzales-Mowrer, senior director of the Google Lunar X Prize, described the change as a “re-focus” rather an explicit extension.
“The most recent Dec. 31, 2017, date was established as the date by which teams needed to initiate a launch, and was used as a means to downselect to the current five finalists,” she said. “Now, what is more important to teams, who all have different mission profiles (and paths to the moon, length of time in orbit) is the deadline by which they need to complete the mission, which is now the only date that matters.”
In the past, foundation officials had said that the end-of-2017 deadline — originally for completing the mission and revised earlier this year to just launching the spacecraft — was firm. “We’re stuck now with this timeline,” Andrew Barton, at the time the technical director of the prize, said last September in a presentation at the International Astronautical Congress in Mexico.
In a June 29 speech at the NewSpace 2017 conference in San Francisco, Amanda Stiles, the current director of technical operations for the prize, reiterated that there were no plans for further extensions of the prize.
“There is definitely a chance that this prize could expire without a winner, and I think the question people usually are asking here is, ‘Are we extending the prize again?’” she said. “The answer to that is the Google Lunar X Prize will end at the deadline and it will end as it is.”
Stiles added, though, that the X Prize Foundation was open to considering a range of options should it become clear that no team was likely to win the prize by the end-of-2017 deadline, but said any such discussions would not take place until “much later” this year. “We don’t really feel like that’s necessary at this point,” she said in the June speech.
However, with four and a half months until the end of the year, it had become increasingly clear that most, if not all, of the teams would not be ready to launch. SpaceIL, an Israeli team that was the first to have its launch contract validated by the foundation in 2015, has had its launch, as a rideshare payload on a SpaceX Falcon 9, delayed until early 2018.SpaceIL plans to launch its lunar lander for the Google Lunar X Prize competition on a SpaceX Falcon 9, now scheduled for early 2018. Credit: SpaceIL
Team Indus, an Indian team with a contract to launch on a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, has set a launch date for its mission, which will also carry a rover from Japan’s Team Hakuto, of Dec. 28. However, in a July 30 statement, Rahul Narayan, leader of Team Indus, acknowledged that meeting that launch date would be a challenge.
“We have backed ourselves to meet some pretty crazy deadlines before, and are committing to keep trying until we have exhausted all possible options of winning the Grand Prize,” he wrote. He added that Team Indus “would need to clear multiple tests, certifications and rehearsals before we get onto the launch pad,” which have yet to be completed.
Synergy Moon plans to launch its lunar lander on a Neptune 8 rocket by Interorbital Systems of Mojave, California. That rocket has yet to fly, and Interorbital has, to date, performed only low-altitude flight tests of smaller versions of the Neptune.
Moon Express has a multiple-launch contract with Rocket Lab to launch its MX-1E lander on an Electron rocket. That rocket performed a partially successful initial launch in May, and the company said Aug. 6 it was planning a second test launch in October.
If that second launch is successful, Rocket Lab Chief Executive Peter Beck said the company would then move into commercial operations, in time to support a launch of Moon Express by the end of the year. “We’re in a good position to fulfill that customer, for sure,” he said in an Aug. 6 interview.
Bob Richards, chief executive of Moon Express, appreciated the extra time regardless of whether or not the team needs it. “Removing the constraint of a 2017 launch deadline is also a welcome development,” he said Aug. 16.
In addition to the revised deadline, the X Prize Foundation announced two additional milestone prizes. A $1.75 million Lunar Arrival Milestone Prize will be split among the teams that either place a spacecraft into orbit around the moon or attempt a landing by March 31. A $3 million Soft Landing Milestone Prize will be shared among the teams that successfully make a landing. Those prizes would be deducted from the $20 million grand prize or $5 million second prize that any team won.
“The in-space Milestone Prizes are in place to recognize the significant achievement in a private company reaching the moon’s orbit and soft landing on the surface,” Gonzales-Mowrer said in a statement to SpaceNews.
The new prizes also had the backing of Moon Express’ Richards. “The lunar arrival and soft landing milestone prizes are a great addition to the Google Lunar X Prize and are well aligned with major risk points of the competition,” he said.
Cosmic winds that form the long tentacles of jellyfish galaxies may also create the perfect conditions to sustain highly active supermassive black holes
Competitors in the Google Lunar X Prize now have until 31 March 2018 to land a spacecraft on the moon
NASA’s newest astronaut candidates, a diverse dozen women and men, will participate in media interviews and a final news conference before training on Tuesday, Aug. 22, at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Next week's solar eclipse will reveal the Sun's corona, nearby bright planets and stars, and, if we get extremely lucky, a comet!