SpaceNews: October 28, 2015


International Space Station filled with germs, Nasa warns

Despite orbiting 248 miles above the Earth, the International Space Station is swarming with infectious germs, a new study has found – and astronauts might have to get the vacuum cleaner out if they want to avoid inflammation or skin irritations.

While the opportunistic bacterial pathogens are mostly innocuous on Earth, they are thriving in the station that has turned out to be a prime breeding ground.

It seems the bugs like their new home in the unique environment that has experienced microgravity, space radiation, elevated carbon dioxide and continuous occupation by humans for nearly 15 years.

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This plasma engine could get humans to Mars on 100 million times less fuel

Physicists in France have figured out how to optimize an advanced type of electric rocket thruster that uses a stream of plasma traveling at 72,420 km/h (45,000 mph) to propel spacecraft forward, allowing them to run on 100 million times less fuel than conventional chemical rockets.

Known as a Hall thruster, these engines have been operating in space since 1971, and are now routinely flown on communication satellites and space probes to adjust their orbits when needed. These things are awesome, and scientists want to use them to get humans to Mars, except there’s one – rather large – problem: the current lifespan of a Hall thruster is around 10,000 operation hours, and that’s way too short for most space exploration missions, which require upwards of 50,000 hours.

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Astronauts outline roadmap for exploration beyond moon

Given sufficient national will, political commitment, and adequate funding, humans could realistically be on Mars by 2030, said Charles F. Bolden, Jr., administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, at the Kennedy School of Government on Tuesday.

In contrast to the Apollo program, Bolden said, it will likely be a hybrid of commercial and public space, coupled with significant international collaboration and contribution, that will get us to the Mars. And once we get there, the possibilities of discovery and exploration could be extraordinarily transformative, he added.

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U.S.-Japan military space alliance promises to grow in ‘new ways’

Japan is poised to become a bigger military space player. It says this will protect against security threats from North Korea and China, and also fortify its alliance with the United States. Japan’s space-related capabilities are not in doubt. Nor is there dispute about official and top-level support for these directions.

One issue that has not gotten as much attention is how Japan intends to extend collective self-defense to outer space. Simply put, collective self-defense is the use of force to defend an ally or a friendly power. While Japan has had this right derived from the UN Charter, it chose not to exercise it in line with long-standing constitutional interpretations. This has changed. The Abe Cabinet’s Decision on 1 July 2014 reinterpreted Japan’s right to exercise collective self-defense.

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‘Microsatellites’ loom large in next-gen space exploration

Mini-satellites don’t need a big rocket to get to orbit, yet most have been forced to tag along for the ride on gargantuan and expensive launch vehicles. Now a new class of small rockets to carry the small spacecraft off the planet is emerging. Beck’s company plans to launch its Electron rocket in early 2016. It’s among some two dozen companies working on rockets to ferry small satellites to space, says NewSpace Global’s Rocket, so “we expect there to be a launch every week of the year in the U.S. alone” not long from now.

Toy-sized spacecraft won’t replace the hulking satellites and rockets that have prevailed so far, says Lozano, noting that a superstar like the Hubble Space Telescopecould never be made to fit into a shoebox. But the scaled-down ships now under development could open up space as never before – to students, for example, and to nations that can’t afford lavish space programs.

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