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Discovery double trouble; Russian satellites dancing in the dark; space medicine contract protest ends; tiny particle wins big award

The possibility of NASA selecting two Discovery mission proposals does come with a catch. Jim Green, director of NASA’s planetary science division, said at a committee meeting Monday that selecting two Discovery missions in the current round would likely mean skipping the next round of proposals in 2017. NASA officials had raised the possibility of selecting two of the five mission proposals that the agency picked last week for further study. Separately, NASA plans to issue a request for proposals for the next medium-class New Frontiers mission some time during the current fiscal year, which started Oct. 1. [SpaceNews]

SAIC has dropped a long-running protest to a NASA space medicine contract award. SAIC concluded there was no “additional merit” in continuing the protest of the Human Health and Performance contract and dropped the protest last month. NASA originally awarded the contract, valued at nearly $1.5 billion, to Wyle in 2013, who then won two subsequent competitions for the same contract prompted by the protest. [SpaceNews]

Russia has been conducting a series of tests of satellite rendezvous and proximity operations both in low Earth orbit and geostationary orbit. The tests include three experimental satellites in LEO that approached and, in one case, bumped into the upper stage of its rocket. Another Russian satellite, Luch, has also been seen maneuvering in GEO, at one point parking between two Intelsat communications satellites earlier this year. The tests, while new for Russia, are not dissimilar to those performed by the U.S. military in recent years as well. [The Space Review]

The International Space Station partners have agreed to a new docking standard. The International Docking Standard provides for a common interface for docking spacecraft to the station, allowing for greater flexibility in station operations. One docking adapter built to the standard was lost on a SpaceX cargo mission in June, but a second is awaiting launch on a future cargo flight. [NASA]

A nearly massless particle won two physicists a massive prize. Takaaki Kajita of the Univ. of Tokyo and Arthur B. McDonald of Queen’s Univ. in Canada shared the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics Tuesday for discovering a phenomenon called neutrino oscillation that demonstrates that neutrinos have a very small mass. The oscillation phenomenon explained why scientists detected only a third of the neutrinos they expected the sun to emit. [Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences]


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A spacecraft designed to test green propulsion technology now has its propulsion system. Ball Aerospace said Monday that it has integrated the propulsion system onto the Green Propellant Infusion Mission spacecraft and started a series of tests. The spacecraft, build as part of NASA’s space technology program, is scheduled to launch next year to demonstrate the performance of non-toxic propellants that could replace hydrazine. [PR Newswire]

India’s space agency says data returned by its first Mars orbiter requires more analysis before any results can be released. The head of the space agency ISRO said Monday that a “significant amount of additional work” needs to be done to validate the data returned by its Mars Orbiter Mission, which has been in orbit around Mars for a little more than a year. Some have criticized ISRO for not releasing more images and other data from the spacecraft, including any detection of methane in the planet’s atmosphere that could be traced to geological or even biological activity there. [PTI]

A sounding rocket launch this week will test several space technologies. The Black Brant 9 launch, now scheduled for Wednesday event from Wallops Island, Virginia, after a one-day delay due to weather, will test a manufacturing technology called near net-shape that promises to reduce the cost and mass of structures. Other experiments, contributed by Orbital ATK, will test structures created using 3-D printing, and carbon nanotubes. [NASA/Wallops]

The designer of SpaceShipOne has won a major aviation award. The National Aeronautic Association announced Monday that Burt Rutan is the recipient of the Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy for 2015. Rutan, a famous developer of unique aircraft, is best known in the space community as the designer of SpaceShipOne, the commercial suborbital spaceplane that won the Ansari X Prize 11 years ago this month. Rutan will receive the award in December at the Wright Memorial Dinner in Washington. [NAA]

Thousands of high-resolution images of the Apollo missions are now online. The Project Apollo Archive project placed on the photo-sharing site Flickr more than 8,500 photos from the program, rescanned from original versions into high-resolution formats. The project expects to have about 13,000 images online by the end of this week. [BBC]

Miss Baker’s Space Beer
“We thought that if anybody deserved a beer named after them, it was poor Miss Baker… People will leave bananas on top of the tombstone out there, and now people have been leaving cans of Monkeynaut.”

– Dan Perry, co-owner of the Straight to Ale brewery in Huntsville, Ala., which brews a line of space-themed beers including Monkeynaut IPA. Miss Baker, a squirrel monkey, flew on a suborbital launch in 1959 and was later buried at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville. [SPACE.com]