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Best Space Stories of the Week – Feb. 15, 2015

Lunar Base Made with 3D Printing
Many space enthusiasts have long hoped to build a base on the moon, but the lunar surface's harsh environment wouldn't be an ideal place for humans to thrive.
(Image: © © Foster + Partners/ESA)

Europe launched a prototype minishuttle on its first space test, SpaceX lofted the DSCOVR space-weather satellite and scientists questioned whether dark matter is truly "dark." Here are Space.com's picks for the best space stories of the week:

Europe launches IXV minishuttle

The European Space Agency's robotic Intermediate Experimental Vehicle (IXV), a prototype designed to test out critical re-entry technologies, aced its first space test Wednesday (Feb. 11). Data gathered during the car-size IXV's suborbital flight could help Europe develop its own unmanned space plane. [Full Story: European Mini-Space Shuttle Aces 1st Test Flight]

SpaceX sends DSCOVR on its way

The Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket Wednesday. The $340 million DSCOVR mission, which will monitor powerful solar storms that could affect power grids and satellite operations, began its life in 1998 as the Triana Earth-observation effort. Triana was mothballed in 2001, then resurrected by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2009 as DSCOVR. [Full Story: SpaceX Launches DSCOVR Space Weather Satellite, But No Rocket Landing]

Is dark matter completely dark?

Dark matter, which makes up more than 80 percent of the matter in the universe, is so named because scientists think it's impossible to observe directly. But if dark matter interacts even a little bit with light, it may create a "halo" around galaxies that currently operational telescopes could detect, a new study reports. [Full Story: Dark Matter Could Create Halos of Light Around Galaxies]

DARPA gearing up for 1st test of satellite-launching fighter jet

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is developing a cost-effective satellite-launching system that consists of an F-15 fighter jet with an expendable rocket attached to its belly. The system, known as ALASA (Airborne Launch Assist Space Access), should get its first flight test later this year, DARPA officials said. [Full Story: DARPA to Begin Testing Satellite-Launching Fighter Jet This Year]

Learning how to live on the moon

The moon looms as an inviting target for human colonization, and some researchers and policymakers view it as a key stepping stone to Mars. But what would it really be like to live on Earth's nearest neighbor? [Full Story: What Would It Be Like to Live on the Moon?]

Dragon comes back to Earth

SpaceX's robotic Dragon capsule splashed down in the Pacific Ocean as planned Tuesday (Feb. 10), bringing a successful end to the company's fifth contracted cargo mission to the International Space Station for NASA. [Full Story: SpaceX Dragon Capsule Returns to Earth with Ocean Splashdown]

Search for primordial gravitational waves heating up

Last year's supposed detection of primordial gravitational waves — considered "smoking gun" evidence of the universe's faster-than-light Big Bang expansion — was recently deemed a false alarm. But the search for these hypothesized ripples in the fabric of space-time continues, and researchers are poised to make some big leaps in the coming months. [Full Story: Hunt Continues for Signs of Universe's Incredible Big Bang Expansion]

NASA probe watches Pluto, Charon dance

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, which will make the first-ever flyby of Pluto on July 14, recently captured a video of the dwarf planet and its largest moon, Charon, circling their common center of mass. The footage follows the two icy bodies for a week — just long enough to witness a full day on Pluto on Charon, both of which rotate once every 6.4 Earth days. [Full Story: Daily Dance of Pluto and Moon Charon Spied by NASA Probe (Video)]

Hubble telescope sees smiley face in space

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope recently snapped an image of a galaxy cluster that resembles a cosmic smiley face. The curved lines that make up the mouth and the face's outline show how light was bent by the cluster's powerful gravity — a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing. [Full Story: Say Cheese! Hubble Telescope Sees Cosmic Smiley Face in Space]

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