April 1, 2015

US Space Exploration Left in the Cold by Lack of Vision and Money (Source: The Conversation)
Space exploration has taken a small step forward with a new mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Two of the three crew members, astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, will stay on the station for a year.

This is a positive step, given that if plans outlined by George W Bush back in 2004 had gone ahead for the US human space exploration programme, the ISS would soon be closing. Bush had planned to abandon it in 2016, most likely with a view to using the moon as the primary base beyond the Earth instead.

The decision was taken by Bush to decommission the space shuttle at the start of the 2010s and rely on Russian Soyuz flights to carry American astronauts back and forth to the ISS until replacement American rocket Ares I was developed. Click here. (3/31)

Mars as a Hothouse for Offworld Human Culture (Source: Forbes)
In an era when — even in Antarctica — researchers can tap into iTunes, it’s hard not to wonder if such connectivity is causing formerly seemingly remote parts of the world to lose their edgy sense of place. And that’s just here on Earth. What happens when humans move offworld? Will Mars pioneers want the Red Planet to remain as remote and untamed as when they first risked life and limb to get there? Click here. (3/30)

SpaceX Buying $90 Million of Elon Musk’s Solar City Bonds (Source: Venture Beat)
SolarCity, one of the world’s largest installers of solar panels, said today that SpaceX is investing in $90 million worth of its solar bonds. SolarCity said that the bonds are “issued — and backed — by SolarCity and powered by monthly solar payments from thousands of solar customers across the country... SpaceX is effectively getting paid by the sun.”

Elon Musk, of course, is tied to both companies — as well as the electric car maker Tesla. Musk is the CEO of SpaceX (and Tesla) and the chairman of SolarCity’s board. SolarCity also said that SpaceX bought the bonds in exactly the same way that any U.S. investor could — online. (3/31)

Switzerland Backs More Space Start-Ups (Source: SwissInfo)
Seventy Swiss companies are already involved in the space industry and, thanks to a new deal with the European Space Agency (ESA), the branch is expected to grow. Johann Schneider-Ammann, the Swiss economics minister, has signed a letter of intent with the ESA’s director general, committing CHF5 million ($5.19 million)  per year to encouraging space start-ups. Schneider-Ammann is keen to support national pilot projects and activities that encourage the transfer of knowledge from academia to industry. (3/31)

Student Space Initiative Triples in Size, Incorporates New Research Areas (Source: Stanford Daily)
Founded two years ago, the Stanford Student Space Initiative (SSI) has tripled its membership over the past year and is now the largest project-based engineering group on campus, with approximately 100 active members. The group is also widening its focus to incorporate members interested in areas such as space policy and entrepreneurship.

SSI chief marketing officer Kirill Safin ’18 explained that, along with its operations and policy teams, SSI consists of three project groups: rockets, high altitude balloons and satellites – all of which are working on potentially record-breaking projects. (3/30)

Hall Thruster Research: Propelling Deep Space Missions (Source: SpaceRef)
Engineers at NASA's Glenn Research Center are advancing the propulsion system that will propel the first ever mission to redirect an asteroid for astronauts to explore in the 2020s. NASA's Asteroid Redirect Mission will test a number of new capabilities, like advanced Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP), needed for future astronaut expeditions into deep space, including to Mars. The Hall thruster is part of an SEP system that uses 10 times less propellant than equivalent chemical rockets. Click here. (3/31)

Prestwick and Campbeltown Keen to Host UK Spaceport (Source: BBC News)
Two Scottish airports are actively bidding to host the UK's first spaceport, according to Infrastructure Secretary Keith Brown. He told MSPs that the operators of Prestwick Airport had a bid team in place. The owners of Campbeltown airfield were also interested in attracting the venture.

Stornoway, Newquay and Llanbedr are also on a UK government shortlist of potential sites. RAF Leuchars has been identified as a potential temporary facility. Ministers are keen to see the spaceport established by 2018. It would be used to launch commercial flights and satellites into space. (3/31)

Team Indus Nets Advisor/Investor for Lunar Prize (Source: Economic Times)
Nearly two years after launching an ambitious bid to land a robotic spacecraft on the moon, aerospace startup Team Indus has roped in Infosys co-founder and former UIDAI chairman Nandan Nilekani as an investor and adviser.

Team Indus, India's lone entrant to the prestigious $30-million Google Lunar XPrize, is set to close a pre-series A funding round of nearly $1.5 million (about Rs 9 crore) from investors, including Nilekani. It has received backing also from Sasken Communication founder Rajiv Mody and HCL founder Ajai Chowdhry in this round. (3/30)

March 31, 2015

Coming Soon: Interplanetary Broadband (Source: Air & Space)
Next year, when NASA chooses a new Discovery-class planetary mission for a scheduled launch in 2021, the agency also hopes to introduce a new and potentially revolutionary technology: laser communications. Proposers who include that capability in their mission design will get an additional $30 million to develop the technology.

Optical communications, as it’s called, will boost data transmission rates—and hence the amount of information returned by planetary spacecraft—by orders of magnitude. “We have not been bringing most of the science data back,” says Donald Cornwell, who managed a laser communication experiment that ran on NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer spacecraft in 2013. “Something on the order of 90 percent of it is left there.” (3/30)

Shelby Talks NASA, Military Funding in Huntsville (Source: WHNT)
Hundreds of business and community leaders from across the Tennessee Valley gathered at the Von Braun Center in Huntsville Monday morning, for a breakfast meeting with US Senator Richard Shelby. The visit, hosted by the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce, is the latest stop on Shelby’s statewide tour.

Despite sequestration, the senior senator from Alabama said he thinks the Republican majority in Congress will be able to increase military spending. Shelby, who serves on the defense appropriations subcommittee, added, “I believe Huntsville is going to be fine. You’re on the cutting edge of technology that funds so many things that are important to our military and national security.”

As far as funding for NASA and Marshall Space Flight Center, Shelby said, “I believe at the end of the day that Marshall, which plays a real important role in NASA, will be funded well, just like it was last year.” (3/30)

Bolden Says Russia May Want To Cooperate With China (Source: Aviation Week)
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said March 30 that remarks interpreted by some as suggesting he and Igor Komarov, the new head of the Russian federal space agency Roscosmos, discussed building a joint follow-on to the International Space Station in reality probably meant Russia may support adding China and other “nontraditional” nations to future human spaceflight cooperation.

Bolden stressed that NASA is “the only federal agency with a congressional prohibition against bilateral activities with China,” and said he and Komarov did not discuss future cooperation with the only other nation that has launched humans into space. (3/30)

Russia Borderline Desperate For Chinese Money (Source: Forbes)
Russian Deputy Finance Minister Alexei Moiseyev said Sunday that Russia will allow Chinese banks to work with Russian companies deemed “strategically important” even if the bank falls below the government’s criteria of a healthy bank. Moiseyev said that Chinese banks wanted to become lenders to Russian state owned enterprises but were closed off from the market due to their capital levels being inadequate. (3/30)

China Launches Upgraded Satellite for SatNav System (Source: Xinhua)
A Long March-3C rocket carrying a new-generation satellite for the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) blasted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China's Sichuan Province on March 30. China launched a new-generation satellite into space for its indigenous global navigation and positioning network. It is the 17th satellite for the BDS. The launch marked the beginning of expanding the regional BDS to global coverage. (3/30)

Long March 3C in Secretive Launch with New Upper Stage (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
The Chinese opened their 2015 campaign with the launch of a Long March 3C with the first of a new generation of navigation satellites. This mission was also the first flight of the Long March-3C/YZ-1 (Chang Zheng-3C/YZ-1) version of the Long March-3C. The Long March-3C was developed to fill the gap between the Long March-3A and the Long March-3B, having a payload capacity of 3,800 kg for GTO or 9,100 kg for LEO. This is a three stage launch vehicle identical to the CZ-3B but only using two of the strap-on boosters on its first stage. (3/30)

Will Space Play in the 2016 US Election? (Source: Universe Today)
It might be only March of 2015, but the race is on to be the next president of the United States. Only 589 days to go! It’s a race that some believe will cost the nation upwards of $5 billion; that’s about 7.5 Mars missions for those of you out there counting. The campaign, though, is more than just a vehicle for terrible campaign ads and embarrassing debate gaffes; it’s also one of the few opportunities for the country to have a discussion about its  national priorities in the coming years. So, what are the chances that the exploration of space will be in that discussion? Click here. (3/30)

Why is Mercury So Dark? (Source: Science)
Mercury’s bleak, airless surface is similar to the moon’s, so scientists have long been puzzled why the planet reflects so much less light than our lunar satellite. On average, material blasted across Mercury’s surface by relatively recent impacts of comets, asteroids, and other small bodies reflects only two-thirds as much light as freshly excavated material on the moon, previous studies have shown.

One of the prime explanations for this low reflectivity—an abundance of minerals including the element iron, which strongly absorb certain wavelengths of light falling upon them—doesn’t fit in this instance, researchers say. Now, a team suggests the blame lies with another element entirely—carbon. Comets, which by some estimates are about 18% carbon by weight, are a major source of the element. But a much larger source may be a persistent pummeling by tiny carbon-rich meteorites, which stem from cometary dust among other sources. (3/30)

Northrop Grumman Expands Focus on Airborne, Space ISR Business (Source: Northrop Grumman)
Northrop Grumman's Electronic Systems sector has announced the realignment of its Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Targeting Systems division (ISRTSD) to expand focus on its growing airborne and space ISR business. The former ISRTSD is being reorganized into two separate divisions: Airborne Intelligence, Surveillance Reconnaissance and Targeting Systems; and Space Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance Systems. (3/30)

Mysterious Mini Spaceplane the Next Atlas 5 Payload (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
With its new homeport in renovated NASA space shuttle hangars off in the distance, the Air Force’s X-37 mini spaceplane will be launched from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport on May 6 for its fourth journey into orbit. The Orbital Test Vehicle will be the primary payload aboard the next United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket, the 54th Atlas 5 and ULA’s 96th mission overall. (3/30)

Why the U.S. Gave Up on the Moon (Source: Space News)
Recently, several space advocacy groups joined forces to form the Alliance for Space Development. Their published objectives include a mention of obvious near-term goals such as supporting the commercial crew program, transitioning from use of the International Space Station to future private space stations and finding ways to reduce the cost of access to space.

What is notably missing from these objectives and those of many other space agencies, companies and advocacy groups is any mention of building a permanent settlement on the moon. It’s as if the lunar surface has become our crazy uncle that we all acknowledge exists but we’d prefer not to mention (or visit). What made the next logical step in mankind’s progression beyond the bounds of Earth such a taboo subject? Click here. (3/30)

Two Earth-Sized Exoplanets May Exist in Closest Star System (Source: America Space)
The closest star system to our own Sun may have two Earth-sized exoplanets orbiting it, a new study has shown based on observations by the Hubble Space Telescope. If confirmed, the discovery would help to illustrate just how common exoplanets are; data from Kepler and other telescopes has also already shown that the vast majority of stars have exoplanets orbiting them, and the number of exoplanets in our galaxy alone is now thought to number in the billions. (3/30)

March 30, 2015

Discovery Lives (Source: Space Review)
NASA received last month more than two dozen proposals for the next round of its Discovery program of low-cost planetary science missions. Jason Callahan examines what we know about the various mission concepts submitted and the implications for NASA's overall planetary science program. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2722/1 to view the article. (3/30)

NASA Rearms in its Battle with Mission Skeptics (Source: Space Review)
Last week NASA announced that it had selected an option for its Asteroid Redirect Mission that involves collecting a boulder from an asteroid and returning it to cislunar space. Jeff Foust reports on the reasons why NASA selected that option and why skeptics of ARM in general appear unlikely to be won over. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2721/1 to view the article. (3/30)

The Ides of Mars One (Source: Space Review)
Mars One, the private venture planning one-way human missions to Mars, has suffered from setbacks and bad publicity recently. Dwayne Day describes how one aspect of the venture's plan, the development of a reality TV show about the mission, would have been difficult to pull off even without the recent problems. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2720/1 to view the article. (3/30)

India's Indigenous Satellite Navigation System (Source: Space Review)
On Saturday, India launched the fourth in a series of navigation satellites, bringing the nation closer to offering a regional navigation system independent of GPS. Ajey Lele discusses India's system and why the country, like a number of others, is deciding to develop its own satellite navigation system. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2719/1 to view the article. (3/30)

Can SpaceX Really Cut the Cost of Space Travel by 75%? (Source: Motley Fool)
SpaceX COO Gwynne Shotwell promised last week that if the Air Force will allow the company to bid on its launch contracts, SpaceX will put U.S. government satellites into space at a price much cheaper than ULA charges. How much cheaper?

According to a transcript of the proceedings, Shotwell told Congress it would cost "on the order of $80 million to $90 million" apiece to put a Falcon 9 rocket in low Earth orbit, or "$150 million to $160 million" to build and launch a Falcon Heavy (a Falcon 9 rocket with two additional boosters). Averaged across both rocket types, she put the cost at about $120 million. (3/30)

Bruno: Acquisition Regulations Contribute to Current High ULA Costs (Source: Motley Fool)
Tory Bruno said ULA charges $164 million to build and launch a single-core Atlas V 401, versus SpaceX quoting an $80 million to $90 million price tag for a single-core Falcon 9. But Bruno argued there are good reasons for this -- and good reason to hope ULA can drive its prices down in future years. For the time being, though, the truth appears to be that ULA launches are not four times as expensive as SpaceX's. They're only twice as expensive.

For one thing, Bruno said ULA's biggest rockets are bigger and more capable than SpaceX's biggest rockets. Thus, they can do more -- lift more satellites per launch, and lift some satellites that are too big for SpaceX to get off the ground at all. At the upper end of the capability scale, Bruno said ULA's rockets are worth the premium price ($350 million for a Delta Heavy) because they can do things SpaceX cannot.

SpaceX says its new Falcon Heavy will close this gap. But Bruno pointed out that his company is also working under a stricter regulatory regimen ("FAR 15," referring to the "federal acquisition regulations") than the FAR 12 regimen that governs contracts with SpaceX. He argued that working under FAR 15 adds to ULA's costs, and said that if the government will permit ULA to work under FAR 12, then the company's costs will decline. (3/30)

NASA Moon Orbiter, Mars Rover Face Budget Chopping Block (Source: Space.com)
Despite a forward-looking and overall healthy NASA planetary science program budget, two on-duty spacecraft are now on the chopping block. The government's current budget proposal for NASA just isn't enough to cover everything, said James Green, head of NASA's Planetary Science Division. Green noted that the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the veteran Red Planet robot, the Opportunity rover, are now zeroed out in President Obama's NASA budget for fiscal year 2016. (3/27)

NASA Mercury Probe Trying to Survive for Another Month (Source: Space.com)
A NASA Mercury probe isn't ready to finish its groundbreaking work at the solar system's innermost planet just yet. Last week, NASA's Messenger spacecraft executed the first of a series of engine burns designed to lift the probe's orbit slightly and delay its inevitable impact into Mercury's surface by up to a month. (3/29)

New NASA Partnerships with Industry for Deep-Space Capabilities (Source: SpaceRef)
Building on the success of NASA’s partnerships with commercial industry to date, NASA has selected 12 Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) to advance concept studies and technology development projects in the areas of advanced propulsion, habitation and small satellites.

Through these public-private partnerships, selected companies will partner with NASA to develop the exploration capabilities necessary to enable commercial endeavors in space and human exploration to deep-space destinations such as the proving ground of space around the moon, known as cis-lunar space, and Mars. Click here. (3/30)

Is This Thing On? (Source: Slate)
It’s been more than 50 years since astronomers carried out the first systematic attempt to hunt for radio signals from civilizations beyond our solar system—a quest known as the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI. During that time, our telescopes have heard only deafening silence—which has some scientists wondering if it’s time for Earthlings to start the conversation.

Proponents of “Active SETI” believe that, instead of just passively listening for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence, we should be actively reaching out to our galactic neighbors—that is, we should be using our most powerful radio transmitters (like the giant dish-telescope at Arecibo, in Puerto Rico) to send messages in the direction of the nearest stars.

“In the past we’ve always assumed that any extraterrestrial civilization with the capacity to detect us will automatically take the initiative to make contact, sending us a powerful signal to let us know they exist,” says Douglas Vakoch of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, and a leading proponent of Active SETI. “But there may be civilizations out there that refuse to reveal their existence unless we make it clear that we want to make contact.” (3/30)

Chinese Scientists Mull Power Station in Space (Source: Xinhua)
The battle to dispel smog, cut greenhouse gases and solve the energy crisis is moving to space. Chinese scientists are mulling the construction of a solar power station 36,000 kilometers above ground. If realized, it will surpass the scale of the Apollo project and the International Space Station, and be the largest-ever space project.

The power station would be a super spacecraft on a geosynchronous orbit equipped with huge solar panels. The electricity generated would be converted to microwaves or lasers and transmitted to a collector on Earth. After devoting more than half a century to space technology research, Wang Xiji, 93, is an advocate for the station: "An economically viable space power station would be really huge, with the total area of the solar panels reaching 5 to 6 square kilometers." (3/30)

Russia to Consider Training First Guatemalan Cosmonaut (Source: Space Daily)
Moscow will consider a request for a Guatemalan cosmonaut to be trained in Russia, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. "We have received a request to consider whether a Guatemalan cosmonaut could be sent to a training center in Russia. Of course, we will consider this request," Lavrov said.

The request has been addressed to the Russian Federal Space Agency, which will consider it alongside other countries participating in the International Space Station project, Lavrov added. Guatemalan Carlos Morales added that he hopes that the first Guatemalan cosmonaut will go into space thanks to the Russian Cosmonaut Training Center. (3/30)

Boeing is Customer No. 1 For AGI’s ComSpOC Service (Source: Space News)
The recently launched ABS-3A and Eutelsat 115 West B satellites are making their way to geostationary orbit with support from AGI’s new Commercial Space Operations Center, or ComSpOC, under a contract with Boeing. The contract is the first for the ComSpoc, which tracks satellite orbits and space debris using a network of optical and radio-frequency sensors combined with proprietary software.

AGI is marketing the service as adjunct to the U.S. government’s Joint Space Operations Center, a which supports the U.S. military and provides warnings of potential orbital collisions to other satellite operators. (3/30)

ESA Spaceplane Test Flight a Complete Success (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
European Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV ) was launched on a Vega rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana on Feb. 11. The spacecraft was then released into a suborbital trajectory, and flew autonomously, reentering and splashing down into the Pacific Ocean after 100 minutes. This crucial test for ESA has exceeded scientists’ expectations as IXV behaved flawlessly, responding to conditions so precisely and promptly.

“The launch was a complete success, all parameters collected so far confirm that the vehicle behaved well, as planned,” Stephane Dussy, IXV Spacecraft Operations Manager and Avionics System Engineer, told astrowatch.net. “We extracted the flight recorders from the vehicle and the memory from the infrared camera. All these experimental data will be analyzed in details in the coming months.” (3/30)

March 29, 2015

Inmarsat Woos Facebook (Source: Sunday Times)
A British satellite company is in talks with technology giants Facebook and Google about collaborating on their plans to extend internet access. Inmarsat could see its technology used in plans to use drones and satellites to provide high-speed internet access to developing nations as an alternative to fixed telecoms networks.

Social network company Facebook plans to use high-altitude, solar-powered unmanned aircraft to beam the internet to billions of people. Last week the company said it completed its first test flight above Britain. The drones will fly at altitudes of 60,000 ft to 90,000 ft and remain airborne for months.

Google is planning to send a series of small satellites into space, at lower altitudes than traditional satellites, and also has a venture to deploy high-altitude balloons to provide a broadband service to remote regions. Google recently pumped funds into SpaceX, founded by entrepreneur Elon Musk. (3/28)

India Launches Fourth Navigation Satellite (Source: The Hindu)
It was a perfect evening for another successful 'text book' launch of a satellite by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). As the Sun was going down, ISRO's reliable power horse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle-C27 carrying navigation satellite IRNSS-1D roared into the clear blue sky from the second launch pad at Sriharikota.

There were two firsts in the launch. It was the first launch for the new ISRO Chairman AS Kiran Kumar who took charge on January 1 and first launch for ISRO this year. The launch of IRNSS-1D was originally scheduled for launch on March 9 but was deferred after an anomaly was found in one of the telemetry transmitters, which was rectified. The satellite is the fourth in the series of seven navigation satellites that the space agency is planning to launch to put in place the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS). (3/28)

UT Space Institute Programs Launch Student Careers (Source: WBIR)
The University of Tennessee can boast two alumni who made headlines for spending time in space this year. American astronaut Scott Kelly blasted off Friday on a mission to spend an entire year in space. Along with Kelly, Middle Tennessee native Barry "Butch" Wilmore, is also a UT grad. He commanded the International Space Station for six months and returned to earth earlier this month.

Both are among eight astronauts who have completed the Flight Test Engineering Program at the University of Tennessee's Space Institute. It's 180 miles away from UT's flagship campus in Knoxville, but the school in Tullahoma has helped launch many students into careers in aviation and beyond. Peter Soleis first came to UTSI as a student himself, now it's turned into a teaching career. (3/28)

Lunar Research Workshop Planned in Cocoa Beach on Apr. 14-17 (Source: LSA5)
The 5th International Workshop on Lunar Surface Applications (LSA 5) is right around the corner. This event will be held April 14th to 17th, 2015, at the Courtyard Marriott in Cocoa Beach, Florida. LSA 5 is the premier Lunar Lander event for 2015 as representatives from Moon Express, Astrobotic, Part -Time Scientists, Masten, and Interorbital will be presenting. In addition to Lunar Landers, other workshop topics include Lunar Surface Science, In Situ Resource Utilization, and Entrepreneurship for New Space. Click here. (3/28)

43rd Space Congress Planned in Cocoa Beach on Apr. 28-30 (Source: CCTS)
The 43rd Space Congress will be held in Cape Canaveral on April 28-30. The event will celebrate our area's space history while highlighting current space accomplishments and future direction. The multi-day schedule of events features panel discussions with local, state and federal leaders, technical paper sessions, and exhibits. Click here for information and registration. (3/28)

In Praise of NASA’s Ambitious Asteroid Grab (Source: Discover)
If you pay attention to news about space exploration, you may have seen some skeptical stories about NASA’s proposed Asteroid Redirect Mission. (And even if you don’t follow such things, you might well have been dismayed by headlines announcing a “less ambitious asteroid mission” that is “unlikely to get funded.”) This is not another one of them.

I think the asteroid mission is a cool idea, and an important one. I think it will advance the cause of space exploration in several meaningful ways. And it is exactly the kind of medium-scale, focused mission that could revitalize the whole idea of sending humans on grand adventures beyond Earth orbit–if only it can make its way past the naysayers, political opponents, and misguided scientific skeptics who threaten to derail it before it even gets started.

The Obama administration suggested a human voyage to an asteroid as an intermediate step, but even that would be an expensive, multi-month voyage–one that is, again, notably lacking any financial support. Where, then, to go? The Asteroid Redirect Mission answers that question in a novel way. Instead of taking humans to an asteroid, it would do most of the work robotically (and at much lower cost) by bringing the asteroid most of the way to us. Click here. (3/27)

Caltech Space Challenge Yields Ideas About the Future of Space Exploration (Source: Pasadena Star-News)
Five days of collaboration, late-night brain somersaults and strategy clashes culminated Friday in two Caltech presentations that demystified how a potential asteroid-landing mission is a steppingstone toward getting astronauts on Mars.

The 2015 Caltech Space Challenge selected 32 international students, divided them into two teams and asked them to design a mission where astronauts would land on an asteroid both to mine for resources and to demonstrate how the raw materials could be used. Click here. (3/27)

Station After ISS, Work on Joint Mars Project (Source: Sputnik)
In a landmark decision, Russian space agency Roscosmos and its US counterpart NASA have agreed to build a new space station after the current International Space Station (ISS) expires. The operation of the ISS was prolonged until 2024. “We have agreed that Roscosmos and NASA will be working together on the program of a future space station," Roscosmos chief Igor Komarov said during a news conference.

The two agencies will be unifying their standards and systems of manned space programs, according to Komarov. “This is very important to future missions and stations.” The ISS life cycle was to expire in 2020. “Under the ISS program the door will be open to other participants,” Komarov told reporters. The next goal for the two agencies is a joint mission to Mars, NASA chief Charles Bolden told journalists. (3/28)

NASA Says No Plans for ISS Replacement with Russia (Source: Space News)
NASA said it welcomed a Russian commitment to continue operations of the ISS beyond 2020, but indicated there were no firm plans to work together on a successor space station. The agency responded to comments made by the head of Roscosmos, Igor Komarov, earlier in the day that suggested the two space agencies had not only agreed to extend operations of the ISS to 2024, but also to replace the ISS with a new station of some kind after 2024. (3/28)

Dark Matter is Apparently ‘Darker’ Than We Thought (Source: Washington Post)
A new study suggests that dark matter might be able to zip through the universe without slowing or dragging because particles of it don't even interact with each other. Based on what we can observe about the universe, galaxies should be tearing themselves apart. That's where so-called dark matter comes in: It's a term for the as-of-yet unobserved matter that must be bulking up cosmos, giving galaxies the gravity they need to spin at the rates they do without falling to pieces.

But even though we haven't caught dark matter (so named because it doesn't interact with light the way normal matter does -- not absorbing or reflecting it -- though it does bend light with a weird lensing effect) in a straightforward observation, scientists can learn about it based on the effects it has on more typical, observable forms of matter.

In this study, researchers looked at galaxy clusters (big groupings of galaxies that stick together) to study how dark matter might behave when galaxies collide with each other. In watching 72 galactic showdowns, Harvey and his colleagues found that dark matter didn't slow down when clusters collided. That was unexpected. Dark matter (whatever it is) had to be hitting other dark matter en route, but these unseen particles weren't showing any evidence of dragging against each other. (3/27)

Delta 4 Rocket Evolving to Upgraded Main Engine (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
When the next Delta 4 rocket flies in July, as well as all future ones to come, the enhanced RS-68A main engine will power the boosters off the launch pad. This week’s successful Delta 4 launch that put a new GPS satellite into orbit marked the final launch of the original RS-68 model engine. (3/27)

Mars Rover Landing Zone Scars Have Curiously Darkened (Source: Discovery)
When NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity touched down inside Gale Crater in August 2012, it did so in dramatic fashion. In the final stages of its daring descent, the rover’s rocket-powered landing platform — known as a sky crane — lit up and blasted the dusty surface, carving out darkened divots before separating from the rover and flying out of harms way.

Over the months and years after landing, the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on board NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been keeping track of changes around Curiosity’s landing zone (named “Bradbury Landing”), the crash site of the sky crane and the parachute-endowed back-shell that slowed the rover’s entry into the Martian atmosphere.

After disturbing the ruddy regolith on the Martian surface, usually, over time, the darkened area is expected to fade, slowly returning to its natural state. But recent HiRISE imagery of four components of Curiosity’s landing have faded inconsistently, potentially revealing a previously unknown Mars surface dynamic. (3/28)

Scuttling Satellites to Save Space (Source: ESA)
It takes a lot of ingenuity – not to mention a massive quantity of sheer force – to get satellites into orbit. Now space engineers are applying comparable ingenuity to the challenge of getting their missions out of there, too. ESA, working closely with Europe’s satellite builders, will ask industry for new designs to help remove satellites from orbit at the end of their working lives, as well as ‘passivating’ them – making them safer for neighboring missions.

The selected concepts will be evaluated in ESA’s Concurrent Design Facility at the Agency’s ESTEC technical center in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. This interlinked multimedia facility allows a large number of different specialists to work on the same software models at once. (3/26)

March 28, 2015

ISRO Rockets to Make Safe Landings Too (Source: Deccan Chronicle)
If Indian space scientists were giddy with success when they steered the orbiter to Mars (MOM) in the maiden effort last year, such feelings could soar higher when they launch an improvised version of the space shuttle from the country’s space port, Sriharikota Range, in three months. This new rocket, designed to bring down the cost of launch of satellites substantially, could be used over and over again because it will return to earth and touch down like an aircraft.
 
In its first flight in June, it will be propelled into space at about six times the speed of sound by a booster, and return after touching an altitude of 70 km. The booster and the reusable launch vehicle (RLV) will plummet into the Bay of Bengal, but once operational both will touch down on return, Dr A.S. Kiran Kumar, Chairman, Isro, told Deccan Chronicle, adding “ground tests are on for the first flight scheduled for the end of the first half of this year.” (3/27)

Galileo Nears Operation (Source: Guardian)
Europe has launched two more navigation satellites on Friday – the seventh and eighth spacecraft in the £4.4bn Galileo navigation program. This will bring Galileo to the verge of operation. Galileo is a European satellite navigation system. By 2020 it will consist of up to 30 satellites, most of them operational, but with six orbiting spares. (3/26)

Two for Two! Dual Launches of Soyuz Booster (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
It's not every day that two rockets take to the sky. Even rarer is the flight of two of the same family of boosters during that same time frame. Today was just such a day for the Soyuz rocket. In fact a mere two hours and four minutes after a NASA astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts lifted off for the International Space Station atop their Soyuz booster – another Soyuz, this one launching from the Spaceport at Kourou, French Guiana, thundered off the launch pad and into the sky. (3/27)

Orbital ATK’s Surprise JPSS-2 Win Means Work for Arizona Plant (Source: Space News)
Five years after acquiring General Dynamics Corp.’s satellite facility at a fire-sale price, Orbital ATK nabbed a U.S. civilian weather satellite contract that typifies the kind of medium-sized spacecraft the company hoped to compete for when it bought the Gilbert, Arizona, plant.

In what struck some industry insiders as a surprising upset for incumbent Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Orbital ATK will build one, and possibly three, Joint Polar System Satellite (JPSS) spacecraft under a NASA contract announced March 24 and worth up to $470 million. (3/27)

Melbourne Tracking Dome Finds New Home in Florida Museum (Source: Florida Today)
The domed roof of the Air Force telescopic tracking station that stood for decades off State Road A1A near Melbourne Beach has finally found a permanent home. Sunday, volunteers will move the disassembled dome via flatbed trailer to Wings of Dreams Aviation Museum at Keystone Heights Airport, about 10 miles southeast of Starke. (3/27)

Air Force Moving Ahead on Satellite Modems for Protected Communications (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Air Force plans to release a final request for proposals in the coming weeks for modems compatible with a new protected tactical waveform that the service developed as part of a long-term strategy to bolster its ability to provide protected communications via military or commercial satellites. (3/27)

AsiaSat Results Reflect Troop Withdrawals, Capacity Glut (Source: Space News)
Satellite fleet operator AsiaSat reported a 9 percent drop in revenue and a 27 percent drop in new and renewal contracts in 2014, saying declining military sales and a regional oversupply are putting downward pressure on transponder-lease prices. The company said changes in the way its customers download video suggest that a high-throughput satellite with multiple spot beams and frequency reuse may be in order, but not yet. (3/27)

Soon, Humans Will Follow Robots Into Deep Space (Source: WIRED)
Robots are having all the fun. “Uncrewed” spacecraft have ventured to almost every corner of the solar system, and—at this very minute—are exploring alien worlds from asteroids and comets to planets and dwarf planets. Which makes it tempting to declare that space exploration should be the realm of robots, not humans. People are expensive, hard to maintain, and they can die. Who needs the grief?

Well, we do. The crewed space program and the robot space program are two different things with two different purposes. And we need them both. Yes, when it comes to science, robots kick butt. They’re tough, cheap, and no one besides sci-fi sentimentalists cares if they never come home. Everywhere you look in the solar system, a robot is there.

The human space program, on the other hand, has never been about science. The driving force behind Apollo—the pinnacle of the human space program—was to show up the Soviet Union. The Cold War is over; the human space program no longer has an existential purpose. Which is why it’s struggling. But we humans are perpetually in jeopardy if we stay on Earth, whether from nuclear war, climate apocalypse, or a good old-fashioned killer asteroid. If humanity is to survive, we have to spread out. (3/27)

Long Beach is Part of a ‘Quiet Revolution’ in Aerospace (Source: Press Telegram)
Long Beach will be part of the “quiet revolution” that sends small satellites into orbit, said Virgin Galactic President Steve Isakowitz. “There’s a lot or really exciting emerging opportunities, and we decided to tap into that market to build actually, a rocket, a launch vehicle,” he said.

Virgin Galactic’s operations in Long Beach are expected to begin in 2016. The company held a job fair earlier this month at the former Boeing site where the company plans to assemble rockets. Although Virgin Galactic had only 100 jobs on its immediate hiring list, Isakowitz said some 6,000 people showed up to the event. (3/26)

March 27, 2015

ULA Adds Two Names to NGLS Naming Competition (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
United Launch Alliance (ULA ) has added two more options to the competition to name the company's new launch system (currently dubbed the Next Generation Launch System or "NGLS"). The two new names, "Vulcan" and"Zeus" join the three earlier names, "Eagle", "Freedom" and "GalaxyOne." (3/27)

SpaceX Can’t Jettison Mass Layoff Class Action (Source: Law 360)
A California judge on Thursday rejected SpaceX’s bid to end a putative class action alleging it laid off hundreds of workers last year without a state-mandated warning and shorted their final paychecks, ruling the plaintiffs had sufficiently pled their labor law claims. At a hearing on Thursday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elihu M. Berle found that the plaintiffs had been sufficiently specific in their allegations that SpaceX laid them off to cut costs. (3/26)

Increasing Canada's International Role in Space Exploration (Source: Govt. of Canada)
Industry Minister James Moore and Canadian Space Agency (CSA) Astronaut Jeremy Hansen announced that the Government of Canada, through the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), is investing an additional $2.6 million towards Canada's contribution in the James Webb Space Telescope, the most powerful telescope ever built. (3/26)

Japanese Sat Keeping an Eye on Kim Jong-un (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
On Thursday, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA ) successfully launched its fifth IGS optical satellite (IGS-Optical 5) today atop a H-IIA F28 launch vehicle. The launch occurred at 5:00 p.m. EST (6:00 a.m. JST) from the space agency’s Yoshinobu Launch Complex on Tanegashima Island. At the time of launch, Tanegashima Island saw clear, blue skies and no delays in the launch procedure. (3/26)

International Cooperation Could Reduce Asteroid Mission Cost (Source: Space News)
International cooperation could help reduce the cost to NASA for its Asteroid Redirect Mission, an agency official said Thursday. Speaking at an event hosted by USRA and GWU's Space Policy Institute in Washington, NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot said the agency had some expressions of interest from several countries about partnering on ARM.

Lightfoot didn't go into specifics about the countries beyond that they include "typical partners" for NASA, nor provide details on the technologies or other capabilities they provide. Those partners, he said, could help reduce NASA's costs for carrying out ARM, which Lightfoot said earlier this week would be no more than $1.25 billion, plus launch, for the robotic phase. (3/27)

Raytheon Shifts 70 Satellite Jobs From Colorado to Maryland (Source: Daily Record)
Raytheon has moved 70 positions from Aurora, Colorado, to the company’s Riverdale facility as part of a plan to upgrade its support of NASA and NOAA’s Joint Polar Satellite System Common Ground System. Raytheon said the move concludes a strategic milestone that brings the support team for the program in close proximity to NOAA’s Satellite Operations Facility in Suitland and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. (3/26)

Astronaut Twins Study Raises Questions About Genetic Privacy (Source: Nature)
When NASA astronaut Scott Kelly launches on a one-year mission to the International Space Station on 28 March, he will also launch an unprecedented study into the biological changes that occur during human spaceflight. Researchers will gather reams of genomic, molecular, physiological and other data on Kelly and compare it to his Earth-dwelling identical twin, retired astronaut Mark Kelly. Differences between the brothers could reveal how the body copes with extreme environments.

But results from the US$1.5-million twin study may never see the light of day. The Kellys are having their entire genomes sequenced, and if they discover sensitive medical information they do not want shared — such as susceptibility to particular diseases — the results may never be published. “This is such new territory, we can’t anticipate what will happen,” says Craig Kundrot, deputy chief scientist of the human research program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. (3/26)

SpaceX’s Fight With U.S. Air Force Called a Clash of Perceptions (Source: Bloomberg)
SpaceX and the U.S. Air Force suffered from a “stark disconnect in perceptions” over the company’s efforts to win approval to compete for military satellite launches, according to an independent review. “There is also a lack of common understanding” of “some basic objectives and definitions” spelled out in a 2013 agreement on the steps toward certifying SpaceX, retired Air Force Chief of Staff Larry Welch said in the review.

While the two sides have become conciliatory and say they expect SpaceX to be certified for launches by June, the report lays out a cultural collision between Musk’s entrepreneurial impatience and the Air Force’s methodical bureaucracy. It’s also emblematic of the larger difficulties the U.S. defense and intelligence bureaucracies are having developing and adopting new technologies as fast as private entrepreneurs have been doing. (3/26)

Japan's H-2A Rocket Achieves Fourth Launch in Six Months (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
A new surveillance satellite equipped with a high-resolution optical camera blasted into space aboard a Japanese H-2A rocket Thursday, joining a fleet of spy stations in orbit to track military activity in North Korea and other locations around the world. The H-2A rocket steered south from Tanegashima to deploy its payload into polar orbit. The launcher aimed to release the satellite in an orbit about 300 miles above Earth. (3/25)

Northrop Balks at Agency’s Request To Interview JWST Workers (Source: Space News)
James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) prime contractor Northrop Grumman last year denied what it has since characterized as an unprecedented request by the U.S. Government Accountability Office for one-on-one interviews with employees overseeing key elements of the program, insisting instead that the workers’ supervisors be present, the congressional watchdog agency said.

The interviews, part of a running series of GAO audits of the NASA flagship observatory, which is billions of dollars overbudget and years behind schedule, were intended to identify potential future trouble spots. But Northrop Grumman Aerospace, which along with NASA says the $9 billion project is back on track, cited concerns that the employees, 30 in all, would be intimidated by the process. (3/25)

Revised SpaceX, USAF Certification Plan To Focus on ‘Trust’ (Source: Aviation Week)
The U.S. Air Force and SpaceX are modifying the Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRDA) signed two years ago to outline what has become the contentious process to certify the Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket for use in launching national security payloads. The changes are needed to refocus the certification process on establishing top-level trust and confidence that the company can deliver a launch as planned. (3/25)

SLS, JWST Account for 70% of NASA's Development Costs (Source: Washington Business Journal)
Two programs — one led by Northrop Grumman and the other Boeing — account for 70 percent of NASA’s development budget, leaving 10 other major programs to fight for the leftovers.

Interestingly, the $6.19 billion James Webb Space Telescope under development by Northrop Grumman, which has faced its fair share of challenges, was overtaken as the most costly program in NASA’s portfolio, according to a report released Tuesday by the Government Accountability Office. The Space Launch System being developed by Boeing as the replacement of the Space Shuttle for human space exploration is now the costliest. (3/26)

New Evidence May Identify Mystery Object at Milky Way Galaxy's Core (Source: Space.com)
New observations may finally reveal the identity of a mystery object circling around the monster black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy — or not. Known to many as "G2," the unidentified object could be a cloud of gas, or it could be a star, depending on who you ask.

Discovered in 2011, G2 captured the attention of scientists because it was on its way to making a tight swing around the black hole — potentially providing the dark monster with a snack. The new observations of G2 show that it has remained compact during its swing around the black hole, according to the authors of the new research.

Since a gas cloud would likely be smeared out by the gravitational pull of the black hole, the scientists conclude that the object is a star. But the group that discovered G2 says the new results are not enough to make a definitive statement about the identity of this peculiar blob. (3/25)

Titusville Still a Hub for Space Fans (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
There may be no more shuttle launches, but Titusville is still a hub for fans of space and history. Once upon a time, the world's attention would turn to Titusville, where crowds sometimes numbering in the hundreds of thousands would line the banks of the Indian River to witness America's technological audacity. The crowds in Titusville are smaller for today's SpaceX and Air Force missions, but visitors can still get a sense of the glory days.

The U.S. Space Walk of Fame Museum is, as the name suggests, a collection of artifacts and memorabilia — much of it donated by people who worked for the space program — that chronicle the region's nearly six-decade connection to space. If you're looking for the space program's equivalent of a theme park, go visit the KSC Visitor Complex down the road. (3/25)

Military Gears Up for Space Warfare (Source: Washington Free Beacon)
Pentagon, military, and intelligence officials outlined plans on Wednesday for warfare in space and warned China not to attack U.S. satellites in any future conflict. “The threats are real, they’re technologically advanced and they’re a concern,” said Air Force Lt. Gen. John “Jay” Raymond in testimony before a House subcommittee. “We are quickly approaching the point where every satellite in every orbit can be threatened.”

Douglas Loverro, deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy, said that the threat of attacks on satellites in orbit is no longer a theoretical concern. “Quite frankly, it’s one thing to anticipate an imaginary threat,” Loverro said. “It’s another thing to see that threat develop, watch it be exercised as with the Chinese on several occasions, recognize what it can do to our capability, and react to that. And that’s what we’re doing right now.” (3/26)

How NASA Got Stuck with an Uninspiring Asteroid Mission (Source: Houston Chronicle)
ASA outlined some of the details of its Asteroid Redirect Mission on Wednesday afternoon. The space agency will launch a robotic spacecraft in 2020 to visit an asteroid far away from Earth, likely 2008 EV5, grab a rock up to 13 feet across from its surface, and return to a location near the moon. Then, at the end of 2025, two NASA astronauts will fly to the vicinity of the moon, spacewalk over to the rock, and take some samples.

In 2010 President Obama told NASA it would send astronauts to an asteroid in 2025. So being the diligent engineers they are, NASA tried to do that. But there was no way NASA could pull off such an ambitious deep space mission, and had to water the mission down a couple of times. If this small boulder is no longer an asteroid, then NASA isn’t meeting the President’s mandate.

For now the ARM mission is just a concept. But NASA will need $1.25 billion over the next five years to ready a spacecraft for a 2020 launch to go and bag the rock. Congress will have to decide whether to appropriate those funds. This seems unlikely. (3/26)

March 26, 2015

House Budget Keeps Sequestration Intact (Source: Military Times)
The 2016 federal budget plan approved by the U.S. House includes an additional $20 billion in overseas war funds, though the White House criticized the plan for "locking in draconian sequestration cuts." The House-approved budget provides $499 billion for defense, as mandated by sequestration. (3/25)

Senate Budget Committee Provides Potential Pathway to Sequestration Deal (Source: Defense One)
A provision by the Senate Budget Committee and Chairman Michael Enzi could provide a path to avoid sequestration spending caps in the 2016 defense budget. The 11-line provision could set the stage for a deal that would allow for more spending on both defense and non-defense budget items. (3/25)

DOD Secretary Plans Public Campaign to Stop Sequestration (Source: The Hill)
Defense Secretary Ash Carter plans to publicly campaign against sequestration caps for both defense and non-defense spending, responding to early support in Congress to keep the spending limits in place. "The secretary believes firmly that you cannot exempt the Defense Department alone from sequestration and continue to meet all the needs of our national security demands," said one source. (3/25)

Is Tallahassee's Space Agenda Too Timid? Some Ideas for Pumping it Up (Source: FSDC)
Florida has been an innovator in the development of state space policies and programs. But other states have copied and expanded on Florida's approach and they are now reaping the benefits from companies that would otherwise grow in the Sunshine State.

The Florida Legislature is now considering a modest collection of space-related proposals in Tallahassee. The Florida Space Development Council believes a more aggressive list of policy and funding items should be pursued. FSDC asks Florida space advocates to review and rate a short list of proposed legislative initiatives, so we can show grassroots support for putting some teeth in the state's space agenda. Click here. (3/26)

ULA Launches Second Mission in Less than Two Weeks (Source: ULA)
A United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket successfully launched the ninth Global Positioning System (GPS) IIF satellite for the U.S. Air Force at 2:36 p.m. EDT today from Space Launch Complex-37. This is ULA’s fourth launch in 2015 and the 95th successful launch since the company was formed in December 2006. (3/25)

Lawmaker Wants NASA Working on Interstellar Propulsion (Source: Space News)
NASA’s proposed, and oft-reviled, Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) may be worth doing if it helps pave the way for an electric-powered interstellar rocket engine, Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) said. “[T]he great value” of an Asteroid Redirect Mission is “development of the first interstellar rocket propulsion system that would carry us to Alpha Centauri and beyond,” Culberson said.

In NASA’s notional ARM concept, a robotic probe with an ion-propelled, solar-electric propulsion system would send a small asteroid sample to a stable lunar storage orbit for astronauts to visit some time in the 2020s. In the ARM mission concept advanced by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the spacecraft’s electric propulsion system would be in the 25-kilowatt to 30-kilowatt range.

That is considerably more powerful than electric propulsion systems Earth-orbiting satellites use today for attitude adjustment, but still only about a tenth as powerful as what NASA thinks it needs for the uncrewed cargo tugs that are a notional (and unbudgeted) part of the agency’s long-term plans to send astronauts to the surface of Mars. (3/25)

The Hunt for Alien Intelligence is Going Infrared (Source: Discovery)
Astronomers have devised an instrument that could lift the veil of doubt over whether we’re alone in the universe, tapping into a type of radiation that has little trouble cutting through the vast cosmic distances or penetrating the thickest nebula.

Is there another example of a technology-savvy alien civilization out there intelligent enough to be pondering the same questions as us? Are they looking into deep space, hoping for signs of life among the rich sparkle of stars as we currently are? Now astronomers have devised a way of detecting rapid pulses of infrared radiation that could revolutionize how we look for alien beacons.

now astronomers have devised a way of detecting rapid pulses of infrared radiation that could revolutionize how we look for alien beacons. Although infrared astronomy has transformed our view of the cosmos, the technology to detect nano-second pulses of infrared radiation has not been available until now. “This is the first time Earthlings have looked at the universe at infrared wavelengths with nanosecond time scales,” said collaborator Dan Werthimer. (3/25)

ULA CEO: Next Generation Rocket to be Built in Decatur (Source: WAAY)
United Launch Alliance, the joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin that builds their Atlas and Delta rockets at in their Decatur factory, will soon be adding a new rocket to their lineup.  For now, it's known as the Next Generation Launch System, or NGLS.  ULA has kept details to a minimum for the past few months, but the company's president and CEO, Tory Bruno, confirmed that the new rocket will be built in Decatur.

Editor's Note: Seems a Space Coast manufacturing site would have dramatically lowered ULA's barge-based transportation costs for the new rocket. Also, I wonder what roles Boeing and Lockheed Martin will have in the development of the new rocket, since it would ultimately replace Boeing's Delta-4 and Lockheed's Atlas-5. (3/24)

Space Privatization, Tourism and Morals (Source: Inside Science)
Novel technologies, innovative engineering and breathtaking discoveries could be the story of the next 100 years of space exploration. But space travel involves more than math, telescopes and rovers. "I think what is happening now is as profound as the transition that took place among hunter gatherers when they left Africa 50 or 60 thousand years ago," said Chris Impey. "It took an amazing short time – just a couple hundred generations – for simple tribal units of 50 or 100 to spread essentially across the Earth."

And space exploration is about to pick up, according to Impey. The original 1960s space race that spawned the Apollo missions rose out of geopolitical strife during the Cold War. Now, the federal funds for space travel are drying up. "NASA has very little slack in its budget for new, clever initiatives," said Impey. "We are now witnessing a transition to a more private enterprise driven space program." Click here. (3/24)

Senate Passes Exemptions for Aerospace Engineers (Source: Online Athens)
The Georgia Senate sent to the governor Tuesday legislation designed to improve the state’s chances for becoming a commercial spaceport and also boosting the existing aviation industry. It voted 33-1 for a bill which would exempt engineers in the aviation and aerospace fields from the state’s licensing requirements.

The requirement hasn’t been enforced for more than a decade because there is no industry trade group that provides the curriculum and testing as is done for other types engineering branches like electrical, civil and mechanical. Editor's Note: Florida crossed this bridge several years ago. (3/24)

GAO Concerned About Unforeseen NASA Space Telescope Cost Overruns (Source: Roll Call)
NASA officials said Tuesday that the long-delayed and over-budget James Webb Space Telescope is now on track to meet its latest budget estimate and will be ready in 2018, but that the Government Accountability Office remains concerned that unforeseen cost overruns could emerge. (3/24)

The Approaching Battle over the JWST Budget Wedge (Source: Space News)
There is considerable risk to the future astrophysics portfolio at NASA, and possibly the entire space science enterprise, as a result of the James Webb Space Telescope re-programming, which moved it out of the Astrophysics Division and now is a target in the Science Mission Directorate budget.

According to Rep. Steve Palazzo (R-MS): “Even after launch, issues related to JWST will remain. For instance, what will happen to the additional funding poured into the Science Mission Directorate to cover JWST over-runs? Will the Astrophysics account maintain funding profiles consistent with these augmentations?" (3/25)

Senate Committee Advances NASA Deputy Administrator Nomination (Source: Space News)
The Senate Commerce Committee advanced the nomination of Dava Newman to become NASA deputy administrator on March 25, bringing the university professor one step closer to taking over the second highest ranking position at the space agency. (3/25)

NASA Selects Boulder Option for Asteroid Redirect Mission (Source: Space News)
NASA has selected an option for its Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) where a robotic spacecraft will grab a boulder from the surface of a larger asteroid. NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot said he selected what the agency had been calling Option B for the robotic element of ARM in large part because it offered more choices in what object to bring back to lunar orbit to be visited by astronauts.

“From what we know of the asteroids we’ve been to, they have boulders on the surface,” he said, allowing a visiting spacecraft to choose which one to grab. “I’m going to have multiple targets when I get there. That’s what it boils down to.” Under Option B, a robotic spacecraft will travel to an asteroid several hundred meters in diameter and grab a boulder up to four meters across from its surface. (Source: 3/25)

Air Force to Eliminate ULA Infrastructure Support Contract that SpaceX Says was Unfair (Source: Reuters)
The Air Force must modify an annual "launch capability" contract awarded to United Launch Alliance, given the advent of a new competitor, senior U.S. Air Force and Pentagon officials said. Air Force Space Command Commander General John Hyten said acquisition officials were working on a plan to phase out the infrastructure support contract, which he said was initially put in place to protect "a very fragile industrial base."

He said it was not possible to have a fair competition with the contracts in place, backing an argument often made by privately-held SpaceX, which is vying for some of the launch contracts now carried out by ULA. Some funding for launch infrastructure would likely be folded into future contracts for launch services, instead of being awarded separately. (3/25)

March 25, 2015

ULA Delta Launches GPS at Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
A United Launch Alliance (ULA ) Delta IV Medium launched today, March 25, from Cape Canaveral's Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37), carrying with it the ninth GPS IIF satellite for the U.S. Air Force. Liftoff occurred right on time and at the beginning of an 18-minute window at 2:36 p.m. EDT. (3/25)

Cruz Says Satellite Data Show Globe Isn’t Warming. Satellite Scientist Disagrees (Source: Washington Post)
Now that Ted Cruz is a presidential candidate, his views on science are getting a lot of scrutiny. That’s particularly the case in that while he does seem to acknowledge the reality of at least some amount of climate change, he nonetheless seems a skeptic of the idea that human-caused climate change is happening right now, or has been happening lately. "Satellite data demonstrate for the last 17 years, there’s been zero warming. None whatsoever," he said.

Cruz doesn’t say why we should trust satellite data over, say, ground-based weather station data, or sea-based buoy data. Based on such surface temperature measurements, NASA and NOAA both called last year the warmest on record, followed by 2010, followed by 2005, and then only maybe followed by 1998.

Individual years can vary in temperature, but decades tell you more about trends. Using this approach, the World Meteorological Organization has ably demonstrated that the decade of the 2000s was warmer globally than the 1990s, which was in turn warmer than the 1980s. So while 1998 may have been one of the top four or five hottest years on record, that hardly means the globe hasn’t been warming in the past 17 years. (3/24)

NASA Announces Next Steps on Journey to Mars: Progress on Asteroid Initiative (Source: NASA)
NASA announced more details in its plan for its Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), which in the mid-2020s will test a number of new capabilities needed for future human expeditions to deep space, including to Mars. NASA also announced it has increased the detection of near-Earth asteroids by 65 percent since launching its asteroid initiative three years ago.

For ARM, a robotic spacecraft will capture a boulder from the surface of a near-Earth asteroid and move it into a stable orbit around the moon for exploration by astronauts, all in support of advancing the nation’s journey to Mars. The agency plans to announce the specific asteroid selected for the mission no earlier than 2019, approximately a year before launching the robotic spacecraft.

Before an asteroid is considered a valid candidate for the mission, scientists must first determine its characteristics, in addition to size, such as rotation, shape and precise orbit. NASA has identified three valid candidates for the mission so far: Itokawa, Bennu and 2008 EV5. The agency expects to identify one or two additional candidates each year leading up to the mission. (3/25)

NASA Offering $35,000 in Prizes for Programming Help Detecting Asteroids (Source: Circa)
NASA and Planetary Resources, a private space mining company, announced the "Asteroid Data Hunter" contest at SXSW on March 10. The contest is looking for programmers to help build better software to analyze data collected from the network of telescopes used in the Near Earth Object program. (3/25)

Era of Reusable Rockets (Source: CNBC)
Inside United Launch Alliance's rocket facility, with CNBC's Jane Wells. ULA is planning to create a reusable rocket. Click here and here for videos on ULA's reusability plans, and rocket manufacturing in Alabama. (3/25)

Russia’s Dnepr Rocket Tasked with Korean Satellite Mission (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
Kosmotras is set to launch a Russian Dnepr rocket from Dombarovsky on Wednesday, carrying the Kompsat-3A satellite for the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI). The launch – which nearly fell foul of a proposed shutdown of Dnepr utilization – is scheduled for 22:08 UTC. (3/25)

Vega To Launch Peruvian Imaging Satellite Along with Skybox Craft (Source: Space News)
Europe’s Arianespace launch consortium will use a Vega small-satellite rocket to launch Peru’s high-resolution optical reconnaissance satellite in the first half of 2016 under a contract signed March 25 with Airbus Defence and Space, the satellite’s builder. Airbus won the PeruSat-1 contract in April 2014 after a heated competition among European and Israeli satellite builders. (3/25)

The Sad Decline of Florida's Space Coast (Source: WIRED)
Florida's Space Coast was a popular destination for sightseers and dreamers who came to see humanity reach for the stars. It drew its identity from Kennedy Space Center, and the end of the shuttle program left it struggling to redefine itself. KSC was for two generations the public face of a space program that ended when the shuttle Atlantis touched down for the last time in 2011.

Thousands of NASA employees lost their jobs, Kennedy was essentially mothballed and Space Coast became a shadow of itself. There’s still hope. Last year Kennedy Space Center released a 20-year master plan that includes new launch pads and a new runway. Click here. (3/25)

US Prepares for Space Warfare, Citing Chinese Success (Source: Sputnik)
Anti-missile technologies tested by China over the last decade have caused alarm for US officials. In terms of space defense, the United States may be losing out in the futuristic "counterspace" campaign. "But just seeing the nature of these types of activities show how committed they are to a counter-space campaign," Admiral Cecil D. Haney, head of the Omaha-based nuclear forces command, said during a news conference at the Pentagon on Tuesday. "So we have to be ready for any campaign that extends its way into space." (3/25)

SpaceX’s Shotwell Walks Back Musk’s Cronyism Charge (Source: Space News)
SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell’s tour of Washington found her occasionally doing the work of the circus shovel brigade. When you work for a guy who shoots from the hip as often as SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk, it’s an unavoidable part of the job.

Musk spent part of 2014 and early 2015 making extraordinary allegations that competitor United Launch Alliance, its shareholders Boeing and Lockheed Martin, the U.S. Air Force and anyone else involved in certifying SpaceX’s Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket for government missions were all in cahoots to keep SpaceX out of the game and feather their future employment and retirement nests.

Musk went so far as to issue a near-libelous public accusation against a specific individual, formerly with the Air Force and now with a SpaceX competitor, who he said slow-rolled Falcon 9 certification to get his private-sector job. Since then, SpaceX has dropped its lawsuit against the Air Force and focused on the complicated task of certifying its rocket to carry U.S. government missions. It was time for a peace offering. Click here. (3/25)

Space Day 2015 Celebrates Aerospace at Florida Capitol (Source: SaintPetersBlog)
“There’s a lot of synergy among Pensacola, Tampa, Jacksonville and the Space Coast (Brevard County) (on this),” said state Sen. Thad Altman. “It’s why we call it Space Day — We don’t call it Brevard day.” The aerospace industry is a $19.2 billion industry in Florida employing more than 141,000 people. An aerospace company is operating in every county in the state, employing anywhere from four people (Liberty) to as many as 22,000 (Brevard).

Florida once had space mostly to itself. There were facilities in Houston and California but Florida was the focus of the nation with the moon and shuttle programs. Nowadays, space is a growing industry. Commercial launch facilities are scattered across the nation, in Virginia, New Mexico, Colorado, and Georgia is exploring the possibilities. (3/25)

Spaceport America Sculpture 'Genesis' Reaches for the Stars (Source: Albuquerque Journal)
A $200,000, 11,000-pound, 40-foot-long by 5-foot-deep steel sculpture titled “GENESIS” has been installed in a roundabout at the entrance of the Spaceport America property. It’s a large arc facing upward. Inlaid into the metal are round glass pieces containing mirrors that represent the stars.

New Mexico Spaceport Authority Executive Director Christine Anderson said she’s “really pleased with it” and said it will help to add to the tourism element of the spaceport. “I think it’s very uplifting,” she said. (3/25)

Thales Alenia Proceeding with Euro-Russian ExoMars, Other Projects (Source: Space News)
Satellite builder Thales Alenia Space said its Russian and Turkish satellite production programs are back on track after delays and that its close-quarters work with Russian companies on Europe’s ExoMars missions to Mars is proceeding on schedule despite the current hostility between Russia and the West.

The Franco-Italian company also said it is about to launch the first-ever commercial geostationary telecommunications satellite carrying 3-D-printed components, and that it had introduced robots onto its satellite manufacturing floor this year. (3/24)

Florida & Space Coast Leaders Urge Harris Corp. to Stay Put (Source: MyNews 13)
Brevard County is fighting to keep one of the Space Coast's largest companies headquartered in Melbourne. Federal, state and local leaders have drafted a letter to Harris Corp., which recently announced its largest acquisition ever, worth over $4 billion. With Harris' purchase of defense contractor Exelis, it's possible the new, larger company could relocate its headquarters to Washington, D.C. That could also relocate many jobs, although that number was not immediately known.

In the open letter, published in Wednesday's edition of Florida Today, Brevard County leaders urged the multibillion-dollar, deeply rooted company to keep its hub on the Space Coast. The letter starts by congratulating Brevard's largest company, which has been located in Melbourne since 1974, on its recent acquisition of Exelis. The deal creates an $8 billion tech company with 23,000 employees, including 9,000 engineers and scientists. (3/18)

Massive Housing, Business Development Denied Near Wallops Island Spaceport (Source: DelMarVa Now)
Two applications for a proposed massive, mixed-use development in northern Accomack County have been turned down by the Board of Supervisors. The board defeated 3-6 both a rezoning request to move 77 acres from agricultural to residential and a conditional use permit amendment to increase the capacity of a wastewater treatment plant for the planned development, called Town Center at Wallops Island Spaceport.

Among factors that apparently influenced the decision were reservations a NASA official expressed about locating a high density residential neighborhood so close to an active airfield at NASA Wallops Flight Facility. "Airplanes don't know lines, necessarily," said Caroline Massey, assistant director for management operations at Wallops. (3/23)

Comsys Survey Sees No Letup in Maritime Market Growth (Source: Space News)
The maritime satellite broadband market continued its sharp upward march in 2014, surpassing 20,000 ships with installed terminals despite the headwind of lower crude-oil prices and generating about $1.3 billion in revenue, according to an industry survey by Comsys of London. The installed base has nearly doubled since 2010 and shows no sign of a growth slowdown, according to Comsys. Once considered a luxury, broadband connectivity is now viewed as a must-have for ship fleets seeking to retain qualified personnel. (3/25)

Sierra Nevada and Houston Airport System Announce New Landing Agreement (Source: SNC)
Sierra Nevada and the Houston Airport System announced a new follow-on agreement to utilize Ellington Airport’s Spaceport as a future landing site for SNC’s Uncrewed Dream Chaser spacecraft - SNC’s solution for NASA’s Cargo Resupply needs and other critical space operations.

“Entering into this new agreement with HAS will lead to enabling all variants of the Dream Chaser spacecraft to land in Houston, offering the ability to return cargo and science to Houston directly from space,” said Mark Sirangelo. (3/24)

Will Ellington Field Get Its Spaceport? (Source: Houstonia)
Earlier today, Houston Airport System Director Mario Diaz addressed industry representatives, city leaders, and members of the media at the organization's annual "State of the Airports" address. Much of Diaz's talk, which was live-tweeted. One tweet was of special interest to all: Houston's further progress in the space race:

"Houston Airport System has filed its application to become nation’s 10th licensed commercial spaceport," he tweeted. "We’ll have our answer no later than June 28, but we are extremely optimistic."

License approval is just one piece to the puzzle. Further studies, designs, and business will all be required before any construction (a la New Mexico's Spaceport America, spearheaded by Virgin Galactic) can occur. Still, it would be a personal victory for Diaz, who first presented an early plan to convert Ellington Field into a burgeoning spaceport in 2013. (3/23)

USAF, SpaceX Focus on Second Stage Engine to Wrap Up Certification (Source: Reuters)
The U.S. Air Force said on Monday it was on track to certify privately held SpaceX to launch U.S. military and spy satellites by June, with the final efforts focused on qualifying the second stage engine and structure of its Falcon 9 rocket. (3/23)

Hawaiian Debut Flight of Rail-Guided Space Launcher Slips to October (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
The first flight of a new rail-guided satellite launch system from a military missile range in Hawaii has been delayed until late October due to problems with the rocket’s first stage motor, according to a U.S. Air Force official. The rail-launched Super Strypi launcher is awaiting an opening in the range schedule at the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii.

[Ironically,] the mission aims to demonstrate a concept to accelerate launch preparations, cutting processing time from months to weeks and slashing the cost of launching small satellites into orbit. The launch was originally set for October 2013, but Anttonen said in the mission appears on track for liftoff in late October 2015 from a new launch pad on Kauai. (3/23)

Russia to Resume Space Tourism in 2018 (Source: ABC)
Russia officials say they will resume space tourism in 2018 after years of sending into space only professional cosmonauts and astronauts. Russia had sent seven paying guests to the International Space Station since 2001 before curtailing the program in 2009. Sending a tourist has been all but impossible since 2011 when the United States shut down its Space Shuttle program and had to rely on Russian Soyuz rockets in order to get into orbit.

Russia, however, has made an exception for British soprano Sarah Brightman who is due to blast off on Sept. 1. RKK Energia, a state-controlled rocket manufacturer, said in a quarterly report released on Tuesday that it plans to make up for an expected drop in demand for manned flights by resuming space tourism in 2018. (3/24)

No Word From the Philae Lander Until April at the Earliest (Source: Washington Post)
It's been months now since the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft, currently orbiting Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, dropped its little lander Philae onto the surface and made history. Just days after its bumpy landing -- the first controlled landing of any manmade object on a comet -- Philae disappeared.

It didn't have enough sun exposure to keep itself operational, and Rosetta wasn't able to spot it on camera during its passes over the presumed resting place. So after several days of furiously acquiring data and running tests, Philae went to sleep.

On March 12, scientists at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) Lander Control Center began sending signals out to Philae. They kept trying for eight days. But on March 20, they announced they would have to try again sometime in April. They're in the process of calculating when Rosetta will next be in a good position to reach out to Philae. (3/23)