September 30, 2014

Texas Incentives for SpaceX a Regional Effort (Source: Valley Morning Star)
The incentive package for SpaceX stands at about $30 million and speaks of the Rio Grande Valley’s regional effort to woo the launch site. Most recently, SpaceX, which plans to develop the world’s first commercial and private vertical rocket launch complex at Boca Chica in Cameron County, also secured incentives from the city of McAllen and the Point Isabel Independent School District.

The McAllen City Commission, as recommended by the McAllen Economic Development Corp., pitched in with $500,000 and the Point Isabel ISD Board of Trustees approved an agreement in exchange for an eight-year limitation on the taxable property value for that portion of the taxes for maintenance and operations, not for debt service.

The Harlingen City Commission provided $450,000; the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corp. provided $5 million; Cameron County provided a tax abatement with a value up to $1.4 million; the state is providing $15.3 million; the Cameron County Space Port Development Corp. submitted an application for $1 million from the Texas Department of Agriculture and another $9 million was pitched to advance STARGATE, including $4.4 million from the state, $4.6 million from the University of Texas System, and $500,000 from GBIC. (9/27)

Gerstenmaier: Commercial Crew Contract Awards: “Roughly” Fit Within Budget (Source: Houston Chronicle)
I wanted to ask Bill Gerstenmaier about the commercial crew contract NASA had awarded to Boeing and SpaceX to develop space taxis to the International Space Station. NASA will give $4.2 billion to Boeing and $2.6 billion to SpaceX to complete development of their spacecraft, and begin flying as soon as 2017. My understanding was that NASA had about $4 billion to award, so i was surprised when it gave $6.8 billion in awards.

I asked Gerst, who made the final decision on the contract awards, about this and here was his response: "The thing that’s kind of confusing in the contract structure is that’s the maximum value of the contracts. That includes six flights for each one of the offers, and some of that is in the crew transportation language in the ISS. So when you look at that and you spread it out over the entire duration it kind of roughly fits within the budget. We’ve still got some details to do, some phasing to do, but that’s where it is."

Essentially I think he’s saying that the contracts are longer than originally anticipated, and instead of covering three flights they cover six flights. It wasn’t until late Friday night that I found out why Gerst might have been unhappy. That’s when the losing bidder, Sierra Nevada Corp., filed a legal challenge against NASA saying it improperly awarded the contracts. Sierra Nevada contends that its bid was $900 million less than Boeing’s, and that on technical merits the bids were of equal value. If that’s the case, the legal challenge could get interesting. (9/27)

SSTL Demonstrates New Ocean Winds and Waves Measuring Method (Source: Space Daily)
Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) has successfully demonstrated an innovative method of measuring winds and waves from space, using GNSS Reflectometry. This paves the way for a cost effective satellite system supporting the maritime sector and the organizations that rely on this information and it also offers improvements to weather services and climate research.

The measurements were taken from an instrument developed by SSTL, the SGR-ReSI, (Space GNSS Receiver Remote Sensing Instrument) which is flying on-board TechDemoSat-1, a technology demonstration satellite which was launched in July 2014. SSTL's SGR-ReSI collects the signals from GPS and other navigation satellites after they have been reflected off the ocean surface and processes them into images called Delay Doppler Maps, from which ocean roughness and wind speed measurements at the sea surface can be interpreted. (9/29)

Sierra Nevada Outlines "Global Project" for Dream Chaser (Source: SNC)
The Global Project spaceflight program offers SNC clients a unique turn-key spaceflight capability based on the Dream Chaser crewed space vehicle. SNC’s Global Project offers clients across the globe access to low Earth orbit (LEO) without the time, resources and financial burden of developing the necessary capabilities or infrastructure to support a mature human spaceflight program. The Dream Chaser spacecraft can be customized by the client for an array of missions to support government, commercial, academic and international goals.

The individual mission customization of the Global Project can be applied to both crewed and uncrewed variants for a single dedicated mission or suite of missions. In addition to offering customized access to LEO, SNC has also developed a tailored, world-class training program based on NASA’s strict certification standards that includes preparation for crewed flights, payload and vehicle safety operations.

Dream Chaser astronauts undergo training at SNC’s Dream Chaser Training Facility and Space Operations Center. Individuals complete pre-flight, ground, payload and mission control training, and obtain mission briefings in addition to other necessary training as determined by the mission. SNC can also assist clients in setting up in-country training programs as needed. (9/29)

China Completes New Spaceport (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Chinese officials have announced the completion of the nation’s fourth launch center, one that has a distinct advantage over the other three: rockets stages will fall over the ocean rather than on land. Located in the southern island province of Hainan, the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center has the advantage of being at a latitude of 19 degrees north of the equator, which is lower than China’s other launch centers in Sichuan and Shanxi provinces and the Inner Mongolia autonomous region.

The location is better for launching communications satellites, which are sent to positions over the equator. Wenchang will also be ideal for launching the heavy-lift Long March 5, which is now under development. Stages for the larger rocket can be transported to the launch site by water. Rockets must travel by rail to the three inland launch facilities. (9/29)

Orlando Considered for 2017 IAC Event (Source: SPACErePORT)
Space Florida and the Space Foundation are attending the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Canada, with a joint booth aimed at promoting Orlando as a location for the IAC event in 2017. IAC brings several hundred international space program officials together from industry, government and academia. The event will be held next year in Israel and then in Mexico City in 2016. (9/29)

September 29, 2014

Rocket to Cameron: Start-Launch Company Eyes Texas County (Source: Valley Morning Star)
Firefly Space Systems, a start-up satellite launch company, needs a launch site and Cameron County is among prospective locations. The firm, which said it recently relocated from California to Cedar Park, outside Austin, issued a written statement Friday: “While launch sites have yet to be determined, Firefly’s Chief Operating Officer PJ King has interest in Texas’ Brownsville area launch site.

“We absolutely want to build a launch site here in Texas. Having our launch site in Texas would be a triple whammy bringing together design and engineering, testing and a launch site all in one state,” King said. The company was asked to clarify whether it hopes to access the launch complex that SpaceX will develop at Boca Chica near Brownsville or if it proposes a new site, the firm’s Vice-President of Business Development Maureen Gannon said Friday that the company is in the “very initial” stages of exploring sites and options “from the Cape to Kodiak.”

With a newly acquired 200-plus acre test site facility in Briggs, in Central Texas, Gannon said that it “makes sense” to launch from Texas. In a Tweet sent Friday, the firm stated that a site-search was under way: “With any luck, we may find something along the Tx Coastal Bend! AK, HI, NM, FL, others being considered.” SpaceX declined to comment. Brownsville Economic Development Council Vice-President Gilbert Salinas would neither confirm nor deny whether Firefly has contacted BEDC. “We’re currently working different projects in the space industry,” Salinas said. (9/28)

Brevard Will Face Plenty of Aerospace, Aviation Challengers (Source: Florida Today)
With its history as home to the Kennedy Space Center, satellite launches and Patrick Air Force Base, Brevard County is a natural fit for companies in the aerospace and aviation industry. But communities throughout the United States, and the world, are attempting to lure those companies away from this region, and make sure any companies looking to expand or relocate choose their areas over the Space Coast.

And their quivers are filled with arrows similar to Brevard's — economic incentive programs, community support, powerful lawmakers and lobbyists, quality education partnerships and engineering talent. With billions of dollars and thousands of jobs on the line in this economic competition, the stakes could hardly be higher, and some states and municipalities have proven to be relentless in their efforts to recruit space and aviation business. In short: There are no free rides and no opportunities to let the guard down and relax.

"There is no one, single competitor," said Dale Ketcham, the chief of strategic alliances for Space Florida, the state agency charged with developing the aerospace and aviation industries in Florida. "Different states and cities bring different capabilities to the table," Ketcham said. "Many places have strong aerospace and aviation infrastructure. Even states like South Carolina and Kansas are in the running." Click here. (9/28)

Boeing Raises its Reach (Source: Post & Courier)
NASA is counting on Boeing's proven record for success with Commercial Crew. John Elbon, vice president and general manager for Boeing's Space Exploration operation, rightly cited that impressive experience Tuesday when he said: "Boeing has been part of every American human space flight program, and we're honored that NASA has chosen us to continue that legacy." The timetable calls for taking a NASA astronaut on a test flight to the station by the middle of 2017.

The CST stands for Commercial Space Transportation, the 100 for the kilometers (about 62 miles) from our planet's surface to space. Designed at Boeing's Houston Product Support Center, it will be manufactured at the company's Commercial Crew Processing Facility at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., leaving just a short roll to the launching pad.

So no, the CST-100 won't be made at Boeing's Dreamliner 787 factory in North Charleston. But Boeing did announce last week that will open a new North Charleston research center at Crosspoint in Palmetto Commerce Park, where it will employ from 300 to 400 people working on advanced manufacturing technology and composite fuselage manufacturing. (9/29)

National Space Society Launches "Enterprise In Space" (Source: NSS)
The National Space Society is launching a new project called "Enterprise In Space" (EIS).  This project will design, build, launch, orbit, re-enter, tour, and display a science-fiction-inspired satellite as a science education and technology demonstration project for all ages and as a tribute to the great visionaries of science and science fiction. Inspired by the classic science fiction writers of the 20th century including Heinlein, Clark and Roddenberry, the EIS project is a grassroots effort by a dedicated team of aerospace, information technology, and education veterans.

The goal of the EIS project is to launch an orbital mission by 2019 that will carry 100 or more competitively selected student experiments from around the globe, and to test out new space technology. This is an opportunity for people to directly support something truly historic. EIS will reach out to people with interests in space, science, education, astronomy, cosmology, and science fiction. A three-minute video explains the entire idea at the Enterprise in Space website here. (9/24)

NASA Expands Commercial Space Program (Source: Space Daily)
On the heels of awarding groundbreaking contracts to U.S. commercial space companies to ferry American astronauts to the International Space Station, NASA has released a request for proposals (RFP) for the next round of contracts for private-sector companies to deliver experiments and supplies to the orbiting laboratory.

Under the Commercial Resupply Services 2 RFP, NASA intends to award contracts with one or more companies for six or more flights per contract. As with current resupply flights, these missions would launch from U.S. spaceports, and the contracted services would include logistical and research cargo delivery and return to and from the space station through fiscal year 2020, with the option to purchase additional launches through 2024.

Earlier this year, the Obama Administration decided to extend the life of the International Space Station until at least 2024. The ability to continue commercial deliveries to the station is critical to continuing the use of the station as a platform for discovery that improves life on Earth, expands the commercial use of low-Earth orbit, and helps advance America's journey to Mars through high-quality scientific research and technology development. (9/29)

Africa's Socio-Economic Development Depends on Satellite Services (Source: Space Daily)
New research has revealed that wireless industry efforts to take massive amounts of additional spectrum - amounts that have been shown to be in excess of actual requirements - would undercut African economies, and threaten social and safety-of-life services by disrupting mission-critical satellite services for key applications delivered throughout the continent.

The research, which was conducted by international consultancy firm Euroconsult and commissioned by the European Space Agency, was revealed here during the VSAT 2014 conference, as organizations representing a variety of African user groups - including broadcasters, humanitarian and disaster-response agencies, civil aviation authorities, and other stakeholders - reach out to their governments to convey how essential C-band satellite services are for continued socio-economic development. (9/29)

Delta IV Booster Integration Another Step Toward First Orion Flight (Source: Space Daily)
Engineers took another step forward in preparations for the first test flight of NASA's new Orion spacecraft, in December. The three primary core elements of the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy rocket recently were integrated, forming the first stage of the launch vehicle that will send Orion far from Earth to allow NASA to evaluate the spacecraft's performance in space.

The three Delta IV Common Booster Cores were attached in ULA's Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF), at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport in Florida. The HIF building is located at Space Launch Complex 37 where the mission will lift off. The first booster was attached to the center rocket in June with the second one was attached in early August. (9/29)

Beijing Start-Up Plans to 'Low-Cost' Space Travel in Ultra-High Balloon (Source: South China Morning Post)
A private mainland company plans to offer near-space tourism for ordinary people in a high altitude balloon, according to a Beijing newspaper. Passengers would ascend to 40,000 metres in a pressurised capsule, where they would enjoy not just the spectacular view of the earth's curvature set against a backdrop of deep, dark space, but a few moments of reduced gravity, according to Spacevision, a start-up in Beijing, The Mirror reported.

The project was still in its "design phase" while the launch date and ticket prices were yet to be determined. The extreme balloon ride would also face hurdles such as safety laws and the government's strict regulation of civilian air space, a mainland space expert said. According to the report, the capsule would be carried up by a balloon filled with non-toxic and non-flammable helium and descend under a large parachute. (9/29)

China Sees its Military Edge Coming From Space (Source: New York Post)
China may have found a way to surpass the United States militarily — in space. Two years ago, China successfully launched four commercial satellites; the US launched two. The Chinese government spends billions of dollars annually on their space program, while the US continues to strip funding for NASA (in 2012, it was 0.48 percent of the federal budget).

China now has a manned spacecraft; we don’t. The only way our astronauts reach the International Space Station — for now — is through Russia, and if relations with Putin continue to deteriorate, that may no longer be an option. And China has set the year 2022 as the launch date for its first space station.

“This is the golden age for China’s space program,” says Gregory Kulacki, senior analyst & China Project Manager at the Global Security Program Union of Concerned Scientists. “China invests more in space. They have a younger, larger, more highly motivated cadre of space professionals focused on clear objectives.” Those objectives include finding ways to trump the US, which relies on satellites for targeting, reconnaissance and strategy. (9/28)

ISRO: The Inspiration Fountain for Indian Engineers (Source: EE Herald)
There is hardly anyone who don’t know the success of India's Mars Orbiter Spacecraft by ISRO. Engineers in India see ISRO as an immense source of inspiration. The precision, application of science, team work, resource management and will to convert failure into success need to be made into movie and to be screened on national channel.

The ISRO work culture is something which can be emulated all around India. ISRO's founders Vikram Sarabhai and Satish Dhawan need to be thanked for building the foundation for a such a work culture. On the importance of space technology for India, Vikram Sarabhai made below comments at that time of founding ISRO:

"There are some who question the relevance of space activities in a developing nation. To us, there is no ambiguity of purpose. We do not have the fantasy of competing with the economically advanced nations in the exploration of the moon or the planets or manned space-flight. But we are convinced that if we are to play a meaningful role nationally, and in the community of nations, we must be second to none in the application of advanced technologies to the real problems of man and society." (9/29)

What Became of Pakistan’s Space Program? (Source: New York Times)
Nearly 20 years ago, I remember walking through the packed halls of the then Taj Mahal hotel in Karachi where the Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Commission (Suparco) had set up a magnificent display of the cosmos and their crowning jewel, the first Pakistani satellite Badar-1. I remember how it captured the imagination of the young and old alike. How travel to the galaxy of stars, which at the time was only felt to be a figment of Hollywood’s unrestrained imagination, seemed like a reality to us.

Fast forward to present day, space is once again capturing our attention with neighboring India managing a successful program of not just launching into space but orchestrating the highly complex mission of sending a satellite to Mars– and that too on a shoestring budget. It speaks volumes about their focus and of the capacity they have managed to build.

Suparco, initially formed under Pakistan’s sole Nobel laureate Dr Abdus Salam, seems to be creaking along to its Indian counterparts. Starved of funds, its focus has been limited to communication satellites, tracking weather in addition to working on specific military applications. From being at the forefront of space exploration and development in Asia with the launch of Rehbar-I in the early 1960s, Pakistan today is far behind its neighbors including Iran, India and China. (9/29)

September 28, 2014

Space Florida Board to Consider Projects on Monday (Source: Space Florida)
The Space Florida board of directors will hold a public meeting at Walt Disney World on Monday, where they will be asked to approve the continuation and amendment of three major projects. The first involves the approval of management negotiations for terms and conditions related to the lease of Orbiter Processing Facility #3 (for Boeing's CST-100 capsule) at Kennedy Space Center.

The second involves minor changes to Northrop Grumman's agreement with nine state and local agencies to support the company's major aerospace business expansion on the Space Coast. The third project involves approval for $6 million in financing for a Commercial Crew competitor and one of its component suppliers to purchase machinery and equipment to support their program. Click here for the meeting materials. (9/28)

Proton-M Returns to Flight with Russian Military Launch (Source: ILS)
A Proton Breeze M launch vehicle successfully launched a satellite for the Russian Federal Government today. The vehicle lifted off at 12:23 a.m. Moscow time from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. This was the 5th launch of the Proton vehicle this year. The Proton vehicle is manufactured by Khrunichev State Research and Space Production Center of Moscow. This was the 398th Proton launch since its inaugural flight in 1965. (9/27)

What is the Pentagon’s Secret Space Drone Doing? (Source: New York Post)
For almost two years, an unmanned space plane bearing a remarkable resemblance to NASA’s space shuttle has circled the Earth, performing a top-secret mission. It’s called the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle — but that’s pretty much all we know for certain. The Pentagon’s X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle. Officially, the only role the Pentagon acknowledges is that it’s used to conduct experiments on new technologies. Theories about its mission have ranged from an orbiting space bomber to an anti-satellite weapon.

The truth, however, is likely much more obvious: According to intelligence experts and satellite watchers who have closely monitored its orbit, the X-37B is being used to carry secret satellites and classified sensors into space — a little-known role once played by NASA’s new retired space shuttle. Its cargo bay, often compared to the size of a pickup truck bed, is just big enough to carry a small satellite. Once in orbit, the X-37B deploys a foldable solar array, which is believed to power the sensors in its cargo bay.

For several years, the X-37B was developed in plain sight, with the military saying it was just a test vehicle. But in 2009, the Air Force suddenly said it was classified, and it went from being just another technology project to an object of obsession for amateur satellite spotters and aviation enthusiasts. On Dec. 11, 2012, the X-37B was launched for a third time, and that vehicle has now spent over 600 days in space. (9/26)

Snowdonia Fears Impact of UK Spaceport Decision (Source: Guardian)
More than 800 families at a time can pitch their tents at Shell island, Europe's biggest campsite, at the edge of the wild Rhinog mountains in Snowdonia. But they could soon get more than tranquillity, fresh air and massive sand dunes. The barely used Llanbedr airstrip that adjoins the camp, near Harlech, is one of eight coastal locations identified by the government as potential sites for Britain's first commercial spaceport.

Should the old RAF site be picked to launch satellites and host wealthy space tourists paying £120,000 or more for short, sub-orbital flights 65 miles above the Earth, the runway inside the national park would have to be extended through the protected dunes, narrow lanes would have to be widened, and giant fuel dumps, a terminal, hangars and dozens of other facilities would need to be built. (9/27)

China Launches Another Secretive Shijian-11 Mission (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
The Chinese have orbited a new satellite from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on Sunday. Utilizing their Long March 2C (Chang Zheng 2C) launch vehicle, the mission involved another of the secretive Shijian-11 (SJ-11) series of “experimental satellites”. Launch took place at 05:13 UTC according to Chinese reports. This is the seventh in a series of satellites that – according to the Chinese media – are only known to be “experimental satellites” developed by the China Spacesat Co. Ltd.

As with the previous Shijian-11 satellites, the true mission of Shijian 11-06 was not revealed by the Chinese authorities. However, some observers noted that the Shijian-11 series could be related to a constellation of operational early warning satellites, carrying infrared sensors. ‘Shijian’ means ‘Practice’ and this series of satellites have been used in a variety of configurations and missions for scientific research and technological experiments. (9/28)

Cleveland State's Space Law Expert Expands his Global Portfolio (Source: Crain's Cleveland Business)
Cleveland State’s resident space law expert — yes, there are laws in space — will help out the U.S. delegation to the United Nations committee on the peaceful uses of outer space. Mark J. Sundahl, associate dean of the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, was appointed as industry adviser to the group and will attend its meetings in Vienna.

The committee works on legal issues when it comes to the use of outer space, and Sundahl will advise the delegation on how those legal efforts will affect the operation and competitiveness of the United States’ space industry. The biggest legal issue in space? Space junk, Sundahl said. Think satellite debris and other man-made material floating aimlessly through space that could pose a threat to anyone doing business beyond Earth’s boundaries. (9/27)

Toronto Hosting International Space Convention (Source: CP24)
Toronto will be the center of the universe next week. The city will host the 65th International Astronautical Congress, a conference aimed at helping companies in the space business. As well as looking at where man has gone and may go in the future, the meeting will examine how the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence could affect society.

The Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute is hosting the week-long event, which begins Monday with 3,000 participants from about 70 countries. "It's a great convening of the global space community," Geoff Languedoc, the institute's executive-director, said in an interview. "We have brought the world of space to Canada." Besides industry, the congress brings together academia and government representatives from countries that include Russia, China, the United States and Europe. Editor's Note: It's about time the IAC was held in the U.S. again. Orlando next year? (9/28)

SpaceX Begins Major Mods to LC-39A in Leadup to First Falcon Heavy Flights (Source: Spaceflight Insider)
SpaceX has begun making changes to historic Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A), the site where Apollo 11, the first lunar landing mission, and numerous other crewed flights got their start. These include many Space Shuttle missions, including the very first flight of one of the orbiters, STS-1 - with shuttle Columbia.

SpaceX initially stated that the heavy version of the Falcon 9 booster would first be launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. However, these plans have apparently changed as SpaceX now states that the first launch of the Falcon Heavy will take place from LC-39A in 2015. SpaceX informed SpaceFlight Insider that the company and the Space Agency have a system in place that details who is responsible for historic items removed from the pad.

A key element required to launch the shuttles was the gaseous oxygen vent arm with its "beanie cap." SpaceFlight Insider noted that this historic piece of equipment had been removed and was lying at the base of LC-39A. What will happen to this and other historic artifacts once they are removed? Click here. (9/28)

September 27, 2014

Hawaii Scientists to Live in Dome for 8 Months (Source: Honolulu Star Advertiser)
Six scientists will be isolated in a dome habitat on Hawaii's Big Island for eight months to simulate a trip to Mars. They're part of a human performance study funded by NASA. The crew of the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation mission will be monitored using surveillance cameras, body movement trackers and electronic surveys. It's twice as long as the four-month simulation conducted there last spring.

Researchers from the University of Hawaii will study cognitive, social and emotional factors that could impact the team's performance. The study's principal investigator Kim Binsted says once the door is closed the silence and physical separation will leave the crew members feeling far from home. The mission will begin on Oct. 15. The group will have a female commander for the first time. (9/25)

Firefly Gets $1.2 Million Incentive for Texas Relocation (Source: Firefly Space Systems)
Firefly Space Systems announced today that it will receive up to $1,225,000 in incentives and employment grants from The City of Cedar Park Economic Development Corporation following the rocket company’s recent relocation from Hawthorne, California to its new home in Cedar Park, Texas. Firefly’s expansion plans include building its team in Central Texas to 200 employees with an annual payroll of approximately $12 million by 2019.

The company also plans to invest approximately $7.5 million in property, plant and equipment over the duration of the 10-year agreement with Cedar Park. Current negotiations for an undisclosed 20,000-square-foot office location for Firefly are also nearing finalization.

“Two hundred jobs is a very significant project for us. These jobs average out—and the company has committed—to $60,000 per job. That’s above the county median wage, and that is the number we typically focus on to determine if the jobs high-paying” noted Mr. Larry Holt, Cedar Park Assistant Economic Development Director. (9/26)

Will US Have to Look For an All-American Alternative to Russian Rockets? (Source: Flight Global)
ULA has teamed up with Blue Origin, a sort of nascent SpaceX run by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, and ATK has thrown its hat in the ring. It’s hard to imagine we won’t also hear from Aerojet Rocketdyne. This is where the SpaceX view of the world threatens to collide with reality.

Its rivals are all legacy suppliers working with technologies, government funding models and cost structures left over from the Cold War space race – but that doesn’t mean they are flat-footed. SpaceX may be quick and nimble, but its rocket technology is ordinary; its great advantage has been the fact that it started from a clean sheet. Now, war in Ukraine has reshuffled the deck so everybody can work from a clean sheet. Significantly in this business, size matters; SpaceX is up against giants and its advantages are no longer obvious. (9/26)

NASA Requests Proposals for Follow-on ISS Cargo Contract (Source: Space News)
NASA has released a request for proposals (RFP) for a second round of contracts to transport cargo to and from the international space station, with both current providers and new entrants expected to compete. NASA plans to award one or more Commercial Resupply Services (CRS)2 contracts as a successor to its existing CRS contracts with Orbital Sciences Corp. and SpaceX. Like the existing CRS contracts, CRS2 awards will cover the transport of pressurized and unpressurized cargo to the ISS, and the disposal or return to Earth of cargo from the station.

The CRS2 contracts will cover ISS cargo transportation through 2020, with options through 2024. The solicitation requests companies provide pricing information for between one and five missions per year for 2018 through 2024. Each CRS2 contract will cover a minimum of six missions, according to the RFP.  On NASA’s current CRS manifest, both companies are scheduled to fly their final CRS missions by late 2016, although NASA has options for additional missions to 2018.

While Orbital and SpaceX are expected to submit CRS2 proposals, they will likely face competition from other companies. Sierra Nevada Corp. said Sept. 24 that they planned to submit a CRS2 proposal involving their Dream Chaser vehicle after failing to win a commercial crew contract. Boeing, who won a commercial crew contract along with SpaceX Sept. 16, has previously expressed interest in bidding on commercial cargo contracts with its CST-100 spacecraft. (9/26)

SpaceX Bringing the Right Stuff to Patent Slog with Blue Origin (Source: Space News)
One patent attorney said a recently approved Blue Origin patent for landing rockets on water-going barges stands a good chance of being overturned, thanks to a review initiated by SpaceX — the company closest to actually using the technique Blue Origin wants to protect. Examiners approved U.S. Patent 8678321, “Sea landing of space launch vehicles and associated systems and methods,” on March 25, giving Blue Origin the rights to an invention that SpaceX claims is “old hat” in the rocket-engineering world.

“The patent granted is, in my opinion and in SpaceX’s counsel’s opinion, invalid,” said Andrew Rush, a Jacksonville, Florida-based patent attorney who blogs about space-related intellectual property matters at IPinSpace.com and helped Mojave, California-based Masten Space Systems implement an intellectual property development program during a 2011 internship. “The applications Blue Origin filed were pretty aggressive and pretty broad and written, SpaceX alleges, without a high degree of knowledge and sophistication about the space industry.”

Key for SpaceX, Rush said, is the provision of U.S. patent law that says the mere description of an invention in the public sphere is enough to block another would-be inventor from patenting it. In other words, Blue Origin’s patent “treads on technology that existed way before Blue Origin filed for the patent application,” and should therefore be struck down. (9/26)

Satellite Fleet Operators Lobby to Keep ADS-B Flight Tracking Off Agenda (Source: Space News)
A group including several of the world’s largest commercial satellite fleet operators is proposing that global regulators not extend current radio spectrum allocations for air-to-ground communications links to satellite services. The European Satellite Operators Association (ESOA) says “there is no urgent need for action. ... Related to global flight tracking,” and proposes that regulators turn aside efforts to formally adopt a resolution recognizing the satellite link, known as Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast, or ADS-B.

The issue is whether to extend the regulatory protection of broadcasts in the 1090-megahertz frequency, which covers air-to-ground communications, to cover satellite-to-aircraft links. The disappearance of Malaysian Airlines’ Flight 370 in March has given an added motivation to the effort.

Several industry officials said they suspected that Inmarsat of London, whose satellite fleet is offering ADS-B as part of a package of services, wants to avoid any regulatory action that might help competitors get into the business. Iridium Communications of McLean, Virginia, is offering a free ADS-B service on its second-generation satellites, to be in service in late 2017, through Aireon LLC, a joint venture of Iridium and Canadian and European air-navigation authorities. (9/26)

Inmarsat’s Growth Plan Hinges on Emerging Markets (Source: Space News)
Inmarsat told investors that while its U.S. government business is going through a difficult period, sales to other governments and militaries worldwide are likely to grow at double-digit rates for the next decade. The company said its current revenue from military and government customers outside the U.S. is about $126 million a year from 100 nations. But 80 percent of it is from just six nations, mainly advanced economies whose defense and civil-security spending is not growing quickly. (9/26)

NASA Contract Gives Big Boost to Boeing in Houston (Source: Houston Business Journal)
Following the announcement that NASA would award Boeing $4.2 billion to transport crews to the International Space Station, the Houston offices of the aerospace company are gearing up to handle the new job. While the manufacturing Boeing's crew transport pod, the CST-100, will take place at its facility in Florida, the software development and training of the astronauts will happen here in Houston. Boeing is expected to hire an initial 100 high-tech employees to expand its space transportation development in Houston. (9/25)

Is This the Best Time for Space Exploration Since the Moon Landing? (Source: CCTV)
Question for science educator Bill Nye: Is this the best time for space exploration since the U.S. landed on the moon? Bill Nye: “Ah yeah, probably. Keep in mind that space exploration brings out the best in us, space exploration is where we challenge ourselves, and by ourselves, I mean all of humankind…" Click here. (9/26)

Military Suborbital Launch Planned at Virginia Spaceport on Oct. 1 (Source: Virginian-Pilot)
NASA will launch a rocket from the Wallops Flight Facility for the Department of Defense on Oct. 1. The launch of the Terrier-Lynx suborbital rocket is expected between 2:30 and 4:30 a.m., a NASA news release says. The backup date is midnight to 2 a.m. on Oct. 12. (9/25)

Wallops' Island NASA Facility Generating Housing Boom (Source: DelMarVa Now)
There has been an uptick in the housing market. On Delmarva, the continued growth at Wallops’ Island NASA facility has generated a housing boom, with the addition of over one-thousand new jobs. Dale King, a realtor, said the expansion at the flight facility has clearly been a boon to their business. (9/25)

To Find Alien Life, Expect the Unexpected (Source: Air & Space)
Last week experts from a variety of fields answered a call from Steven Dick, the Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology at the Library of Congress, to meet for two days and discuss the possible discovery of extraterrestrial life and the impact such a discovery would have on society.

There was plenty to talk and think about at the meeting, and it’s not too soon to start the discussion. Some SETI researchers expect to detect intelligent signals within the next 25 years, given the current progress in technology. Who knows, perhaps we’re receiving the signals already, and just don’t see them or know how to interpret them! Click here. (9/25)

Sierra Nevada Challenges Awards to Boeing, SpaceX (Source: SNC)
Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC) has filed a legal challenge to the award of contracts to Boeing and SpaceX under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) program. While all three competitors were found to be compliant and awardable under the criteria set forth in the request for proposal (RFP), only two proposals were selected (Boeing and SpaceX), one of which would result in a substantial increased cost to the public despite near equivalent technical and past performance scores.

In its 51 year history SNC has never filed a legal challenge to a government contract award. However, in the case of the CCtCap award, NASA’s own Source Selection Statement and debrief indicate that there are serious questions and inconsistencies in the source selection process. SNC, therefore, feels that there is no alternative but to institute a legal challenge.

The company believes that, in this time of critical budget limits, it is more important than ever to deliver the best value to the American public. With the current awards, the U.S. government would spend up to $900 million more at the publicly announced contracted level for a space program equivalent to the program that SNC proposed. Given those facts, we believe that a thorough review must be conducted of the award decision. (9/26)

ESA Sets Date for Comet Landing (Source: ABC)
The European Space Agency says it will attempt to land the first spacecraft on a comet on Nov. 12. It says the maneuver will take about seven hours starting from the moment its unmanned probe Rosetta releases the 100-kilogram lander at 3:35 a.m. EST. there will be a 28 minute lag for the signal to travel back to Earth. (9/26)

Ostapenko: US Seeks More Space Cooperation with Russia (Source: Itar-Tass)
NASA is ready to increase the number of joint space experiments with Russia, head of Russia’s National Space Agency Roskosmos, Oleg Ostapenko, said on Friday. “Today our American colleagues have offered to widen cooperation regarding the joint experiments in space”, he said, adding that most of the experiments on the International Space Station /ISS/ during the forthcoming year will be conducted with close participation of Russian and American space crews.

Early April, 2014 NASA announced suspending space cooperation with Russia, except for ISS projects, due to the political crisis in Ukraine; however, by the end of the month NASA’s head personally assured his Russian counterpart that no space projects would be suspended and Russia-US space ties remain strong enough. (9/26)

Flat Space Budgets Make Cooperation Tricky (Source: Aviation Week)
 Today the former superpowers maintain a sometimes uneasy joint operation in orbit on the International Space Station (ISS). While the vestiges of a space race remain in the form of export controls on dual-use space hardware—in the U.S. primarily aimed at China for now—the inability of would-be partners to keep their financial commitments is becoming at least as big a problem in setting up space-cooperation deals.

In a sense, that is nothing new. When the ISS was in development, Japanese human-spaceflight officials joked that they started out with the smallest pressurized module on the drawing board and wound up with the largest because the others kept shrinking while Kibo remained the same size. But tight budgets forced by competing priorities have made unpleasant surprises more common. (9/26)

DARPA, Industry Study How To Commercialize Experimental Spaceplane (Source: Space News)
As technical work ramps up on an experimental military spaceplane program, government and industry are studying how to eventually commercialize the vehicle, an effort that includes chartering a study by a space advocacy organization. DARPA's Experimental Spaceplane (XS)-1 program seeks to develop a reusable first stage that, combined with an expendable upper stage, could place payloads of as many as 2,250 kilograms into orbit for less than $5 million per launch.

DARPA awarded Phase One study contracts in July to Boeing, Masten Space Systems and Northrop Grumman. “We would like to see this program transitioned to the commercial sector,” said Jess Sponable, DARPA XS-1 program manager, in a presentation at a Sept. 16 meeting of the FAA’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) systems working group. “We are looking to industry to define a transition path in the future.”

Sponable said he believes there will be significant demand for the XS-1 from both industry and government, given its projected low launch costs and high flight rates. “If we could really introduce this affordable low-cost launch capability, you’re going to see people introduce next-generation broadband systems,” he said, citing one example of a potential XS-1 launch customer. With such demand, he argued that it makes the most sense to have the XS-1 operated by a company, which then sells launch services to NASA, the Defense Department, and commercial customers. (9/26)

Roscosmos: All-Female Space Crew Possible (Source: Itar-Tass)
Russia's Federal Space Agency announced on Friday that it is not ruling out that a crew consisting of women could be sent to the International Space Station (ISS) in the future. “I hope that women will join the crew, moreover, we are not limiting strictly whether one woman in six months or one in ten years should fly. We make an assessment due to the person’s professionalism and ambition,” Oleg Ostapenko, who heads the Russian space agency Roscosmos, said. (9/26)

First Manned Spaceship to be Launched from Vostochny Atop Angara (Source: Itar-Tass)
The first manned spaceship will be launched from the Vostochny space facility onboard the Angara rocket, head of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) Oleg Ostapenko said on Friday. “This will be the Angara rocket. Everything has been spelled out. We’re working on that basis,” Ostapenko said. Ostapenko said other carrier boosters would be launched from the Vostochny space facility as well. “We don’t rule out that more powerful boosters will be launched,” he said. (9/26)

Designer for Russia's Super-Heavy Booster to be Chosen by Year-End (Source: Itar-Tass)
Roscosmos will decide on a leading designer of a super-heavy booster rocket by the end of the year. A competition for the booster rocket has not been held yet, Oleg Ostapenko said. “We’ll hold a conciliatory meeting shortly to decide what [the super-heavy booster] should look like, where the work will be done and who is to lead the way,” he said. Three Russian enterprises - the Progress design bureau, the Energia Rocket and Space Corp., and the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center - are now designing and developing the super-heavy booster, Ostapenko said. (9/26)

September 26, 2014

New US-Russian Crew Launches to International Space Station (Source: Space.com)
An American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts have blasted off on a history-making trek to the International Space Station, where they will spend nearly six months working in orbit. A Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying NASA astronaut Barry "Butch" Wilmore and cosmonauts Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova launched into space from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome on Thursday. (9/25)

Solar System’s Water Older Than the Sun (Source: Reuters)
Water found in Earth’s oceans, in meteorites and frozen in lunar craters predates the birth of the solar system, a study published on Thursday shows, a finding with implications for the search for life on other planets. Scientists have long debated whether the solar system’s water came from ice ionized during the formation of the solar system, or if it predated the solar system and originated in the cold interstellar cloud of gas from which the sun itself was formed. (9/25)

Newfound Molecule in Space Dust Offers Clues to Life's Origins (Source: Space.com)
The discovery of a strangely branched organic molecule in the depths of interstellar space has capped a decades-long search for the carbon-bearing stuff. The molecule in question — iso-propyl cyanide (i-C3H7CN) — was spotted in Sagittarius B2, a huge star-making cloud of gas and dust near the center of the Milky Way, about 27,000 light-years from the sun. The discovery suggests that some of the key ingredients for life on Earth could have originated in interstellar space. (9/25)

CubeSat Craze Could Create Space Debris Catastrophe (Source: New Scientist)
Swarms go up and they don't come down. Tiny, cheap CubeSats are becoming an increasing danger in space. The mini-satellites could cause catastrophic collisions with larger craft, threatening to produce orbiting blizzards of space debris like those in the movie Gravity. The more hardware there is in space, the greater the chance of collisions. To mitigate these risks, CubeSats are supposed to come down within 25 years. However, there is no enforcement of this rule.

CubeSat popularity looks likely to increase. Around 100 of the craft were launched between 2003 and 2012, then another 100 were launched in 2013 alone. Lewis and his colleagues extrapolated those numbers to model what would happen if between 205 and 700 CubeSats were launched every year for the next 30 years. At the 205-per-year launch rate, CubeSats will come within a dangerously close 17 kilometres of other spacecraft 16 million times over the three decades. At the highest rate, that rises to 165 million times. (9/25)

One of Soyuz’s Solar Batteries Fails to Unfold (Source: Itar-Tass)
One of solar batteries of Russia’s Soyuz TMA-14M has failed to unfold, the crew so far is keeping to the six-hour docking scenario. “It is true, one of the spaceship’s solar batteries has failed to unfold,” a spokesman said. When asked which of the two docking scenarios - six-hour or two-day - will be realized, he said that “it will be clear in several hours.” (9/26)

Waypoint 2 Space Crowdfunding Project to Bring Spacewalks Down to Earth (Source: Space.com)
While most of us will never get the chance to go on a spacewalk, a simulated version of the out-of-this-world experience may soon be available to the general public. Houston-based Waypoint 2 Space trains people for commercial spaceflight and has launched a Kickstarter campaign to build a spacewalk simulator. The Modular EVA Training System (METS) Kickstarter will run through Nov. 8, and the company plans to officially open the device to amateur spacewalkers in March 2015. 

METS is designed to hold a spacecraft training module 12 feet (3.7 meters) long and 10 feet (3 m) wide. Trainees who enter the model spacecraft will experience the illusion of weightlessness, thanks to METS' gravity-offset system. The mock spacecraft will be enclosed in dark room, with only the trainees' spacesuit lights providing any illumination. METS will rotate horizontally and vertically, and star fields projected on the walls will move, to give trainees the sensation they are actually moving through space, company representatives said. (9/25)

Companies Vying to Turn Asteroids into Filling Stations (Source: BBC)
Private companies want to mine asteroids for fuel, and build filling stations in space. A bill now in front of the US Congress would help by allowing them to own what they discover - but it might, if passed, meet stiff international opposition. Click here. (9/25)

FAA Says Safety Report Doesn’t Reflect Plans to Regulate Human Spaceflight (Source: Space News)
An FAA official says a new report on commercial human spaceflight safety is intended to support the development of standards by industry and is not part of an effort to impose regulations on this emerging field. The Aug. 27 report by FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, titled “Recommended Practices for Human Space Flight Occupant Safety,” provides safety guidelines both suborbital and orbital crewed vehicles. The 56-page document covers aspects of the design, manufacturing, and operations of such vehicles.

“The future of the commercial human spaceflight industry will depend on its ability to continually improve its safety performance,” said George Nield, FAA associate administrator for commercial space transportation, at a meeting of the FAA’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC). “What is the best way for government and industry to work together the cause of spaceflight safety?”

The report, he said, came out of a three-year effort that involved discussions with COMSTAC members, the FAA’s Civil Aerospace Medical Institute, and its Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation. The FAA based the report on requirements developed by NASA for its commercial crew program. (9/25)

UK Joins List of U.S. Allies Agreeing To Strengthen Space Surveillance Sharing (Source: Space News)
The United Kingdom on Sept. 23 became the latest nation to sign a space surveillance data-sharing agreement with the U.S. The signing, which came during the Combined Space Operations Principals’ meeting in Ottawa, Canada, follows U.S. Strategic Command’s adoption in May of a new sharing strategy aimed at providing more detailed space situational awareness information to its closest allies.

The United States has similar agreements with Canada, Japan, Australia, Italy, France and the Republic of Korea. In all, the U.S. government has signed nearly 50 data-sharing agreements with other governments and private sector entities, Defense Department officials said in September. (9/25)

Astronauts Give Bill Clinton a Taste of Space Travel (Source: Space.com)
Astronauts paid a virtual visit to former President Bill Clinton from the International Space Station on Wednesday (Sept. 24) to share their perspectives on Earth as it appears from their orbital home. NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman and European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst, part of the station's current Expedition 41 crew, beamed down by video to the Clinton Global Initiative, a gathering world leaders here aiming to develop solutions to major world problems. Joining Clinton on Earth was NASA astronaut Cady Coleman, who visited the station during its Expedition 26/27 mission. (9/25)

The Making of SpaceShipTwo (Source: Air & Space)
We're now about 40 percent of the way through the build for the next SpaceShip. It's quite exciting; it's starting to look like a real spaceship. We've got essentially the main body of the cabin, and the nose, and the main booms, the wings…you can see their shape. We're starting to put systems into the vehicle. Obviously the structure is what you look at when you start to say, 'that looks like a spaceship,' but then there are all the electrical systems, pneumatic systems, life support, landing gear actuators, etc. We've made some progress on the next WhiteKnight as well but really the focus this year has been on SpaceShipTwo, serial number two. Click here. (9/25)

September 25, 2014

Mars: China's Next Goal? (Source: Xinhua)
Mars receives two visitors from the Earth this week. NASA's new spacecraft MAVEN entered the orbit around Mars on Sept. 21 to hunt for the planet's lost water. And India's first Mars probe has reached Mars on Sept. 24, said Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, adding that India is the first country to have reached the Red Planet on its first attempt.

After China's successful soft landing on the moon late last year, will Mars be its next goal? No official plan has been published yet, but some experts have disclosed the country's interest. Ouyang Ziyuan, a leading scientist in China's moon program, told the International Planetarium Society conference in Beijing in June that China plans to send a Mars rover around 2020, collect samples and bring them back to Earth around 2030. Russia launched a rocket carrying a China-made probe to Mars in 2011, but the mission failed because of an accident in the orbital transfer. (9/25)

Google Science Fair Champs Win Chance at Spaceflight Training (Source: Inhabitat)
Irish teenagers Ciara Judge, Émer Hickey and Sophie Healy-Thow, all 16, have won the Google Science Fair 2014. Their project, Combating the Global Food Crisis, aims to provide a solution to low crop yields by pairing a nitrogen-fixing bacteria that naturally occurs in the soil with cereal crops it does not normally associate with, such as barley and oats. Among their prizes is "the chance to participate in astronaut training at the Virgin Galactic Spaceport in the Mojave desert." (9/25)

Sierra Nevada Plans Continued Dream Chaser Effort (Source: Space News)
In the months leading up to the CCtCap announcement, SNC executives said they were exploring alternative uses of Dream Chaser in addition to, or in place of, ISS crew transportation. The company announced a number of partnerships with other space agencies and organizations, and will continue those efforts. “We are aggressively pursuing commercial and international paths for our program,” Scordo said. “SNC has made the decision to continue the development of the Dream Chaser to flight.”

SNC will continue to work with NASA on the company’s remaining milestones for its existing Commercial Crew Integrated Capability award it received from the agency in August 2012. The company is working on the final two milestones in that agreement, including a glide flight of a Dream Chaser test vehicle.

Scordo said SNC plans to pursue additional NASA business with Dream Chaser, such as a recompete of the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contracts for ISS cargo transportation. According to NASA procurement documents, the request for proposals for the second CRS contract is scheduled for release at the end of September, with proposals due in mid-November. (9/25)

Managing Orbital Debris and Space Traffic (Source: Space Daily)
Those familiar with air traffic management architectures understand the constraints of aircraft flying in the atmosphere, vehicle dynamics and command and control techniques. Unfortunately, compared to air traffic, space traffic has many more degrees of freedom and much less control capability. Add to this the completely uncontrolled nature of space debris and the reality that most debris objects cannot be tracked and motion cannot be accurately measured or simulated.

Just as weather affects our daily lives, so does Earth's orbiting junkyard. The detrimental effects of space junk grow worse each year, putting our daily lives and national infrastructures increasingly at risk as our communications, science and security networks rely ever more heavily on the interconnected system of satellites orbiting the skies.

One area of current interest to the regulatory community is space traffic management. This is a topic of particular concern for several agencies including NASA, ESA, DOD and FAA. Within the U.S., NASA is responsible for human space flight and scientific exploration. FAA is responsible for commercial space traffic. DOD is responsible for military and intelligence space traffic. Unfortunately, "space" is not like "airspace." Click here. (9/25)

KSC Countdown Clock's Days Are Numbered (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
The Countdown Clock located at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida is one of the more iconic structures located at the center. The Countdown Clock has been at the Kennedy Space Center Press Site since the Apollo era. With space flight now entering a new age, NASA is looking to replace the iconic clock with something more modern – and much more versatile.

Members of the NASA Social held for the Sept. 21 launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket with its payload of a Dragon spacecraft and its 5,100 lbs of cargo were told about the plans for the Clock and tweeted that it would be replaced by December 2014. While this is what the space agency hopes to do – firm plans are not currently in place in terms of when the Clock will be retired – or where it will be going. (9/25)

Student Aims to be the ‘Female, Mexican Carl Sagan’ (Source: New America Media)
When Ana Aceves was 12 years old, she sat on her parents’ front porch in the Central Valley city of Merced, California, looked up into the night sky and had an “out of body experience.” She saw herself on her porch, then her city, and state, planet, and finally the stars.

It was then the energetic 23-year-old UC Berkeley senior says she knew exactly what she wanted to do. “I ran into the house and told my mom I wanted to be an astrologer,” she explained with a loud chuckle. “I think you mean an astronomer,” her mother corrected. Today Aceves, the child of Mexican immigrants and the first in her family to attend college, is double majoring in Astrophysics and Media Studies. (9/25)

Amid Funding Suspicions, Putin Creates Commission on Vostochny Construction (Source: Itar-Tass)
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday signed a resolution to create a commission for the construction of Vostochny Cosmodrome. Russian Vice-Premier Dmitry Rogozin is appointed as chairman of the commission. Putin instructed the commission to coordinate actions between bodies of state power at different levels and organizations, to establish control over efficiency of budget expenditure and to keep to schedule for putting into operation key facilities of the Vostochny Space Launch Center.

In early September Putin visited the Vostochny Cosmodrome construction site and said that “all the deadlines must be met and any delay or disruption in funding must be avoided”. He also warned that “there must be no unjustified increases” in expenditures. “The implementation of this project should confirm the high scientific and technological status of Russia,” he said. (9/25)

‘First Pakistani in Space' Congratulates India on Mars Mission (Source: Deccan Chronicle)
A Pakistani explorer expected to become her country's first person in space congratulated India on Thursday on reaching Mars on its maiden attempt. India won the Asian space race to the Red Planet on Wednesday when its unmanned Mangalyaan successfully entered the Red Planet's orbit after a 10-month journey on a budget of just $74 million.

Despite having a space agency since 1961 Pakistan has not yet launched a satellite into orbit. But Namira Salim, the first Pakistani explorer to reach both poles said India's achievement had made the region proud. "The success of the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), Mangalyaan, is a giant leap for South Asia," said Salim, who has booked a ticket on Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic space project planned for 2015. (9/25)

Sanford Joins Commercial Spaceflight Federation (Source: Space News)
Tommy Sanford, a government affairs associate in the Space Foundation’s Washington office, will become director of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation effective Oct. 1. Sanford will take the lead on government affairs for the federation under Eric Stallmer, who replaced former astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria as president this month, according to a Sept. 25 press release from the federation.

Sanford is the third and final piece in a Commercial Spaceflight Federation leadership transition that began during the summer when Lopez-Alegria and Sanford’s predecessor, former Capitol Hill staffer Alex Saltman, said they would leave the federation. (9/25)

Branson: Virgin Spaceflight By Christmas (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Sir Richard Branson hopes Virgin Galactic will make it into space by the end of 2014, though he says the first few flights will not be for paying customers. He plans to be aboard the first commercial flight with his son sometime next year. Click here. (9/25)

Incentives Land Aerospace Expansion on Space Coast (Source: Florida Today)
The incentives involved in persuading a company such as Embraer or Northrop Grumman to expand in Brevard County can be high. But the payoffs can be immense, economic development experts say. Three expansion projects involving Embraer and two involving Northrop Grumman since 2008 are expected to lead to 3,800 jobs at the two companies with a total annual payroll of $312 million, as well as a $656.45 million capital investment.

"We have wound up with some very big wins," said Greg Weiner, senior director of business development for the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast. The companies generally don't get the tax breaks or other incentives unless they meet or exceed the jobs and capital investment promised. In the site-selection game, Weiner said, economic incentives are a strategy that states, counties and cities must embrace if they want to be competitive.

"These are very significant projects," Weiner said, adding that the company would consider it "non-responsive" for a community to not offer incentives. When an Embraer or a Northrop Grumman decides to expand in Melbourne, it also means spinoff jobs for the community, at businesses of all kinds, ranging from construction companies and parts suppliers to restaurants and sign-makers. (9/25)

The Uncertain Future of Space Exploration (Source: The State Press)
This marks a radical change in how we will soon view space, should this trend continue. The senses of discovery and wonder that drive investment into space will soon be replaced by the drive for profit. Opening space to the marketplace will transform the final frontier into a cutthroat rat race, where CEOs are more important than astronauts.

There is a reason that highways, education and the military are government-run: As markets, they don’t work. We don’t live in a country where we have to pay a toll on every road we drive or individually hire a mercenary group to protect our borders and neighborhoods, because establishing a market in these areas is complete nonsense. Public goods are paid for by and benefit the public as a whole, and space needs to remain one of these esteemed public spheres.

If we want to cheapen the experience of space travel, then establishing a private monopoly is the way to go. If the goal is to make space travel inexpensive, however, then the only answer is larger investment into our national space program. (9/24)

Elon Musk: Immigrant (Source: Brownsville Herald)
The Rio Grande Valley is still buzzing with excitement after Monday’s groundbreaking for the SpaceX rocket launch facility at Boca Chica Beach. It reflects an investment by entrepreneur Elon Musk that eventually should reach billions of dollars. Musk, a South African native, is just the latest of thousands of immigrants who have improved our economy, and our lives.

He joins other foreign-born business leaders who range from the Singapore conglomerate that runs Keppel AmFELS, to Argentine native Alberto Kreimerman, CEO of Hermes Music, to the many Asian shop owners in our downtown areas, in creating wealth and jobs here. Immigrants’ contributions don’t end there. Educators of all nationalities teach our children in our schools and universities, and many of us entrust our health needs to medical professionals from South America, the Caribbean and even India. (9/25)

Japanese Company Plans Space Elevator by 2050 (Source: C/Net)
Researchers heading into space in the not-too-distant future could be travelling by elevator rather than rocket if Japanese construction giant Obayashi Corporation has its way. The company announced two years ago that it has the capacity to build a space elevator -- and have it up and running by the year 2050.

The company said that the elevator would reach 96,000km (59,652 miles) into space (for reference, space lies beyond the Kármán Line, at an altitude of 100km, the International Space Station is 330km, and the moon is 384,400km from Earth), and use robotic cars powered by magnetic linear motors (maglev, as seen in high-speed rail lines around Asia and Europe) to ferry cargo and humans to a new space station.

Teams around Japan are working on logistics problems associated with the elevator. A team at Kanagawa University, for example, is working on the problems associated with the robotic cars: how to ascend at varying altitudes and how to brake. If the project is successful, it could massively cut the cost and danger associated with space trips: cargo usually costs around $22,000 per kilogram via shuttle; using Obayashi's space elevator, the cost would be closer to $200, the company said. (9/24)

Russia to Allocate $8.2 Billion for ISS Development up to 2025 (Source: Itar-Tass)
Russia plans to allocate 321 billion rubles ($8.2 billion) for developing the International Space Station (ISS) up to 2025, Russian Deputy Prime Minister  Dmitry Rogozin said. “The 2016-2025 draft of the target federal program provides for allocating 321 billion rubles for the ISS development and operation, including the creation of new modules for unmanned spacecraft,” Rogozin said. (9/24)

Four Large Fireballs Reported Across United States (Source: KFOR)
The American Meteor Society is reporting that four large fireballs were spotted across the United States on Sept. 23. The first fireball was reported in Florida and Georgia. Organizers say over 77 witnesses from Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New York and Kentucky reported a second fireball later in the day. The third fireball was seen by 29 witnesses in Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri and Kentucky.

The final fireball was reported by 42 people in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Maryland. Researchers with the American Meteor Society say three of the fireballs occurred within an hour and a half of each other. (9/24)

Hadfield Uses China Trip to Promote Space Cooperation (Source: Guardian)
China’s space programme is “open for business”, the astronaut Chris Hadfield has said while calling for more international cooperation during a visit to Beijing to meet his Chinese counterparts. “The US and China need symbolic ways to cooperate beyond panda bears and this is a really good way to do it,” he told the Guardian.

Astronauts from another nation training with China, or Chinese astronauts training at facilities such as NASA’s at Houston, would be a positive and symbolic first step towards working together on a more lasting basis, Hadfield said. Hadfield, who speaks fluent Russian, said it was important to ensure the next space station was an international effort. He cited the success of the ISS as “proof that enmity and suspicion could be overcome”. (9/24)

Ariane 6 Cost Estimate Rises with Addition of New Launch Pad (Source: Space News)
ESA presented to seven of their governments an updated plan for developing the next-generation Ariane 6, with lower estimated recurring production costs but a higher overall development cost owing to the need for a new, Ariane 6-launch pad. Ministers from seven ESA member states — France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland — asked the 20-nation ESA and industry to continue to refine Ariane 6 cost estimates. They agreed to meet Nov. 13 in Germany to review progress. (9/24)

Russian Astronomers Spot Second Planet in Alpha Centauri System (Source: Itar-Tass)
St. Petersburg astronomers have spotted one more planet circling a star in the Alpha Centauri system just 4.36 light-years away from the Solar System. The new plant cannot be seen even though a telescope - astronomers calculated its approximate location by mathematical methods. It is located outside the so-called habitable zone. As of now, astronomers have discovered 1,791 exoplanets in 110 planetary systems outside our Solar System. (9/24)

When Astronauts Finally Reach Mars, Will They be Able to Land? (Source: Air & Space)
I am often asked why landing on Mars is so much harder than landing on the moon or on Earth. To land on the moon, the astronauts entered lunar orbit and fired retro-rockets aimed more or less opposite to their direction of travel. As their spacecraft slowed, it descended toward the surface. The landing isn’t trivial, but it’s reasonably straightforward.

To bring a lander back to Earth, retro-rockets aren’t needed, because Earth has an atmosphere. Most Earth landers can eliminate more than 99 percent of the speed of orbit simply by slowing down with a heat shield. For the last one percent, we can use parachutes (as did Soyuz) or wings (as did the space shuttle). Mars is like neither the moon nor Earth, but is annoyingly in between. It has too much atmosphere to land as we do on the moon and not enough to land as we do on Earth. Click here. (9/24)

Curiosity Finds a Weird 'Ball' on Mars (Source: Discovery)
If there’s one thing to be said for Curiosity’s mission on Mars so far, it certainly hasn’t been boring. Although the six-wheeled rover has taken thousands of photographs of Martian rocks, the rich diversity of Mars’ landscape has provided many beautiful examples of planetary geology and some geology that is downright weird.

Take this recent photographic example from the Mars Science Laboratory’s Mastcam camera that was uploaded to the mission’s photo archive on sol 746 (Sept. 11). While compiling a mosaic of images of the surrounding landscape, Curiosity captured a rather un-Mars-like shape atop a rocky outcrop. There’s a perfect-looking sphere sitting proudly on a flat rock surface. It’s dusty, but under that dust it appears a little darker than the surrounding rock. Click here. (9/24)

SNC's Dream Chaser Employees Laid Off (Source: Denver Post)
Sierra Nevada Corp.'s Space Systems division on Wednesday laid off about 90 employees from its Dream Chaser program. Space Systems recently lost out on a NASA contract for the Dream Chaser, which would have shuttled astronauts to the International Space Station. Space Systems chief Mark Sirangelo said many of those let go had been hired in anticipation of the NASA contract.

"We did do a workforce reduction, but it was a relatively minor one compared to what it might have been," he said. The layoffs represent a 9.4 percent reduction in Space Systems' Colorado workforce, he said. Space Systems announced in January a November 2016 launch date for its first Dream Chaser orbital mission, as well as an expansion along Florida's space coast, sharing NASA facilities at Kennedy Space Center with Jefferson County-based Lockheed Martin Space Systems.

Sirangelo said he could not comment on how this layoffs would affect the launch plans. He did say the Dream Chaser program will continue, and Space Systems intends to bid on upcoming NASA contracts. (9/24)

India's MOM to Spawn a Generation of Smart Satellites (Source: Times of India)
Here is a happy secret: India's Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) was a success much before the spacecraft entered the red planet's orbit on Wednesday morning. And we are not talking about the nerve-wracking 24-minute Mars Orbital Insertion. Nor the studies which MOM's payloads are to take up during its elliptical journey around Mars. The biggest achievement of the 300-day odyssey is India's demonstration of mastery over making the spacecraft 'think and act' on its own.

It is with this electronic brain that MOM journeyed on for more than 680 million km, correcting altitude and positioning its antenna constantly toward earth for communication and its solar panels toward the sun to generate power. It is this brain that stored commands from Isro in Bangalore 10 days in advance and carried them out to fire its engine to enter Martian orbit. Scientists call it autonomy. (9/24)

September 24, 2014

Did Elon Musk Just Have the Best Month in Modern Business Tech History? (Source: Reddit)
His companies collectively announced a Nevada state deal to build the largest battery factory in the world, announced a deal to build the largest solar factory in the western hemisphere, won a major billion dollar NASA contract for human spaceflight, successfully launched the 4th Dragon capsule resupply mission to the space station and successfully launched Asiasat 6 into geosynchronous transfer orbit. And broke ground on a new SpaceX spaceport in Texas. (9/24)

SpaceX Manifest Growing Rapidly (Source: Valley Morning Star)
SpaceX’s intent is to develop and activate the commercial launch site at Boca Chica in Cameron County expeditiously in order to meet an expectedly growing manifest. Commercial launch missions to geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) and beyond would be transferred to the new launch complex also. “Our preference is to try to move — particularly the commercial GTO missions — to the Boca Chica launch site as soon as we can,” SpaceX’s founder Elon Musk said.

Musk noted that “there is a significant benefit” in that the Boca Chica site is south of Cape Canaveral, Florida, “and that should help for GTO missions.” “We are still going to make heavy use of the Cape Canaveral... and Vandenberg sites, but those will be primarily for U.S. government activities, and then we’re expecting our South Texas launch site to be primarily for commercial and we’re expecting a very high flight rate in the future,” Musk said.

Musk said that SpaceX’s manifest for commercial launches is growing very rapidly, “and we need to make sure that we can launch all those vehicles and do so in the right way.” Musk said that there would be a strong presence in engineering research and development at the Boca Chica site. “Larger rockets in the future are so big (that) they are not going by road,” Musk said, acknowledging that the manufacture of rockets here could be in the distant future. (9/24)

What SpaceX’s New Spaceport Will Look Like (Source: Popular Mechanics)
SpaceX broke ground on a brand new spaceport of its own on Monday. The spaceport, known at least for now as the SpaceX Commercial Launch Facility, will be located in Brownsville, Texas near Boca Chica Beach, about three miles from the Mexican border. The site will host launch complex and control center capable of handling a dozen commercial satellite launches per year. Click here. (9/24)

India's Satellite Makes It to Mars Orbit (Source: Mashable)
An Indian space probe has successfully entered Mars' orbit, marking the first interplanetary mission for the country. Scientists broke into wild cheers Wednesday morning local time as the orbiter's engines completed 24 minutes of burn time and maneuvered into its designated place around the red planet. The success of India's Mars Orbiter Mission, affectionately nicknamed MOM, brings India into an elite club of Martian explorers that includes United States, the European Space Agency and the former Soviet Union. (9/24)

NASA Tools Allow Designers To Tailor Aircraft Noise Signatures (Source: Aviation Week)
If aircraft were designed by ear and not by eye, would they look any different? NASA is developing design tools that can answer that question by enabling engineers to computationally simulate the noise characteristics of an aircraft while it is still a concept, long before it has flown. These “auralization” tools are aimed particularly at the evaluation of unconventional configurations that might have sound signatures quite different from designs with which engineers are familiar. (9/24)

TEAM USA Takes Second at International Rocketry Challenge (Source: AIA)
The Raytheon-sponsored U.S. Rocketry Team from Canton, Georgia took second place at the seventh annual International Rocketry Challenge during the 2014 Farnborough International Air Show. Team USA out-performed their French and British opponents in the fly-off stage, but fell a few points short of the French team's overall score based on the presentation component of the contest. A group from Japan performed a demonstration launch, laying the groundwork for broader international participation in the 2015 challenge. (9/24)

Deep in the Heart of Texas (Source: Space KSC)
KSC and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station are government operations run by people who for decades have run their facilities like personal fiefdoms. An example can be found in this Houston Chronicle article about SpaceX leasing KSC's Pad 39A: "Officials made nice during the ceremony, but behind the scene tensions bubbled up. The new guys, according to NASA workers, acted like they owned the place. They were 'rude, arrogant egotistical smart asses,' one NASA old timer said. “I don’t mind young people, which they all were. But they just acted like they had it all figured out, like they just have the world by the tail.'”

The bureaucracy-laden obstinance that pervades both facilities has hindered SpaceX's ability to attract commercial satellite launches. Space Florida, a state agency charged with bringing commercial launch companies to the Space Coast, proposed a new commercial spaceport at Shiloh, an abandoned farm community north of Launch Complex 39 in undeveloped Kennedy Space Center land near the Volusia County line.

KSC officials responded with their own 20-year master plan that shows proposed new pads 39C and 39D for commercial users — but nothing at Shiloh. Local environmentalists have protested Shiloh with unsubstantiated claims of “total devastation of an already endangered estuarine environment.” NASA's proposed 39C and 39D appear intended to appease the organized environmental opposition, which indicated it would not object to a site south of State Route 402 — but still controlled by the federal government. Click here. (9/23)

Russia to Launch Full-Scale Moon Exploration Next Decade (Source: RIA Novosti)
Russia's space agency Roscosmos plans to launch a full-scale Moon exploration program in late 2020s or early 2030s, the agency’s head Oleg Ostapenko said on Tuesday. “We are planning to complete tests of a super-heavy carrier rocket and start full-scale Moon exploration at the end of the next decade. By that time, analysis of Moon surface data gathered by unmanned spacecraft will help to determine the best sites for lunar expeditions and Moon bases,” the Roscosmos head said.

Preparatory work for lunar exploration missions have already started, according to Ostapenko. “We already started to work on a new manned spacecraft, which will be the first element of the prospective manned system together with new launch vehicles - heavy and super-heavy carrier rockets," the space agency’s chief added. The system is designed to deliver cargo and cosmonauts to the Moon, and eventually into the deep space, according to Ostapenko. (9/23)

Air Force Awards Contracts To Study Outsourcing of Satellite Operations (Source: Space News)
With possible budget cuts on the horizon, the U.S. Air Force has contracted with at least four companies to examine how they might pick up the slack should the service elect to shutter one or more of its satellite-operating facilities. The Air Force in September awarded contracts of an undisclosed amount to Intelsat General Corp., Northrop Grumman Corp., Universal Space Network, and Raytheon Intelligence and Information Systems.

The contracts, which the industry source said are relatively small, come as the Air Force faces shrinking budgets and the potential return of the across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration. Gen. John Hyten, the commander of Air Force Space Command, told SpaceNews Sept. 8 that if sequestration returned for fiscal year 2016, the service likely would be forced to shutter some of its satellite ground-based architecture. A 2013 budget compromise eased some of sequestration’s more severe impacts for 2014 and 2015, but the law remains in effect. (9/23)

Russia Says It’s Putting Another Man on the Moon…By 2030 (Source: TIME)
Russia’s space agency said Tuesday it will launch a “full-scale” exploration of the Moon as part of a long-term mission to get a human being on the lunar surface for the first time in decades. “At the end of the next decade, we plan to complete tests of a super-heavy-class carries rocket and begin full-scale exploration of the Moon,” Rogozin said. (9/23)

KSC: A Dozen Astronauts Set for Atlantis Anniversary (Source: Sun Sentinel)
Twelve astronauts who flew on the space shuttle Atlantis will gather at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the attraction's display of the orbiter on Oct. 9. On hand will be Clayton Anderson, Bo Bobko, John Creighton, Charlie Walker, Hoot Gibson, Fred Gregory, Ken Ham, Mike McCulley, Jerry Ross, Brian Duffy, Bob Springer and Dan Tani. The Atlantis Astronaut Adventure will allow visitor complex guests to interact with the NASA veterans through a special, king-sized Lunch With an Astronaut offering. (9/23)

Space Weather May Have Led to Deadly Battle in Afghanistan (Source: Science)
On the morning of Monday, 4 March 2002, sometime just before the sun came up, an MH-47E Chinook helicopter carrying a group of U.S. Army Rangers flew low across a rugged Afghan landscape. Their destination, 33°20′34″N 69°12′49″E, was a snowcapped mountain called Takur Ghar. It was a rescue mission; hours earlier a team of Navy SEALS had been shot down by al-Qaida forces at the mountain’s summit and needed extraction.

But the Rangers had been given the wrong coordinates and were headed right into the same al-Qaida forces that shot the SEALS down. Back at the U.S. command post, radio operators tried desperately to warn the Chinook, but the message was never received, and the helicopter was downed by another al-Qaida rocket-propelled grenade. The Rangers’ rescue mission turned into a 17-hour firefight—one of the deadliest engagements of the war for U.S. forces, costing seven lives.

The jagged peaks of Afghanistan have caused plenty of communications difficulties for U.S. forces, but researchers suspect that the doomed rescue mission may have fallen victim to a less visible source of interference: plasma bubbles. Their research, published online this month in Space Weather, suggests that turbulent pockets of ionized gas may have deflected the military satellite radio signals enough to cause temporary communications blackouts in the region. (9/23)

ATK Urges Air Force to Consider Solid Rocket Motors to Replace RD-180 (Source: Space News)
Solid-rocket-booster manufacturer ATK is asking the Air Force to consider a solid-fueled rocket motor to replace the Russian-made RD-180 engine that powers ULA’s Atlas 5. In its formal response to an Air Force request for information on future launch options, ATK positioned solid-rocket motors as a relatively near-term replacement for the kerosene-fueled RD-180, citing the company’s quick development of six new solid motors, some of which were completed in less than two years. (9/23)

Swiss "S3" Startup Looks to Buy Russian Rocket Engines (Source: Moscow Times)
As the United States works to free itself from dependence on Russian rocket engines amid the crisis in Ukraine, a European space startup is looking to buy Russian engines to use in a spaceplane design that hopes to begin flying in 2018.

Old Soviet-designed rocket engines are attractive options to embryonic commercial space startups because they are reliable and cheap, with the research and development costs having been borne by the Soviet space program decades ago. Swiss Space Systems, or S3, founded in 2012, is looking to partner with Russian aerospace company Kuznetsov to use Soviet-era NK-39 engines to power its ambitious spaceplane design, known as Soar. (9/23)

Airbus Group To Focus On Military Aircraft, Space And Missiles (Source: Aviation Week)
Two years ago the Airbus Group was called EADS and its defense division was Cassidian. Stefan Zoller was Cassidian’s CEO and EADS was in merger talks with BAE Systems. The new group was poised to take off big time. Since then everything has changed.

In fact, last week’s announcement by Europe’s largest aerospace company about the sale of significant parts of its defense or defense-related businesses illustrates a dramatic 180-deg.-turn by CEO Tom Enders, driven by a dismal business climate. Airbus Defense & Space plans to focus on military aircraft, space and guided missiles while divesting assets it now considers non-core. (9/22)

Branson Says Space Tourists Patient About Virgin Galactic Delays (Source: Bloomberg)
Richard Branson said almost 800 would-be space tourists signed up for $250,000 flights with his Virgin Galactic venture have been understanding about glitches that caused commercial services to be delayed until 2015. Pushback from clients who include physicist Stephen Hawking, singer Sarah Brightman and X-Men director Bryan Singer has amounted to “almost none whatsoever,” the U.K. billionaire said.

“Everyone’s been very patient. They realize that it’s rocket science. They want to make sure that we don’t hurry them up there, and they want to come back.” Virgin Galactic won’t now make a commercial flight until early spring, with Branson and his son on the first launch, the U.K. billionaire confirmed. (9/23)

“Not a Woman’s Profession” (Source: Air & Space)
Russian woman is preparing to break a stratospheric glass ceiling on Thursday, by blasting into orbit onboard the Soyuz-TMA-14M spacecraft from Kazakhstan. Elena Serova, 38, will travel to the International Space Station for a five-and-a-half-month-long mission, along with her Russian colleague Alexander Samokutyaev and NASA astronaut Barry Wilmore.

Serova won’t be the first Russian woman in space, yet her feat should be considered historic. She will be just the fourth Russian female to go into orbit in more than five decades of human spaceflight, during which more than 100 Russian male cosmonauts have made the trip. And given the current social climate in Russia, Serova’s road to space may have been rockier than any of her female predecessors.

With the fall of communism, the gender-equality slogans of the Soviet era—no matter how fake—were replaced with unabashed conservatism. Russian orthodox priests began not only spraying Russian rockets with “holy water” before liftoff, but also preaching “traditional values” that restricted woman’s role in the society to motherhood and housekeeping. (9/23)

Nvidia: Debunking Lunar Landing Conspiracies (Source: Space News)
Using its new Maxwell graphic processing unit, technology company Nvidia simulated the conditions in which the 1969 photograph of Buzz Aldrin climbing out of the lunar lander were taken as well as the materials of the surface, the lander and the spacesuits. Click here. (9/23)

September 23, 2014

Hawaii Plans Lunar Conference Nov. 9-13 (Source: DBEDT)
The State of Hawaii will be hosting a multinational conference on the Big Island of Hawaii this fall to explore options for developing sustainable pathways to space, with an emphasis on leveraging our Moon’s strategic assets (e.g., near-Earth location, diverse regolith, orbital periodicity, gravitational field) in ways that can minimize the risks of space exploration/development/utilization while maximizing returns on investment.

The primary goal will be to characterize and detail cost-effective strategies that can accelerate the maturation of revolutionary technologies to both extend humanity’s reach through the solar system (to asteroids, Mars and its moons, and beyond) and enhance the qualities of life on our home planet. Click here. (9/23)

Space Station Crew Captures Dragon Cargo Capsule (Source: Aviation Week)
Astronauts aboard the International Space Station successfully carried out a successful robot arm capture of the latest SpaceX Dragon re-supply capsule as it rendezvoused with the orbiting science laboratory early Tuesday. European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst made the grapple with the station's 58 foot long Canadian robot arm at 6:52 a.m., EDT, while he was positioned at a control console in the Cupola observation deck. NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman was at his side to assist. (9/23)

Virgin Galactic Finds Patience Wearing Thin (Source: Parabolic Arc)
One customer, who had paid a deposit of $150,000, said: “I think it will fly, but I am not sure whether it will get me into space as I was promised. If they don’t get above 60 miles I will certainly be withdrawing my money. I don’t think you can be considered an astronaut unless you cross that [Karman] line.” The Karman line is actually at 62.1 miles (100 km). Virgin Galactic had long advertised SpaceShipTwo as being capable of reaching that altitude and above in its marketing materials. However, Virgin’s contract with ticket holders only stipulates a minimum altitude of 50 miles (80.4 km).

Virgin Galactic officials now say they are aiming to reach 50 miles, with the Karman line as an aspiration. Sources have told Parabolic Arc that the lower altitude is a result of performance issues with the hybrid engine and modifications that have added weight to SpaceShipTwo. Despite the lower altitude, the company claims passengers will still become astronauts because the 50-mile limit is the standard the U.S. used to award astronaut wings to pilots who flew the X-15 rocpket plane in the 1960's.

That position seemed clear enough until Branson muddied the waters by appearing to contradict his own employees in an interview published on Saturday. Branson cracks a joke, flashes his trademark grin and says it would be “pretty foolish” if, as some sceptics attest, his spaceship won’t get high enough to breach the Karman Line between the Earth’s atmosphere and true space. (9/23)

Melbourne Air & Space Show Hosts First Aviation & Aerospace Career Day (Source: NASSF)
The National Air, Sea & Space Foundation, organizers of the 2014 Melbourne Air & Space Show, will host its inaugural Aerospace & Aviation Career Day on Oct. 3 at the Melbourne International Airport. This science, technology, engineering and math-based (STEM) initiative will take place just prior to the Melbourne Air & Space Show, which will be held Oct. 4-5. The show is sponsored by the Northrop Grumman Corp.
 
The Aerospace & Aviation Career Day, held in cooperation with the Brevard Schools Office of Career and Technical Education and the Melbourne Regional Chamber of Commerce, will provide approximately 250 students with a behind-the-scenes look at the show, general assembly discussions, aircraft tours and more. For more information about the 2014 Melbourne Air & Space Show and the Aerospace & Aviation Career Day, please visit http://www.airandspaceshow.com. (9/23)

Russia Faces Years of Stagnation (Source: Moscow Times)
Russia faces years of stagnation because of the Ukraine crisis and is ducking decisions needed to achieve a new economic model, former finance minister Alexei Kudrin said Monday. Kudrin, a long-time ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, is one of the weightiest figures questioning government policy at a time when Russia is feeling the economic chill from confontation with the West over Ukraine.

A leading 'liberal', he shepherded Russia's finances for over a decade before resigning in 2011 in a row over rising government spending. "There will be stagnation, like now. There could be recession. We will be balancing on the edge of recession all the time," he said, adding there would need to be a "renewal" of the government to achieve change. Even if Western sanctions were not intensified further, he said, economic growth would be 1 percent lower than it would have been for at least three years. (9/22)

CSS-Dynamac's New Science Concierge Service Prepares SyNRGE3 Experiment for ISS (Source: CSS-Dynamac)
CSS-Dynamac, the forerunner for providing science processing services to commercial space flight payloads, is pleased to announce that pre-flight preparations are complete for Drs. Michael Roberts and Gary Stutte, and the research is onboard the SpaceX-4 Dragon headed to the International Space Station (ISS). Click here. (9/23)

Ex-Tesla and NASA Engineers Make a Light Bulb That’s Smarter Than You (Source: WIRED)
Sometime in early 2013, one of the supply chain engineers at Tesla leaned back in his chair and took a look around the Silicon Valley office. “It was a sunny day, and I looked up and I thought, ‘Why are these lights on with full power, when full sunlight is coming through the window?’” says Neil Joseph. An online search for a better, responsive bulb only yielded a few expensive commercial products.

That October, Joseph (who says even as a kid, his two fascinations were lights and cars) left Tesla to start his own lighting company. Embedded in his new light’s light diodes are sensors for motion, occupancy, and ambient light. This meant cofounder Jovi Gacusan, who worked on sensors at NASA, had to create a new core technology, because in order to work efficiently Alba has to both read and react to available light. (9/23)

Grey Goose Partners with Virgin Galactic (Source: Grey Goose)
Grey Goose vodka announced an official partnership with Virgin Galactic. Formed from a shared philosophy that extraordinary achievement comes from acting on your beliefs, the partnership was revealed by Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides, Global Category Director Premium White Spirits Ben Farlow and GREY GOOSE creator and Maître de Chai François Thibault, at the Rose Space Center and Planetarium in New York. (9/23)

NASA Using 3D Printing to Design Mars Spacesuit (Source: Tech Republic)
One of the most recognizable tech wearables, the spacesuit, is being redesigned and 3D printing is helping the development process. Amy Ross, NASA's leading designer for the Z-series spacesuits, provided details of the Z-2 spacesuit, the follow-up to the earlier Z-1 spacesuit that she also designed. 3D scanning and printing is a significant step in the development of the Z-2. A sub-contractor was used for the 3D work. "We used Solid Concepts in Austin Texas. The process used was Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) with Glass filled Nylon 12," Ross said. (9/18)

Canada's North Bay Poised for S3, More Space Industry Announcements (Source: Bay Today)
“People should get ready for some good news announcements from Swiss Space Systems in the passenger field that will further create jobs...I’m really excited” MP Jay Aspin says. “There is a commitment to launch and promote passenger services.” However, the MP was coy on further details, deferring the announcement to S3.

North Bay effectively entered the space sector when the company announced on June 26th that it would test and launch sub-orbital satellites in the development phase of a reusable suborbital shuttle. At the time, Aspin announced funding for a partnership between Canadore Aviation and Swiss Space Systems (S3) as part of a $10 million project that will see  the development of a composite materials facility followed by the launch of private sector sub-orbital satellites from the region. (9/15)

Commercial Crew = Big Opportunity for World’s Only Commercial Space Ops Degree Seekers (Source: ERAU)
As Boeing and SpaceX work with NASA to bring manned space flights back to the Space Coast, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University students are set to fill the need for uniquely qualified graduates. Launched only a year ago, the CSO program at the university’s Daytona Beach, Fla., campus is the only degree program of its kind in the world. Created in response and in coordination with organizations’ and companies’ specific needs in the emerging industry, the CSO’s enrollment has tripled since its 2013 inception. (9/22)

Space Club Plans "Celebrate Space" Event at Atlantis Exhibit on Oct. 18 (Source: NSCFL)
The National Space Club (NSC) of Florida will hold their annual Celebrate Space Event at the KSC Visitor Complex beneath the Shuttle Atlantis on Oct. 18. The event begins with a reception at 6:30 pm and the buffet dinner follows at 7:30 pm; dancing and the Atlantis Exhibits will continue The theme of the Celebrate Space Event is 1980’s recalling the early Space Shuttle program years. Click here. (9/23)

NASA: Spinning Off Since 1962 (Source: Great Business Schools)
Studies estimate that for every $1 the U.S. government spends on NASA, the economy is boosted by $7-$14. That means that with NASA’s current budget of $17.6 billion, the U.S. economy will get an injection of anywhere from $123.2 billion to $246.4 billion. Click here. (9/23)

Young Egyptian Scientists Win ISS Biomedical Research Project (Source: TUM)
Two Egyptian researchers at Technische Universität München (TUM) have won the “International Space Station (ISS) Research Competition” in the US with their project Egypt Against Hepatitis C Virus (EGAHEP). As their prize, the two scientists will see the ISS crew perform experiments for the project on the space station free of charge. The project, launched to the ISS last week, involves crystallizing two proteins of the hepatitis C virus (HCV) under microgravity conditions.

The ISS Research Competition is organized by Space Florida – the state´s aerospace development organization of Florida – in conjunction with the company NanoRacks LLC. The TUM team submitted their project to the judges in 2012. Just eight projects were chosen to be sent to the ISS from over 600 submissions. EGAHEP was the only project to be chosen from outside the US and will be the first experiment involving Egyptian scientists to be conducted on the ISS. (9/21)

DOD Procurement Change Sharpens the Focus on R&D (Source: Defense News)
The Pentagon is reshaping the way it buys goods and services with a key aim: to get better technology, faster. That's the message that Defense Department procurement chief Frank Kendall is taking to industry, and it's coupled with a new focus on making sure the military is investing wisely in research and development.

The new buying initiative is "motivated in part by my continuing concern with technological superiority and the fact that our capabilities in the world are being contested by others -- people developing, modernizing, and building systems that threaten our superiority," said Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. (9/19)

American Airlines Saves Fuel with NASA Weather Software (Source: Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
American Airlines is using software developed by NASA to use the most efficient flight paths available to avoid severe weather. The carrier is testing the software, called Dynamic Weather Routes, and says the program has saved it 3,500 flying minutes on 500 flights. (9/19)

U.N. will Study Protection of Commercial Space Vehicles (Source: Reuters)
The safety of commercial space taxis soon will get the scrutiny of the United Nations' International Civil Aviation Organization's governing council. And some expect the body to lead on a policy governing space debris cleanup and similar issues. "People have just begun to think about it, but how it is to be instituted is not clear yet," said Prashant Sukul, India's representative on ICAO's governing council. "If it's not ICAO, then who is it going to be?" (9/19)

Space Coast Slowly Regaining Lost Space Jobs (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
The Space Coast's post-shuttle economy appears to be on its way to recovery, buoyed most recently by NASA's big "space taxi" contract award last week. Winners of the multibillion-dollar deal plan to add hundreds of Space Coast jobs. Other big expansions are already underway in Brevard County by Northrop Grumman, Embraer and other tech companies.

But even if you tally up all the new jobs expected when those expansions are complete, Brevard County will be far short of its peak employment before the Great Recession of six years ago and the shuttle program loss in 2011. The latest figures indicate Brevard still has 20,000 fewer jobs than it had in 2006, said Michael Slotkin, an economist at Florida Tech. That's despite the county's recent gains: In July, for example, Brevard gained 1,200 jobs over the previous year as unemployment fell to 6.6 percent from 8 percent in July 2013.

Clearly, Boeing's expansion at the Cape (550 to 600 new jobs planned) and, to a lesser extent, SpaceX (its job plans haven't been disclosed) will help sustain the recovery, he said. The same goes for Northrop and Embraer, which could add up to 2,800 jobs and 1,200 jobs, respectively, over the next five years. But it will take a long time for the Space Coast to fill the crater left by the loss of the shuttle program and the Great Recession. The end of the shuttle alone resulted in 7,000 to 10,000 lost jobs, according to economic-development estimates. (9/21)

ULA Use Of Blue Origin Rocket Engines Would Mean Big Changes (Source: Forbes)
The government’s leading provider of launch services announced it would team with a non-traditional space company started by internet entrepreneur Jeff Bezos to develop the next generation of U.S. rocket engines. Nobody saw that coming, even though government-funded ULA and privately-funded Blue Origin had been working together on efforts such as NASA’s capsule program since their inception. 

What stunned many observers was that ULA, with a nearly flawless record of lofting military and intelligence satellites into orbit, would team with a relatively untested startup to replace the Russian RD-180 engines that power its most important launch vehicle. ULA didn’t just pick an unexpected partner for its future engines, it picked an unexpected technology. Like the RD-180, the BE-4 engine Blue Origin has been developing for three years would be an “oxygen-rich, staged-combustion” engine.

The BE-4 would use liquefied natural gas — LNG — as its fuel in combination with liquid oxygen, and that’s something that hasn’t been done before.  Blue Origin says LNG, a commercially available form of methane, would be relatively inexpensive and eliminate the need for complex pressurization systems used in existing engines. using liquefied methane and oxygen in the new engines necessarily entails cryogenic handling.  That means significant changes to the design of the Atlas first stage and ground infrastructure. So while LNG would simplify the challenge of pressurizing tanks, it would complicate other aspects of the launch system. Click here. (9/22)

Air Force Excited but Cautious on New ULA-Blue Origin Partnership (Source: Space News)
Gen. John Hyten, commander of Air Force Space Command, told reporters Sept. 17 here that he was excited about the Blue Origin-ULA partnership on a replacement for the RD-180 engine that powers ULA’s Atlas 5 rocket, but wondered when the new engine might be ready.

Blue Origin says its planned BE-4 engine has been in development for three years and builds upon the company’s smaller BE-3, which has racked up more than 10,000 seconds of firing time on the test stand. Bezos and Bruno said the BE-4 is fully funded and will be ready to fly in four years. “I’m excited to have more U.S. competition in the business,” Hyten said. “I look forward to getting into the details and finding out more about what it really is. I’m a big fan of methane technology. I’m a big fan of hydrocarbon technology. (9/22)

Editorial: Actions Speak Louder than Words (Source: Space News)
U.S. government officials are correct to dismiss the latest space weapons ban proposed by China and Russia as unacceptable, particularly in light of the fact that China, U.S. officials say, continues to test anti-satellite weaponry. The updated “Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space and of the Threat or Use of Force Against Outer Space Objects” is, like previous versions, all but impossible to verify, primarily because any maneuverable satellite could double as an anti-satellite weapon.

The same goes for long-range ground-based missiles, which aren’t even addressed in the proposed treaty and which, according to U.S. government officials, pose the greatest threat today to satellites in Earth orbit. Moreover, the proposed treaty puts no restrictions on the development and stockpiling of space-based weaponry, meaning a signatory could position itself to rapidly deploy such capabilities and simply withdraw from the pact.

Russia and China  continue to propose the treaty, perhaps for no other reason than to put the United States in the position of having to reject it. Because of the military advantages that superior satellite capabilities provide, the United States has the most to lose should Earth orbit become a combat zone. But China has rapidly built up its own space capabilities over the last decade or so, meaning it now has a major, and growing, stake in keeping space free from weapons and warfare. (9/22)

Political Mechanics (Source: Space News)
As recently as the last turn of the century, any space program that didn’t have a link to the U.S. was no space program at all. But in Beijing, at the 64th International Astronautical Congress last year, America’s absence due to the budget crisis did little to dull the hum of deals being brokered. One participant suggested it was “what a post-American space regime would look like,” with the United Arab Emirates and South Korea cooperating on space ventures and giving many other aspiring space actors a chance to stand out. The flip side was criticism of the United States’ ability to execute a comprehensive and effective foreign policy.

America’s international affairs aren’t doing so well. The nation’s increasing distaste (from both necessity and circumstance) for foreign involvement provides others with opportunities to advance. This decade will see the continued rise of powerful regional actors, and in large part its history will be determined not by others’ advanced planning but by our inability to act, or react. Click here. (9/22)

To Explore or Pioneer? (Source: Space News)
On May 29, NASA released a white paper titled “Pioneering Space: NASA’s Next Steps on the Path to Mars.” The paper’s first page makes an important distinction: “Explorers go with the intent of returning to tell their story and point the way for future forays. Pioneers go with the intent to establish a permanent presence.” This student of history and interplanetary human spaceflight architecture suggests NASA can go farther from Earth and achieve more in space by exploring rather than pioneering.

To maximize human space exploration entails a strategy devoting more effort to interplanetary human transport (including cargo logistics with supporting infrastructure) and less to operating on planetary surfaces. Surface operations, particularly those requiring specialized elements for access and habitation on major bodies like the Moon and Mars, are best left to commercial partners.

Now imagine NASA is unshackled from the martian surface as its horizon goal and freed to explore Mars from its moons and explore asteroids as far from Earth as possible. Although these small bodies constitute a diverse and prolific breed of potential destinations, they all pose nearly identical environments for approach, “landing” and habitation because their gravity fields and atmospheres are virtually nonexistent. Interplanetary transport technology required to reach the vicinity of Mars is therefore easily adapted and scaled to access myriad small bodies near and far from Earth. Click here. (9/22)

Military Efforts Help Drive Proposed Spending Boost in Japan (Source: Space News)
Japan’s Cabinet is asking the nation’s finance ministry for a 19.4 percent increase, to 327 billion yen ($3.05 billion), in space spending for the upcoming fiscal year to support projects that include a laser-optical data-relay satellite and a civilian Earth-observing satellite carrying a missile warning sensor as a hosted payload. The request, which encompasses the space activity of 11 government ministries, also includes 13.7 billion yen to complete a seven-satellite Quasi Zenith regional navigation system and 13 billion yen for the next-generation H-3 launcher, scheduled for a 2020 debut, according to budget documents. (9/22)

SpaceX Breaks Ground in Texas, But Major Construction Waits Until Latter Half of 2015 (Source: Space News)
SpaceX held a groundbreaking ceremony Sept. 22 for its new Texas commercial launch site, but the company’s chief executive said work to build the facility will not ramp up until the second half of 2015. SpaceX held the groundbreaking, attended by local officials and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, on the site of the planned spaceport at Boca Chica Beach on the Gulf of Mexico east of here. The site is planned to host launches of the company’s Falcon 9 and future Falcon Heavy rockets, primarily carrying commercial satellites to geostationary orbit.

“We thank you for having the vision to see that this is where you needed to be,” Perry said to SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk at the event. “The future of South Texas takes off right behind us.” In his August announcement, Perry said the state government would be providing $15 million to support construction of the spaceport. However, SpaceX will be providing the bulk of the money needed to build the launch facility. “We expect to spend on the order of about $100 million” during the next three to four years to build the site, Musk said. (9/22)

NASA Spacecraft Enters Mars Orbit (Source: Space News)
A NASA spacecraft entered orbit around Mars as planned late Sept. 21, the first of two spacecraft scheduled to arrive at the planet in a three-day period. The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft fired its main engine for 34 minutes, slowing the spacecraft down enough to be captured into orbit by the gravity of Mars. Confirmation of the successful burn and orbit insertion came at approximately 10:30 pm EDT Sept. 21. (9/22)

What's Next for MAVEN? (Source: CS Monitor)
Based on initial data coming back from MAVEN, the craft's orbit is very close to the 35-hour orbit that planners had hoped to achieve, with the craft's closest approach to Mars bringing it within about 236 miles of the planet's surface. Beginning in a day or two, controllers will gradually shrink MAVEN's orbit until it takes about 4-1/2 hours and brings the craft within about 93 miles of the surface. This is the orbit that MAVEN needs to reach to fulfill its science goals.

While controllers gradually dial down MAVEN's orbit, the scientist team will test and calibrate the craft's suite of eight instruments. The team will also test communications gear aboard the orbiter that will allow it to act as a radio-relay station between Earth and the rovers Curiosity and Opportunity. (9/22)

More Criticism of Study Detecting Ripples From Big Bang (Source: New York Times)
Stardust got in their eyes. In the spring a group of astronomers who go by the name of Bicep announced that they had detected ripples in the sky, gravitational waves that were the opening notes of the Big Bang. The finding was heralded as potentially the greatest discovery of the admittedly young century.

But some outside astronomers said the group had underestimated the extent to which interstellar dust could have contaminated the results — a possibility that the group conceded in its official report in June. Now a long-awaited report by astronomers using data from the European Space Agency’s Planck satellite has confirmed that criticism, concluding that there was enough dust in Bicep’s view of the sky to produce the swirly patterns without recourse to primordial gravitational waves. (9/22)

Space Elevator Advocates Take Lofty Look at Innovative Concepts (Source: Space.com)
Sure, it's a stretch. Envision a thin, vertical tether extending from the Earth's surface to a mass far out in space. Scooting up the tether are electric vehicles, climbers that are energized by a combination of sunlight and laser light projected from the ground. Here's the kicker: Carrying payloads and people, the climbers travel at speeds comparable to those of a fast train — taking several days of transit time — but are launched once per day. These space elevators have the potential to be a revolutionary way to access space less expensively than possible with chemical rocket technology.
 
And innovators today are working to make that happen. Last month, the International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC) held its annual meeting here at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, with a theme focused on space elevator architectures and road maps. The meeting featured mini-workshops on global cooperation and marine node designs to anchor the elevator on Earth. Click here. (9/22)

ISS Expected To Take Back Seat to Next-Gen Ariane in Europe (Source: Space News)
The space ministers of France, Germany and Italy are scheduled to meet Sept. 23 in Zurich to assess how far they are from agreement on strategy and funding for Europe’s next-generation Ariane rocket, upgrades to the light-lift Vega vehicle and — as a lower priority — their continued participation in the international space station. France, Germany and Italy account for most European space spending, and they are the three biggest backers of Europe’s launch vehicle and space station programs. (9/22)

Aireon to Offer Satellite Tracking Free to Help Search for Missing Planes (Source: Reuters)
Aireon LLC, a provider of satellite-based aircraft monitoring, said on Monday it will offer its tracking data for free to help authorities search for future missing planes. The system will go live in 2017, when its parent company Iridium Communications Inc finishes installing 66 next-generation satellites plus spares that will provide real-time data to air traffic control centers.

While Aireon's system might not have prevented the loss of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which vanished from radar on March 8 and is presumed to have crashed, killing 239 people, it could have vastly improved the search. Existing technology can track aircraft flying over seas every 10 minutes, while Aireon says its upcoming system will transmit location data twice per second, using what's known as automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast, or ADS-B. (9/22)

Is Pluto a Planet? Popular (But Unofficial) Vote Says Yes (Source: Space.com)
Pluto should still be a planet — at least according to a recent and decidedly unofficial popular vote. Pluto was demoted to dwarf-planet status in 2006, when the International Astronomical Union (IAU) approved the following definition of "planet:" A celestial body that orbits the sun, is large enough to be rounded by its own gravity and has "cleared its neighborhood" of most other orbiting objects. (Pluto failed on this last count, since it shares the distant Kuiper Belt with many other large, frigid bodies.) (9/22)