August 21, 2014

Aerojet Rocketdyne To 3-D Print Rocket Engine Parts Under Air Force Demo (Source: Space News)
Aerojet Rocketdyne will demonstrate the use of additive manufacturing techniques to produce selected, full-scale rocket engine components under a Defense Production Act (DPA) Title 3 contract awarded by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, the company announced Aug. 20.

The contract is valued at $11.75 million over a three-year period, according to Jeffrey K. Smith, executive agent program manager for DPA Title 3, a Pentagon-wide initiative to develop affordable and commercially viable manufacturing capabilities for critical defense hardware. The program is housed at the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (8/21)

Ready for a Ride on a Space Elevator? (Source: CNBC)
To push the envelope of transportation technology, you need to think big... Sometimes even the best ideas never leave the drawing board. Some are derailed by a wide range of forces—from advances in competing technologies to changes in the cost of materials or fuel. For engineers working on the cutting edge, that can be a delicate balancing act. "It's sort of like, how do you write a song—do the lyrics come first or the music?" said Robert Boyd, a program manager at Lockheed's Skunk Works. Click here. (8/21)

Rosetta's 10-Billion-Tonne Comet (Source: BBC)
The comet being followed by Europe's Rosetta spacecraft has a mass of roughly 10 billion tonnes. The number has been calculated by monitoring the gravitational tug the 4km-wide "ice mountain" exerts on the probe. Ten billion tonnes sounds a lot, but it means Comet 67P/Churyumov- Gerasimenko has quite a low bulk density, something in the region of 300kg per cubic meter. If you could put the object in an ocean, it would float. The calculation would seem to confirm suspicions that the comet is highly porous, and may even hide voids inside its body - but this is all to be determined. (8/21)

Sarah Brightman & Buzz Aldrin Discuss Space Travel (Source Broadway World)
Internationally celebrated soprano Sarah Brightman shares her enthusiasm for the universe with world renowned astronaut Buzz Aldrin in a new photo set now available to view. Brightman shared the shots via social media earlier this week, commenting, "Spent a great afternoon with a very renowned astronaut. I am a fan. Guess who? :-)". Click here. (8/21)

House Intel Panel Seeks Reform of NRO Acquisition (Source: Space News)
The U.S. House committee that oversees the nation’s spy satellites plans to include language in its latest authorization bill to reform the National Reconnaissance Office’s satellite procurement practices, the panel’s chairman said. The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence released a report July 31 saying the NRO is buying intelligence satellites at a faster rate than necessary and could save billions of dollars in the next decade by scaling back orders.

The report said the NRO’s buying habits stem from a risk-averse mentality, including concerns about the health of critical component suppliers that are based on unverified feedback from its prime contractors. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House intelligence panel, said the report has already started a discussion at the NRO on how to buy satellites more efficiently. (8/21)

A Piece of Vesta Has Been Stolen! (Source: Universe Today)
Calling all meteorite collectors and enthusiasts! There’s a hot space rock at large and, as Indiana Jones would say, it belongs in a museum. Perhaps you can help put it back in one. On Aug. 19 a burglary was reported at the Sonnenborgh Museum and Observatory in Utrecht, Netherlands, and one of the items missing is a meteorite that is thought to have originated from the asteroid Vesta. (8/21)

Long-Term Spaceflights Challenged as Harm to Astronauts' Health Revealed (Source: Russia Today)
NASA is looking into whether astronauts can survive long-term spaceflight, with the latest study identifying possible health risks including asymptomatic infections, increased allergies and persistent rashes. The new study points out that long duration flights may temporarily confuse astronauts’ immune systems by altering cell functions.

It was revealed that some cells begin to function either lower than normal, which the researchers describe as ‘depressed’, or their activity is heightened. If the cells’ activity is depressed then the immune system is not exhibiting any symptoms from the illness, leading to the risk of asymptomatic or dormant viruses that awaken without proper bodily response. On the other hand, if the cells’ activity is heightened there is a higher risk of increased allergy symptoms and persistent rashes. Click here. (8/21)

Space Travel Alliance to Offer Variety of Services (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Space Travel Alliance (STA) is a new Swedish venture aiming to make the dream of space discovery a reality to mankind with the vision to become the premier European space travel company. Operating from Spaceport Sweden, STA will offer commercial suborbital spaceflights for tourism, research, development and education, astronaut training and space adventures. Click here. (8/21)

Canada Devising Action Plan for Taking Over Troubled Space Projects (Source: Space News)
The Canadian Space Agency is working on a plan  to intervene in troubled government space projects, providing commercial firms the technical expertise, if necessary, to complete what they had been hired to do. The backup plan comes after an internal audit found that the Near-Earth Object Surveillance Satellite (NEOSSat), built on contract by a commercial firm, ran into difficulties and fell 41 months behind schedule.

At one point, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and the Department of National Defence, who were co-funding the 24-million-Canadian-dollar ($23 million) microsatellite, considered abandoning the project. But the two organizations decided to take a risk and continue while at the same time providing technical advice to the contractor, Microsat Systems Canada Inc. (MSCI) of Mississauga, Ontario. (8/21)

New Delay for Launch of Europe Navigation Satellites (Source: AFP)
Bad weather delayed the liftoff Thursday of a rocket with two new satellites for Europe's rival to GPS, launch firm Arianespace said as it announced 12 orbiters will join the constellation from next year. The liftoff of the fifth and sixth Galileo satellites, already delayed by more than a year, had been scheduled for 1231 GMT from the European space centre at Kourou in French Guiana on a Russian-made Soyuz rocket on Thursday. But "unfavourable" weather intervened to cause an indefinite delay, Arianespace said in a statement. (8/21)

Wallops Prepares for Hurricane Missions (Source: SpaceRef)
The Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel (HS3) mission is flying two NASA instrumented Global Hawk aircraft to investigate how hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean basin form and change in intensity. The aircraft, based at Wallops Island, are capable of flying as high as to 55,000 feet and can stay airborne for 30 hours. This is the third and final year of the HS3 mission. (8/20)

Roscosmos Wants $770 Million to Take Russia to the Moon (Source: Moscow Times)
Having virtually ignored the Moon since the 1970s, Russia's Federal Space Agency has requested 28 billion rubles ($770 million) from the government to finance its resurgent robotic Lunar exploration program as part of its proposal for a national space strategy through 2025. In recent years, Russia has been dumping ever more money into its space program and surrounding industry in a bid to ensure that it remains one of the world's premier spacefaring nations.

Russia's robotic space exploration program suffered disproportionately after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when money was only available to sustaining manned space operations and launch capabilities. NASA's most recent robotic mission to the Moon, LADEE, cost $280 million overall. It is not clear if the Russian budget proposals include the full research and development costs — much of the hardware and research is rooted in the Soviet space program — as well as construction and launch costs. (8/20)

Arianespace Signs Three New Launch Deals for Ariane 5 ES (Source: SpaceRef)
Today saw Arianespace and the European Space Agency (ESA), acting on behalf of the European Commission, convene at the Guiana Space Center, European spaceport, to sign a contract for three launch services with Ariane 5 ES in order to step up the deployment of the European navigation system Galileo, the European Union’s flagship program.

With this new launch contract and thanks to the performance of Ariane 5 ES, a total of 12 Galileo FOC (Full Operational Capability) satellites will be launched using three dedicated Ariane 5 ES launch-vehicles, each carrying four satellites. The Ariane 5 ES launches will take place from 2015 onwards. (8/20)

Chris Hadfield’s Memoir to Become TV Sitcom (Source: Globe & Mail)
It looks like space really wasn’t the final frontier for Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield. Deadline reports that ABC has committed to the creation of a family comedy inspired by Hadfield’s 2013 bestseller An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. According to the ABC announcement, the proposed series will focus on a post-mission astronaut readjusting to life on terra firma, which “might be the hardest mission he’s ever faced.”

Hadfield, the pride of Sarnia, Ont., was the first Canadian to officially command a space mission and came down to Earth himself in May, 2013, following a five-month stint aboard the International Space Station. Perhaps more famously, it was during that same mission, which was his third spaceflight, that Hadfield garnered a massive global following on social media courtesy of his videos and musical performances recorded in zero-gravity conditions. (8/20)

Humans to Mars a Principle of Space Exploration (Source: Mars Daily)
Let's say it straight. Mars is, without any doubt our next step in space exploration, sparking our imagination for many years in spaceflight history. After sending tons of scientific rovers, it's about time to send human pioneers to start colonizing the Red Planet. The only question is when will we reach that highly anticipated milestone? "Sending humans to Mars around 2033 should be the single organizing principle of future space exploration," said Scott Hubbard. (8/21)

Forget Space Travel: Build This Telescope (Source: Huffington Post)
In 1609, Galileo turned a telescope skyward -- a move that no one else seems to have considered. His instruments had lenses about the size of a half-dollar coin, and magnifications that were only about 20 times. I think it's fair to say that, given your 'druthers, you'd want an instrument that could map exoplanets in the kind of detail you get with Google Earth, with enough resolution to actually see the Great Wall of the Klingons, in case they've built one. Could we construct such a telescope ... ever? Click here. (8/20)

NASA Studies Affects of Spaceflight on Human Immune Systems (Source: Red Orbit)
Changes to the immune system of crew members on spaceflights could create dangerous situations for long-term space flights, according to NASA research. "Things like radiation, microbes, stress, microgravity, altered sleep cycles and isolation could all have an effect on crew member immune systems," said Brian Crucian, a biological studies and immunology expert working with NASA. (8/19)

NASA’s Green Rocket Fuel Set for Major Space Test (Source: Network World)
NASA said today it would launch a spacecraft that would for the first time test fire green propellant technology in space. NASA’s Green Propellant Infusion Mission (GPIM) will use a small satellite using a Hydroxyl Ammonium Nitrate fuel/oxidizer mix, developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory, is also is known as AF-M315E propellant. This fuel may replace the highly toxic hydrazine and complex bi-propellant systems in-use today, NASA said.

The green propulsion system will fly aboard a Ball Aerospace & Technologies Configurable Platform 100 satellite and is slated for launch on a Space X rocket in 2016. Developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory the green propellant is less harmful to the environment, increases fuel efficiency, and diminishes operational hazards. The propellant offers nearly 50% higher performance for a given propellant tank volume compared to a conventional hydrazine system and will feature a catalyst technology, pioneered by Aerojet Rocketdyne, NASA stated. (8/19)

Boeing Completes CST-100 Commercial Crew Design/Safety Reviews (Source: Boeing)
Boeing recently completed the Phase Two Spacecraft Safety Review of its CST-100 spacecraft and the Critical Design Review (CDR) of its integrated systems, meeting all of the company’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) milestones on time and on budget. The reviews were Boeing’s final two milestones in the current phase of its partnership with NASA.

Completed in July, the CDR milestone marks a significant step in reaching the ultimate design that will be used for the spacecraft, launch vehicle and related systems. Propulsion, software, avionics, landing, power and docking systems were among 44 individual CDRs conducted as part of the broader review. (8/21)

NASA and Commercial Partners Review Summer of Advancements (Source: NASA)
NASA's spaceflight experts in the Commercial Crew Program (CCP) met throughout July with aerospace partners to review increasingly advanced designs, elements and systems of the spacecraft and launch vehicles under development as part of the space agency's Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) and Commercial Crew Development Round 2 (CCDev2) initiatives.

Blue Origin, Boeing, Sierra Nevada and SpaceX are partners with NASA in these initiatives to develop a new generation of safe, reliable, and cost-effective crew space transportation systems to low-Earth orbit. Company engineering representatives meet regularly with NASA engineers and specialists to survey advancements. As progress is checked off, larger, more formal reviews are conducted to show the achievement of milestones in system development. Click here. (8/21)

How The ISS Helps in Saving Lives (Source: Space Safety)
What most people still do not know is the importance of the scientific research carried out aboard the space station. In the field of medical science, on the ISS there are not only studies about the adaptability of human bodies to space, but the research offers some applications that will greatly improve the quality of life in the near future, both in space and down to Earth.

The ISS is an exceptional environment for performing investigations that affect human health not only in space but also and especially on Earth. The microgravity environment and the necessity of supporting astronauts’ health allowed advances in in many fields, increasing our understanding of the human body and mind. Space affects naturally not only humans as a whole, but also the cells and the dangerous microorganisms as viruses and bacteria. Click here. (8/21)

SpaceX Denies Blog Report of Capital Raising Plan (Source: Bloomberg)
SpaceX said it isn’t raising funds from private sources, denying a report of plans to do so. The TechCrunch blog said yesterday the aerospace company was seeking “a large secondary investment” of about $200 million, without saying where it got the information. The fundraising push would result in lifting the California-based company’s value to almost $10 billion, TechCrunch said.

“SpaceX is not currently raising any funding nor has any external valuation of that magnitude or higher been done,” John Taylor, a company spokesman, said in an e-mail. “The source in this report is mistaken.” SpaceX has a contract from NASA for at least 12 missions to resupply the space station, worth $1.6 billion, according to the company’s website. (8/20)

Aerojet Rocketdyne Receives Award for Role in Helping Save Stranded Satellite (Source: Aerojet)
Aerojet Rocketdyne has received the Outstanding Achievement Award from the Electric Propulsion Technical Committee at the American Institute of Aeronautics & Astronautics for its contribution to the Advanced Extremely High Frequency-1 (AEHF-1) Rescue Team. The team, which included two other aerospace companies and the U.S. Air Force, helped save the AEHF-1 military communications satellite and place it into proper orbit after the spacecraft's main bipropellant engine failed to ignite.

The AEHF-1 Rescue Team was assembled and devised a plan to use the spacecraft's smaller hydrazine thrusters to lift the orbit above the atmosphere and then use the electric Hall thruster system to complete the orbit-raising mission—with whisper-like impulses—until it reached its desired orbit 14 months later. (8/20)

Where NASA Learned to Spacewalk (Source: Air & Space)
Sam Mattingly was a trailblazer who made the early spacewalks possible. Nearly half a century ago, in a Baltimore swimming pool, his small group at Environmental Research Associates invented the techniques of neutral buoyancy simulation. A Baltimore native and World War II C-47 flight engineer, Mattingly co-founded ERA with Harry Loats. In 1963, Sam and his fellow ERA engineers were analyzing spacecraft configuration and docking concepts for NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Click here. (8/20)

How We'd Have Colonized the Moon if the Soviets Got There First (Source: New Statesman)
Looking back at the Space Race of the 1950s and 1960s it can be startling to realize just how much was pioneered in such a short period of time. The narrative of that era is often constructed as a political one, with two superpowers spending significant proportions of their national budgets on scientific endeavour in an effort to be the first to reach the Moon.

This is fine, and true, but with the passing of time it feels as if that story we tell - one of the Soviet Union reaching space first with Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin, but the United States coming from behind to triumph with Apollo 11 - implicitly downplays the fact that both "sides" involved were responsible for some astonishing scientific advances and breakthroughs, both before Neil Armstrong's first lunar step and after. Click here. (8/20)

ULA Takes Delivery of Two RD-180 Rocket Engines from Russia (Source: Space News)
United Launch Alliance took delivery of a pair of Russian-built RD-180 rocket engines Aug. 20, boosting the inventory at the company’s Decatur, Alabama, assembly facility to 15. “We expect another shipment of three engines later this year,” ULA spokeswoman Jessica Rye added. The engines, which power ULA’s Atlas 5 rocket, are produced by NPO Energomash of Khimki, Russia, and imported by RD-Amross, a joint venture between Energomash and United Technologies Corp.

Mark Peller, ULA’s director of the hardware value stream, said earlier in August that those three engines should arrive in October. Between 2015 and 2017, ULA expects Energomash to ship eight RD-180 engines a year, Peller said. In June, ULA signaled its willingness to get involved in domestic production of an RD-180 alternative by entering into what it called feasibility studies with undisclosed U.S. industry partners. The company said then it hoped to choose a single engine concept by the fourth quarter of this year, with a first launch targeted for 2019. (8/20)

Roscosmos to Develop Anti-Asteroid System by 2025 (Source: Interfax)
The Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) is planning to launch a space system for countering asteroids, comets and space junk by 2025, according to the draft of the 2016-2025 federal space program sent by the agency to the government for approval. The document proposes to create "means of ensuring the delivery and interference with objects dangerously approaching the Earth, with the aim to change their orbits to prevent collision with the planet."

The system should also include space 'cleaners' designed to remove from orbit large "space junk" such as spacecraft debris and old satellites. The orbital segment will be an addition to the ground component of a system that will control and test anti-asteroid and anti-space junk technologies, it said. Roscosmos has asked for nearly 23 billion rubles for the system. (8/20)

Plans to Beef Up Russia's Segment of the Space Station (Source: Moscow Times)
Russia's space agency says it plans to continue expanding its segment of the International Space Station, or ISS, in 2017, amid concerns that Moscow will pull out of the program in 2020 due to fraying relations with its major partner in space, the U.S., over the crisis in Ukraine, Interfax reported Wednesday.

In May, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin — who oversees the space industry — said Russia was not interested in accepting a NASA proposal to extend the life of the space station beyond its current 2020 end date. Roscosmos, has yet to comment officially on these remarks, but Russia's ISS program manager said two weeks ago that the government had not yet given Roscosmos permission to accept the proposal because of the situation in Ukraine.

Regardless of the future of the station, a proposed federal space plan for 2016-2025 envisions an expansion of the existing Russian segment of ISS in 2017. That year, Russia would launch its long-delayed Multipurpose Laboratory Module, as well as a new hub module and docking module — allowing five ships to dock with the station. The overall cost of Russia's ISS extension will be almost 4 billion rubles ($110 million). (8/20)

NASA Wants Robot Swarms to Mine the Moon and Mars (Source: Beta Boston)
Today they’re scuttling around the parking lot of the Kennedy Space Center looking for barcoded scraps of paper. But one day, NASA hopes to use similar robots to comb the surface of the moon, or Mars, or an asteroid, looking for fuel or other valuable material underground. The robots are simple “swarmies,” and carry a webcam, WiFi antenna, and GPS device.

The goal, NASA explains, is to deploy a group of them to each search a section of land, then report back to each other if and when they find something. This divide-and-conquer approach is one that ants use, to cover large areas in the most efficient manner. It’s also a more reliable approach: If one bot in a group is lost, the mission isn’t in jeopardy. (8/20)

Cubesats to the Moon (Mars and Saturn, Too) (Source: Air & Space)
A swarm of tiny spacecraft, not unlike Vermont Tech’s Lunar CubeSat, could be injected directly into Saturn’s rings, where they would orbit along with the ice particles. Those CubeSats could then release hundreds of even smaller spacecraft, called chipsats, that would “tag” individual ice particles, recording basic information about their composition, density, and motion within the rings. Click here. (8/20)

Shareholders Approve Astrotech Sale to Lockheed Martin (Source: Astrotech)
Astrotech Corp. has received the approval from 14,835,132, or approximately 75% of its outstanding shares, to sell substantially all of the properties and assets related to or used in the Astrotech Space Operations business unit to a wholly-owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corp. for $61 million. 12,407,003, or approximately 82% of shares that voted, also approved The Golden Parachute Proposal by non-binding advisory vote. (8/20)

Microbes Beneath Antarctic Ice: What It Means for Alien Life Hunt (Source: Space.com)
The discovery of a complex microbial ecosystem far beneath the Antarctic ice may be exciting, but it doesn't necessarily mean that life teems on frigid worlds throughout the solar system, researchers caution. Scientists announced Aug. 20 that many different types of microbes live in subglacial Lake Whillans, a body of fresh water entombed beneath 2,600 feet (800 meters) of Antarctic ice. Many of the micro-organisms in these dark depths apparently get their energy from rocks, the researchers report.

The results could have implications for the search for life beyond Earth, notes Martyn Tranter of the University of Bristol in England, who did not participate in the study. "The authors' findings even beg the question of whether microbes could eat rock beneath ice sheets on extraterrestrial bodies such as Mars. This idea has more traction now." But just how much traction is a matter of debate. For example, astrobiologist Chris McKay of NASA's Ames Research Center in California doesn't see much application to Mars or any other alien world. (8/20)

Sea Plankton on Space Station? Russian Official Claims It's So (Source: Space.com)
A Russian official claims that samples collected by cosmonauts show evidence of sea plankton on the outside of the International Space Station, news agencies are reporting. Cosmonauts on the orbiting outpost have allegedly discovered trace amounts of sea plankton and other microscopic organisms living on the outside of the station, exposed to the vacuum of space, according to Vladimir Solovyov.

However, NASA has not confirmed the reports. "As far as we're concerned, we haven't heard any official reports from our Roscosmos colleagues that they've found sea plankton," NASA spokesman Dan Huot said. The unconfirmed claims  were reportedly the result of a long-term study done using specialized equipment by Russians on the station, according to the news agency. (8/20)

Boeing Would Pay $1 Million a Year for KSC Facilities (Source: Florida Today)
If it wins a NASA contract in the coming weeks, Boeing would pay up to $1 million annually to rent KSC facilities to assemble and refurbish the spacecraft it would use for commercial flights of astronauts to the International Space Station. Under terms Space Florida's board approved today, the company would be expected to sign a 10-year lease of a former space shuttle hangar, main engine shop and offices effective in January, after renovations are completed.

Space Florida expects to spend $20 million on renovations to the KSC facilities including Orbiter Processing Facility-3, where Boeing hopes to assemble and refurbish its CST-100 capsules. Haug said Boeing — which was referred to only by the once-secret deal's project name of "Syros" — planned to invest roughly $60 million in capital improvements.

The CST-100 would be assembled and refurbished at KSC and launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station atop an Atlas V rocket. Terms disclosed Wednesday would require Boeing to commit to a temporary agreement within 30 days of winning a NASA contract, specifying how much of the renovated space it wants — expected to be all of it. (8/20)

Northrop Unveils XS-1 Spaceplane Design For DARPA (Source: Aviation Week)
Northrop Grumman has unveiled its vertical-launch, horizontal-landing reusable booster design for the DARPA XS-1 experimental spaceplane program. Northrop, teamed with subsidiary Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic, is working under a 13-month, $3.9 million Phase 1 preliminary-design contract, awarded in July. Contracts also went to Boeing with Blue Origin, and Masten Space Systems with XCOR Aerospace.

Northrop’s unmanned spaceplane is launched vertically from a transporter/erector/launcher, in a "clean pad"-operation with minimum infrastructure and ground crew. The spaceplane is designed for highly autonomous flight operations, the company says. The reusable first stage would accelerate to Mach 10 or beyond and release an expendable upper stage designed to carry a 3,000-lb.-class payload into low Earth orbit, then return to a horizontal landing and recovery on a standard runway. (8/20)

August 20, 2014

Exquadrum Receives 2014 Tibbetts Award (Source: Exquadrum)
Exquadrum was one of 25 high-technology companies selected by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) for the prestigious Tibbetts Award. The Tibbetts Award honors outstanding small businesses who participate in the SBA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) programs. Exquadrum has offices in Jupiter, Florida.

The Tibbetts Award recognizes Exquadrum’s outstanding technical innovation in the development of the Kinetic Fireball Incendiary (KFI). The KFI was developed to neutralize chemical and biological weapons. The KFI uses multiple technical innovations across Exquadrum’s rocket propulsion, incendiary, and munitions technologies. These munitions have been proven by testing at DoD laboratories to successfully destroy weapons of mass destruction an order of magnitude more effectively than previous generation systems while protecting civilian populations. (8/19)

Marshall Center Recognizes NASA Employees with Honors Day (Source: WAAY)
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, today held its 2014 Honor Awards ceremonies, recognizing more than 240 individuals and members of nearly 90 teams who supported a variety of programs, projects and activities for Marshall and NASA in 2013-14.

Those honored, said Marshall Center Director Patrick Scheuermann, "exemplify the dedication, drive and innovation that underpin all our work at NASA and Marshall and help to ensure success for the agency's continuing mission of discovery and exploration." (8/19)

Stennis Employees Receive NASA Honor Awards (Source: Gulf Live)
Stennis Space Center Director Rick Gilbrech and NASA Deputy Associate Administrator Lesa Roe presented annual NASA Honor Awards to center employees during an onsite ceremony Aug. 19. In addition to presenting awards, Gilbrech, a resident of Slidell, La., also received NASA's Equal Employment Opportunity Medal for outstanding leadership qualities in promoting diversity and inclusion at Stennis. (8/19)

Security Expert Discovers Hole In Satellite Communications (Source: NBC)
A cyber security expert tells NBC5 Investigates he has found a way to hack into the satellite communications systems used in multiple industries. "These devices are wide open right now," said Ruben Santamarta, a security consultant based in Madrid, Spain with IOActive. Pilots, ship captains and military personnel rely on satellite networks to communicate when there are no phone lines or wireless networks available. Click here. (8/19)

Startup Suggests Penetration Probes for Mars (Source: WIRED)
Despite the fact that we have one of the most sophisticated rovers trundling around the surface of Mars, digging and investigating its geology, one non-profit thinks it can trump NASA's extraordinary scientific feat. The answer? Penetrator probes. These lightweight arrow-like devices could be fired into the Red Planet's surface, explains Explore Mars in an Indiegogo campaign.

It would use excess kinetic energy from the journey towards Mars to achieve this. Once it hits the surface, it is designed to break in two. The top part remains stuck on the surface and is a radio transmitter that can translate data back to an orbiter. The tip of the penetrator probe continues into the ground to embed a "life-detection experiment" a couple meters beneath. The system is designed to detect if any microorganisms are living on Mars. (8/19)

Cooperation With U.S. Not Affected by Ukraine, Russian Official Says (Source: Moscow Times)
A senior Russian space official has said cooperation with the U.S. on the International Space Station has not suffered from the Ukraine crisis, despite indications tensions may be imposing themselves on the otherwise resolutely apolitical space partnership. "[The International Space Station] is in absolutely no way affected [by the Ukraine conflict]," Vladimir Solovyev said. "How could there be sanctions, when the ISS is an international project in which everyone is tied to each other? The Russian side provides the station's transportation service," he added. (8./19)

Fresh Swag and New Toys: Russian Cosmonauts Gear Up For Space (Source: Moscow Times)
Russia's iconic golden Orlan spacesuits will be replaced with upgraded fifth-generation models aboard the International Space Station, or ISS, next year, as senior space official said, adding that jetpacks are in the works as well. "The suits will be on ISS in the fall of 2015," said Vladimir Solovyev, the Federal Space Agency's head of the Russian segment of the space station.

Russia's Orlan series of extravehicular spacesuits — worn by cosmonauts on space-walks outside the space station — are massively popular among both cosmonauts and astronauts, their non-Russian equivalents. In comparison to the U.S. suits, the one-piece Orlan design is easier to put on and take off, as the suit features a hatch on the back. The Orlan suits currently used by cosmonauts aboard the ISS are the fourth-generation Orlan-MK suits, but they are nearing the end of their lifespan. They will be replaced with the newer Orlan-MKS models. (8/19)

After Acquiring QinetiQ North America Unit, Vencore Warns of Layoffs (Source: Washington Business Journal)
Vencore, the company formerly known as The SI Organization Inc., lost a NASA contract that it picked up through a recent acquisition — a loss that translates to as much as $250 million and about 200 employees and subcontractors in Maryland. NASA awarded to Sierra Lobo Inc. the Environmental Test and Integration Services II contract — or ETIS II — for engineering and technician test and integration support services at the Goddard Space Flight Center.

Valued at up to $250 million, it’s the larger follow-up contract to one held by QinetiQ North America, which counted about 200 employees and subcontractors supporting the contract that had a maximum value of $190 million. The loss is now felt by Vencore, the company that emerged soon after then contractor The SI Organization acquired Qinetiq NA’s services and solutions group in May. The combined company counted about 4,800 employees when the acquisition closed. (8/19)

NASA Delays Award of Multibillion Dollar SEWP V Contract (Source: Federal Times)
NASA has postponed the award of its $20 billion Solutions for Enterprise-Wide Procurement (SEWP) V contract until September, according to the agency. The delay is primarily due to the large volume of proposals the agency received, which required a lengthy review and selection process, according to NASA spokeswoman Sonja Alexander. There are about 70 contractors on the SEWP IV contract. (8/19)

SNC Abandons Own Hybrid Motors on Dream Chaser (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Sierra Nevada won’t be using its own hybrid rockets for its Dream Chaser space shuttle, making it the second company in recent months after Virgin Galactic to dump the nitrous oxide-rubber motors. Kathy Lueders, program manager for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, revealed the change at a meeting of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP).

"SNC has also baselined a new propulsion system design (a pure liquid system design rather than a hybrid) in conjunction with their purchase of ORBITEC,” according to the meeting minutes. Dream Chaser would have used two small hybrid motors per flight. Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo would have used one larger nitrous oxide-rubber hybrid motor.  Charles Lurio said SNC decided that ORBITEC, which SNC recently acquired, had a better engine solution.

I’m skeptical of whether that is the full story. The Virgin Galactic contract would have been quite lucrative for Sierra Nevada assuming a high launch rate for the SpaceShipTwo suborbital tourism vehicle. It also would have offset some of the fixed costs for the Dream Chaser engines, which would likely produced in much smaller numbers. A liquid engine for Dream Chaser would be less expensive than a hybrid one assuming it could be reused multiple times. The hybrid engine would have to be replaced after each flight. (8/19)

Northrop Grumman Developing XS-1 Spaceplane Design for DARPA (Source: Northrop Grumman)
Northrop Grumman with Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic is developing a preliminary design and flight demonstration plan for DARPA's Experimental Spaceplane XS-1 program. XS-1 has a reusable booster that when coupled with an expendable upper stage provides affordable, available and responsive space lift for 3,000-pound class spacecraft into low Earth orbit. Reusable boosters with aircraft-like operations provide a breakthrough in space lift costs for this payload class, enabling new generations of lower cost, innovative and more resilient spacecraft.

The company is defining its concept for XS-1 under a 13-month, phase one contract valued at $3.9 million. In addition to low-cost launch, the XS-1 would serve as a test-bed for a new generation of hypersonic aircraft. A key program goal is to fly 10 times in 10 days using a minimal ground crew and infrastructure. Reusable aircraft-like operations would help reduce military and commercial light spacecraft launch costs by a factor of 10 from current launch costs in this payload class. (8/19)

Russia Reignites Its Rocket Industry with New Angara Booster (Source: Space.com)
Russia's recent maiden launch of its new Angara rocket is a harbinger of bigger boosters to come. The successful test flight also marked the country's first new launch vehicle to be built from scratch since the fall of the Soviet Union. The July 9 suborbital flight of the light-lift Angara 1.2ML rocket lifted off from Russia's Plesetsk Cosmodrome in the country's northern Arkhangelsk region. (The "ML" stands for "maiden launch.")

The test flight, which lasted roughly 21 minutes and was not intended to reach orbit, launched the Angara rocket over Russian territory on a ballistic trajectory. A "mass/dimensional payload simulator" topped the Angara, attached to the rocket's second stage. That booster ultimately fell back to Earth over a targeted impact area of the Kura Range on the Kamchatka Peninsula over 3,500 miles (5,700 kilometers) from the launch site. (8/19)

Just How Rare is Intelligent Life in the Universe? (Source: New Scientist)
Special – but not unique. In 2000, Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee argued in Rare Earth that intelligent life on Earth relied on so many unlikely accidents that we are probably alone in the universe. This is a step too far for Scharf, and rather like saying that a spectator at a baseball game lucky enough to catch a ball must therefore be alone in the stadium.

In a big enough universe, extraordinary things happen all the time. Our solar system is a case in point: the latest exoplanet research suggests that its orderly arrangement of planets is exceptionally rare, with rocky planets closer to the sun and gas giants farther out. (8/19)

Universal Space Travel (Source: CNBC)
The current high cost of human space transportation is largely tied up in rocket stages that are destroyed after a single use. There are two ways to go about solving this problem, XCOR's Greason said. The first: Recover, refurbish, and reuse rocket stages (SpaceX has developed and tested reusable rocket stages, and other companies, like Blue Origin, have patented related technologies). SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has predicted that if his company can make rocket reusability a reality, it could lower launch costs via its Falcon 9 rocket—currently advertised at $61.2 million—by an order of magnitude.

The other path to reusability is single-stage systems: those that go to space and back all in one piece without shedding rocket motors and fuel tanks along the way, allowing them to be reused over and over again. XCOR is pursuing the latter paradigm with its winged rocket-powered Lynx, a reusable space vehicle that will take off from a conventional runway and blast into suborbital space (roughly 330,000 feet, or 63 miles) powered by an onboard rocket motor before flying back to Earth and landing on a conventional runway. (8/19)

August 19, 2014

China's First Private Rocket Firm Aims for Market (Source: Space Daily)
Hu Zhenyu, 21, founder of Link Space, China's first private rocket firm, does not want people to call him a "rocket scientist" but a rocket entrepreneur. Rocket launches have traditionally been been a state monopoly in China, but the young graduate from South China University of Technology plans bust the oligopoly with his first commercial launch in 2017.

The space industry is capital-intensive, so Hu is offering 16 percent of the company for 16 million yuan ($2.6 million) to venture capitalists, valuing the enterprise at a highly speculative 100 million yuan. Hu claims he has already been offered 6.7 million yuan from several investors. The focus of Link Space is a rocket designed to take measurements and perform scientific experiments during sub-orbital flight. The rocket will carry instruments to an altitude of up to 200 kilometers. It is very different from the kind of launch vehicle that carries heavy satellites into space.

The average price for launching such a commercial rocket is about 3 million yuan but Link Space intends to cut that price by a third. "China has no private space testing ground, so launch trials will be problematic," he added. Hu's team experiments in the Tsinghua University lab where Yan Chengyi works or the courtyard in Gaoyou City. A 2011 white paper on China's space industry encouraged scientific and academic institutions as well as social groups to actively participate in the industry. (8/19)

New Satellite Data Will Help Farmers Facing Drought (Source: Space Daily)
For several months, California has been in a state of "exceptional drought." The state's usually verdant Central Valley produces one-sixth of the U.S.'s crops. About 60 percent of California is experiencing "exceptional drought," the U.S. Drought Monitor's most dire classification. The agency issued the same warning to Texas and the southeastern United States in 2012. California's last two winters have been among the driest since records began in 1879. Without enough water in the soil, seeds can't sprout roots, leaves can't perform photosynthesis, and agriculture can't be sustained.

The European Space Agency's Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity mission measures soil moisture at a resolution of 31 miles (50 kilometers), but because soil moisture can vary on a much smaller scale, its data are most useful in broad forecasts. Enter NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite. The mission, scheduled to launch this winter, will collect the kind of local data agricultural and water managers worldwide need.

SMAP uses two microwave instruments to monitor the top 2 inches (5 centimeters) of soil on Earth's surface. Together, the instruments create soil moisture estimates with a resolution of about 6 miles (9 kilometers), mapping the entire globe every two or three days. (8/19)

SpaceX Is Raising Money At A Valuation Approaching $10B (Source: Tech Crunch)
SpaceX is raising investment that values the company somewhere south of $10 billion, TechCrunch has learned. These new details are emerging while SpaceX continues to make advances with its own spacecraft and rack up more agreements for future commercial and government launches. The company also potentially faces stiffer competition from other commercial firms that are looking to compete more aggressively in the new space race.

The latest capital infusion includes a large secondary investment, which appears to be somewhere in the region of $200 million. This confirms some of the details published in April this year by Quartz, which cited a source reporting that the company might be raising between $50 million and $200 million. TechCrunch understands that among those investing in SpaceX are international financiers making secondary investments, but also investment firms in the U.S. such as Draper Fisher Jurvetson. (8/19)

China Launches Earth Observation Satellite (Source: Space Today)
A Long March rocket placed an Earth observation satellite into orbit for China on Tuesday. The Long March 4B rocket lifted off from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center carrying the Gaofen-2 satellite, an Earth observation satellite capable of taking images with a resolution of one meter. The spacecraft will be used for civil applications, according to official accounts. The rocket included as a secondary payload the BRITE-PL-2, a Polish astronomy nanosatellite. The launch is the second by China in less than two weeks, after a hiatus of more than four months. (8/19)

Class Still Counts on Zero-Gravity Flights (Source: The Telegraph)
Space, they say, is the final frontier. But it seems no matter how high you soar there will always be someone looking down on you. Registration has opened for a deluxe brand of "Zero-G" travel and the flights are being sold in standard, premium or deluxe price ranges. The flights are being run by Swiss Space Systems (S3) and the first aircraft is expected to take off from Japan early next year.

During the trips in specially modified Airbus jets pilots will induce weightlessness through a series of mid-air plunges, removing gravity's pull for periods of up to 25 seconds at a time. The planes will be divided into three sections - a "party zone" containing up to 40 people, a "premium" section for 28 people, and a VIP area, reserved for only a few passengers. Those in the premium and VIP areas will receive a special edition Breitling watch, which will double as their boarding card. (8/19)

Galileo Program Set for Full Operational Capability (Source: America Space)
Less than three years since it became the first non-Russian organization to deliver a Soyuz booster into orbit from a location outside the borders of Russia or the former Soviet Union, Arianespace-—the Paris, France-headquartered provider of commercial launch services from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana-—is set to deliver the first pair of Galileo Full Operational Capability (FOC-1) satellites on Thursday, 21 August.

Operating from a “medium” Earth orbit, with a mean altitude of 14,600 miles (23,520 km), they will form part of an eventual 30-satellite global navigational constellation, developed under contract with the European Space Agency (ESA) and conducted under the auspices of the European Commission. Liftoff of the three-stage Soyuz vehicle is targeted to occur from the Kourou spaceport and the two satellites should be delivered precisely into orbit a little under three hours and 48 minutes after launch. (8/19)

Scientists Find Traces of Sea Plankton on ISS Surface (Source: Itar-Tass)
An experiment of taking samples from illuminators and the ISS surface has brought unique results, as scientists had found traces of sea plankton there, the chief of an orbital mission on Russia’s ISS segment says. Results of the scope of scientific experiments which had been conducted for a quite long time were summed up in the previous year, confirming that some organisms can live on the surface of the International Space Station (ISS) for years

Several surveys proved that these organisms can even develop. Microorganisms could be found on the ISS surface thanks to high-precision equipment. “Results of the experiment are absolutely unique. We have found traces of sea plankton and microscopic particles on the illuminator surface. This should be studied further,” chief of the Russian ISS orbital mission Vladimir Solovyev said. (8/19)

Reisman Encouraged by Science Programming in Hollywood (Source: Hollywood Reporter)
Former NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman said, while speaking with The Hollywood Reporter at the HollyShorts Film Festival on Monday, he is encouraged to see space and science generating attention in Hollywood. Reisman was on hand for a screening of Three Nights, Three Days: Endeavour's Journey Through Los Angeles.

“It's great that this is happening — [Three Nights, Three Days] Cosmos [which won four Creative Arts Emmys last weekend] and even The Big Bang Theory [which won one Creative Arts Emmy],” Reisman said of science-themed programming. “I hope science is becoming hip and cool. The best thing we can do is reach out to young women.” (8/18)

This is What Your Home on Mars Could Look Like (Source: c/net)
Humans living on Mars is a fascinating concept. We already have Mars One looking to establish a Mars colony, and NASA planning manned missions to the Red Planet, with one objective being to assess the feasibility of living there; whether Mars has the resources necessary for human survival, and whether we have the technology to create what we need. While, however, it's still a distant dream, that hasn't stopped people from thinking about how we might live if we get there.

Recently, NASA and Makerbot held the Mars Base challenge: to design human habitation, using materials either found on Mars or brought from Earth, that could be 3D printed. With 228 submissions on Thingiverse, the competition was fierce -- but the three top designs are in, with the first place winner receiving a MakerBot Replicator Desktop 3D printer and spools of MakerBot PLA filament going to second and third. Click here. (8/19)

NASA Closes On Commercial Crew Selection (Source: Aviation Week)
Almost five years after beginning its search for a U.S.-developed spacecraft to carry humans into orbit, NASA is poised to award at least one contract to its industry partners in the Commercial Crew Program. The three contenders—Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada—could hear as soon as the end of August which of their proposed vehicles has been selected for a Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contract to fly to the International Space Station.

With NASA widely expected to support multiple solutions, the biggest question is how the awards might be spread over differing vehicle concepts, launch vehicles or both. Assuming two contracts are awarded, NASA must decide whether to support the two capsule designs on offer from Boeing and SpaceX or one of them in combination with the lifting-body concept proposed by Sierra Nevada.

Another factor that may influence the decision is Boeing’s and Sierra Nevada’s selection of the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V as primary launch vehicle. Although both assert that their designs are “launch-vehicle-agnostic,” concern over the guaranteed supply of the Atlas V’s Russian-made RD-180 main engines could prove a factor. (8/18)

NASA Grant Supports New Mexico Space Research (Source: Albuquerque Journal)
NASA has awarded a $500,000 grant to the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium to help students design and launch experiments into space from Spaceport America. U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, D-NM, announced the award Monday. It goes to support the Community College Technical Schools Student Launch Program. The senators requested the funding in April with an eye on helping “attract and retain students to jobs in high-tech sectors,” according to a statement.

Spaceport America, home to aspiring commercial space line Virgin Galactic, has also hosted launches of student and commercial experiments into space. New Mexico State University sponsors the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium, but students from several schools in the state participate in the Student Launch Program. (8/19)

Origami 'Space Flowers' to Beam Energy to Earth (Source: Daily Mail)
Getting large equipment into space is no easy feat. At nearly £14,000 ($23,400) to send a kilogram into orbit, it's expensive, and room is always limited. To deal with the problem, NASA has turned to the ancient art of origami, in the hopes of getting larger solar panels into space. These solar panels could someday be used in the form of an orbiting power plant that harvests energy from the sun and beams it back down to Earth. Click here. (8/19)

Can You ID This City from Space? If So, NASA Needs Your Help (Source: Popular Mechanics)
Since 2003, astronauts aboard the International Space Station have captured more than 1.3 million photos of Earth. They’re beautiful, and many of them are the highest-resolution nighttime photos ever taken from orbit, but there’s one problem: What the photographs show, exactly, is unclear. Which is why NASA hopes you can provide the answers.

With a project called Cities at Night, a group of scientists from Spain are turning to crowdsourcing, asking anyone interested to plot these images on a map. There are three parts to the project. First, Dark Skies ISS, which asks people to sort the images by content such cities, stars, and other objects. Second is Night Skies ISS, for plotting the points of light in images on a map. Third is Lost at Night, which asks users to plot locations within the images on a map. Click here. (8/18)

Aldrin 'Lands' on Mars in Hilarious Jockey Ad (Source: Space.com)
Famed Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin may have walked on the moon, but the folks behind Jockey underwear think they could have helped him conquer the galaxy. A new ad, unveiled on Twitter and YouTube by no less than Aldrin himself, shows what might have happened if the moonwalker took Jockey to the moon. Click here. (8/18)

Aldrin Endorses Alaska GOP Senate Candidate (Source: The Hill)
Former astronaut Buzz Aldrin has given a last-minute endorsement to Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell (R), hoping to launch his campaign ahead of Tuesday's primary. Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, is hoping he can help Treadwell avoid second place in the race.

"I have known and worked with Mead for close to thirty years, dating back to his first time advising NASA, on improving our nation’s space program. Mead is a champion of science, technology and exploration. He will continue to push for Arctic exploration that could produce more energy and jobs for America," Aldrin said in a statement. (8/18)

The Intelligent-Life Lottery (Source: New York Times)
Almost 20 years ago, in the pages of an obscure publication called Bioastronomy News, two giants in the world of science argued over whether SETI — the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence — had a chance of succeeding. Carl Sagan, as eloquent as ever, gave his standard answer. With billions of stars in our galaxy, there must be other civilizations capable of transmitting electromagnetic waves. By scouring the sky with radio telescopes, we just might intercept a signal.

But Sagan’s opponent, Ernst Mayr, thought the chances were close to zero. Against Sagan’s stellar billions, he posed his own astronomical numbers: Of the billions of species that have lived and died since life began, only one — Homo sapiens — had developed a science, a technology, and the curiosity to explore the stars. And that took about 3.5 billion years of evolution. High intelligence, Mayr concluded, must be extremely rare, here or anywhere. Earth’s most abundant life form is unicellular slime.

Since the debate with Sagan, more than 1,700 planets have been discovered beyond the solar system — 700 just this year. Astronomers recently estimated that one of every five sunlike stars in the Milky Way might be orbited by a world capable of supporting some kind of life. That is about 40 billion potential habitats. But Mayr, who died in 2005 at the age of 100, probably wouldn’t have been impressed. (8/18)

SETI Searchers Kepler Candidates for Life Signs (Source: Astrobiology)
A recent search by the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) studied 86 candidates in the Kepler space observatory’s field for radio signals that could potentially indicate the presence of an intelligent civilization. Of course, no radio signals were found, but the search did identify the most promising Kepler objects for wide-band observations using the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia. Click here. (8/18)

In Space, Astronauts’ Immune Systems Get Totally Confused (Source: Washington Post)
Can an astronaut survive a long-term spaceflight? With NASA looking ahead to missions on Mars and beyond, it's an important question - and one we haven't even come close to answering through practice. The longest space flight ever only lasted 437.7 days, and most astronauts have spent less than a year at the space station during their longest stretches.

But a NASA study has taken a small step for man's journey to distant planets. NASA scientists analyzed blood samples taken before, during, and after missions to the International Space Station, looking for indications of how astronauts' immune systems handle the unusual environment. The results indicate that things get a little bit wonky.

Some immune cells are heightened by the process of space travel, the researchers found, but others get depressed. That's why astronauts can experience the effects of a weakened immune system (like the asymptomatic viral seen in some, where a dormant virus starts producing new cells but not new symptoms) along with the effects of a heightened one (like increased allergies and persistent rashes). (8/18)

What You Need to Know About Commercial Spaceflight (Source: Engadget)
Before President Ronald Reagan signed the Commercial Space Launch Act of 1984, companies could only rely on NASA to send payloads (like satellites) to space. This federal law enabled entities to pay private operators to ferry cargo outside the planet through one-time-use or expendable launch systems. The Launch Services Purchase Act of 1990 opened up even more opportunities for private space firms: It straight up ordered NASA to buy launch services from commercial companies. Click here. (8/18)

August 18, 2014

ULA Leadership Shift Could be Precursor for More Changes (Source: Defense News)
An unexpected leadership change at the United Launch Alliance (ULA) may be just the first move for a company facing competition for the first time. After leading ULA since its inception in 2006, Michael Gass is stepping down. Craig Cooning, president of Boeing Network and Space Systems and a ULA board member, said Bruno is “well-qualified to ensure ULA keeps pace with changing customer needs and launch industry dynamics.”

The announcement put as positive a spin as possible on Gass’ departure, but reading between the lines makes it clear leaders at the parent companies felt a change was needed, said Teal Group analyst Marco Caceres. “Gass hung his hat on ULA’s track record of successful launches,” Caceres said. But ULA looked complacent when matched against the dynamic Elon Musk, whose SpaceX will shortly begin competing with ULA for military space launches.

“Generally, when you see abrupt leadership changes, there’s an abrupt change of strategic or tactical course needed,” Callan said. “You don’t make those changes unless you see something that needs fast corrective action.” Caceres said he expects to see layoffs and a streamlining of ULA to find all possible cost savings. “My sense is you’re going to see at ULA a restructuring of some sort, because ultimately they’re going to have to find a way to be a lot more competitive on price,” he said. (8/18)

Dentons Creates ‘Space Law’ Group (Source: Washington Post)
International law firm Dentons has created a practice group focused on representing companies that manufacture, operate and invest in satellites, as it eyes potential in the fast-growing commercial space industry.

The new group is led by attorneys Del Smith, Liz Evans and Deepak Reddy, who recently joined Dentons from Jones Day. Smith is in Washington and Evans and Reddy are in New York. The group includes 15 attorneys spread across 10 of the firm’s offices around the world, whose legal expertise spans mergers and acquisitions, finance, restructuring, regulatory, insurance, intellectual property, antitrust and litigation. (8/17)

Zero-G Flights Offer That Floating Sensation (Source: The National)
UAE residents will be able to float and flip weightlessly for a few minutes when they sign up for “zero gravity” flights scheduled to take off next year. Starting at just under Dh10,000, the 90-minute flights, operated by Swiss Space Systems (S3), are scheduled to take place over six days from April 9 to 11 and April 16 to 18. The UAE is one of more than 15 countries the flights will depart from around the world from January next year.

S3 is one of several private companies offering civilians the chance to experience weightlessness, something that is generally experienced only by scientists and astronauts. The company uses modified Airbus jets to perform 15 parabolas, each providing between 20 and 25 seconds of weightlessness during the course of the hour-and-a-half-long flight. (8/18)

Challenger Center Holds Back to School Bash in Tallahassee (Source: WCTV)
It was back to school for Leon County Schools on Monday. Today the Challenger Learning Center held a back to school bash for children and their families. Folks enjoyed hands on science demonstrations and tours of the space mission simulator. The center also held several free screenings in its IMAX and Planetarium theaters, including Madagascar's Island of Lemurs, Hidden Universe, and The Last Reef.

Staff at the center says it’s their way of saying thank you for a great summer. Michelle Personette, the Executive Director of Challenger Learning Center, said, "The community supports us. We are a non-profit. And the community supports us throughout the year. This is our way to give back to them. It's an exciting time. All the kids are going back to school and we want to make sure the community and the kids are ready and excited to go back to school." (8/16)

The Cosmos in a Cornfield (Source: Space Review)
When it comes to space museums, people most likely think of the National Air and Space Museum or one of the NASA visitor centers. Dwayne Day describes the impressive collection of artifacts that can be found in a museum located right in the middle of the country. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2581/1 to view the article. (8/18)

Alternative Propulsion Concepts Power Debate (Source: Space Review)
New propulsion technologies that promise to greatly reduce travel times would seem to be universally welcomed, but such concepts often get mired in debates about their feasibility. Jeff Foust reports on developments involving a couple of different proposals that have either been treated as revolutionary advances or dismissed as ineffective or even impossible. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2580/1 to view the article. (8/18)

India's SAARC Satellite Proposal: a Boost to a Multilateral Space Agenda (Source: Space Review)
India's new prime minister recently proposed that India collaborate with other South Asian nations on a joint satellite program. Ajey Lele examines the potential benefits of such cooperation and how to best implement it. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2579/1 to view the article. (8/18)

NASA Won’t Abandon Commercial Crew Loser (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
As NASA closes in on the next major milestone of its Commercial Crew Program (CCP), the agency has noted its desire to continue the “sharing of knowledge” with any partner that loses out on continued NASA funding. The first NASA crew to ride on a US commercial vehicle is expected to occur in December, 2017 – a date that continues to be challenged by funding uncertainties.

The transition toward commercial transportation of NASA astronauts is a flagship program for the Agency. The last NASA crew to ride into space on an American vehicle were the astronauts of STS-135, as Atlantis closed out the 30 year career of the Space Shuttle Program (SSP). A painful void between the end of Shuttle and the availability of the next American crew vehicle was always going to be unavoidable. However, due to continued changes to NASA’s direction – including the aborted Constellation Program (CxP) – the gap has grown. Click here. (8/17) 

Aerojet Rocketdyne Completes Engine Test for Super Strypi Launch Vehicle (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Aerojet Rocketdyne's new Low Earth Orbiting Nanosatellite Integrated Defense Autonomous System (LEONIDAS) first stage solid propellant rocket motor (LEO-46) successfully completed a hot-fire static test at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Aerojet Rocketdyne monitored the full-scale, full-duration firing of the 52-inch diameter by 40-foot long motor as it generated nearly 300,000-lbf of thrust during the 73-second test. LEO-46 is the first stage of a three-stage propulsion system developed for the Super Strypi rail-launched, spin stabilized launch vehicle.

The unique design of the solid rocket motors (SRM), combined with the simplicity of the launch vehicle architecture, enables low cost space access for small satellite packages up to 250 kg to 300 kg. The LEO-46 firing completes the series of three successful LEO motor ground test demonstrations. The LEO-7 second stage motor and the LEO-1 third stage motor were successfully tested in August 2012 and September 2013, respectively. (8/15)

Lockheed Taps GenDyn for Space Fence Ground Equipment (Source: Space Daily)
Ground structures for housing the U.S. Space Fence program are to be designed and built by a General Dynamics business unit under contract from Lockheed Martin. The structures - as well as integration of mechanical systems for the project - will start next year on Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. (8/14)

ISS Dumps Trash with Cygnus (Source: Space Daily)
Nearly 3,300 pounds of trash burned up in the Earth's atmosphere on Sunday, disposing of waste produced by the International Space Station and giving astronauts a chance to study atmospheric re-entry. Astronauts aboard the ISS bid farewell to the "SS Janice Voss" Cygnus resupply ship at roughly 6:40 a.m. Friday, about 90 minutes after unberthing it from the station. Using a Canadian-built robotic arm called an SSRMS, the resupply craft was held ten meters from the station, allowing it to safely use its own thrusters to detach and successfully descend. (8/15)

The Future of CubeSats (Source: Space Daily)
To investigate climate change, scientists and engineers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center are developing the IceCube satellite, which will be no larger than a loaf of bread. In 2016, this satellite will mature technology that scientists will use to analyze cloud ice in the atmosphere. "We're using IceCube to test a radiometer that we want to fly on a big space mission," said Jeffrey Piepmeier, associate head of Goddard's Microwave Instruments and Technology Branch.

"Climate scientists have never used this frequency to measure cloud ice from space before." The project highlights a growing trend toward testing instruments and running scientific experiments aboard CubeSats. Scientists however face a number of challenges when working on CubeSats. Due to their size, CubeSats cannot power many of NASA's formidable scientific instruments, and there are limits to what can be miniaturized. (8/18)

Rocket Launch from Wallops Rescheduled for Aug. 23 (Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch)
The launch of a Department of Defense rocket from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility has been rescheduled. The Terrier-Lynx suborbital rocket was scheduled to be launched Saturday. NASA says in a news release that the new launch date is Aug. 23. NASA didn't say why the launch was postponed. (8/18)

Black Holes Do Come in Medium Sizes (Source: Space.com)
Black holes do indeed come in three sizes: small, medium and extra large, a new study suggests. Astronomers have studied many black holes at either size extreme — "stellar-mass" black holes, which are a few dozen times as weighty as the sun, and supermassive black holes, which can contain millions or billions of times the mass of the sun and lurk at the heart of most, if not all, galaxies.

Researchers have spotted hints of much rarer medium-size black holes, which harbor between 100 and several hundred thousand solar masses. But it's tough to weigh these objects definitively — so tough that their existence has been a matter of debate. But that debate can now be put to rest, says a research team that has measured an intermediate black hole's mass with unprecedented precision. (8/18)

Skylon Tech Could Power Hypersonic Aircraft​ for US Military (Source: Space.com)
Engine technology being developed for a British space plane could also find its way into hypersonic aircraft built by the U.S. military. The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory is studying hypersonic vehicles that would use the Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE), which the English company Reaction Engines Ltd. is working on to power the Skylon space plane, AFRL officials said.

SABRE burns hydrogen and oxygen. It acts like a jet engine in Earth's thick lower atmosphere, taking in oxygen to combust with onboard liquid hydrogen. When SABRE reaches an altitude of 16 miles (26 kilometers) and five times the speed of sound (Mach 5), however, it switches over to Skylon's onboard liquid oxygen tank to reach orbit. (8/18)

Wanted: Unmanned Space Plane to Fly On the Cheap (Source: Space.com)
It's a dream older than the Space Age itself: a fully reusable rocket that can fly into space, deploy its cargo, return to Earth and then do it again rapidly, cheaply and with minimal maintenance. Despite billions of dollars and decades of work spent on projects as diverse as NASA's space shuttle, National Aerospace Plane and Rotary Rocket, cheap access to space is not yet a reality, making it difficult to unlock the enormous potential of outer space.

However, all that could change in the next few years, according to those working on a new set of vehicles. "The need is there. The technology is ready. So, let's go do it," said Jeff Lane, chief engineer of Advanced High Speed Systems at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, during a cheap access to space panel discussion during the NewSpace Conference in San Jose, California. Lane's company leads one of three competing teams in the XS-1 program, which is the U.S. government's latest attempt at cheap access to space. (8/18)

Russians Take ISS Spacewalk (Source: Itar-Tass)
Oleg Artemyev and Aleksandr Skvortsov, flight engineers of the International Space Station (ISS) crew, will take a spacewalk on Monday and hand-launch a Russo-Peruvi an nanosatellite, the Chasqui-1. Their extravehicular activities will be mainly scientific. Artemyev and Skvortsov will assemble scientific instrumentation of equipment for the Expose-R experiment, take a swab from a porthole under the Test experiment, remove panels of the Endurance experiment and the third container of Biorisk one, and photograph the shield vacuum insulation on the surface of the orbital station.

The cosmonauts will carry out a number of other technical operations as well. Artemyev is to launch the Russo-Peruvian nanosatellite Chasqui-1. The cosmonaut told a pre-flight news conference that the process of launching the satellite by hand had been thoroughly tried out on the ground. The calculated duration of the spacewalk is six hours and 16 minutes. (8/18)

August 17, 2014

Activity Surrounds Impending Texas Launch Site (Source: Valley Morning Star)
Mounds of dark gravel dot the last 15.1-mile stretch of State Highway 4 that leads to the Gulf of Mexico, awaiting construction crews for a needed facelift. The road repairs will run from the U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint to the eastern end of the roadway, which abuts Boca Chica Beach in Cameron County. The repairs, while long in the works, are significant because this is the main — in fact, the only — thoroughfare to the much anticipated SpaceX launch site. Click here. (8/17)

Life on the [UK] Edge (Source: Western Morning News)
Lucy Edge took maths and physics at A Level “because it was easy”. The sporty Home Counties schoolgirl was more interested in athletics than the high-flying career in the space industry which awaited her. “I found physics and maths easy and quick to do,” she says. “I was far more interested in athletics so I wanted to study subjects that I could do the homework for most quickly.

She won’t publicize her age, but it’s surprisingly young to be director of satellite operations at Avanti Communications and general manager of Avanti’s site at Goonhilly Satellite Earth Station near Helston on the Lizard peninsula in Cornwall. Avanti puts the satellites up and keeps them there, selling broadband bandwidth to the telecoms companies which in turn sell on the services to you and I. (8/17)

Branson Still Hoping for First Flight This Year (Source: USA Today)
Q: What is your timing in terms of this program taking off? A: I'll be bitterly disappointed if I'm not into space by the end of the year. The rockets have now tested successfully. We've got three more rocket tests and then we should be up, up and away by the end of the year. That should be the start of the program. The space port's ready. We are now in the last few weeks before finally embarking on the space program. (8/17)

Editorial: Get Creative to Keep Spaceport Tax Money Here (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
We're not convinced that county commissioners have found the right solution to save the portion of spaceport tax funds now going to local schools, but we do agree that a solution needs to be found. And that's unfortunate. Because there was certainly no indication in 2007 when the tax was passed that it would put us in violation of New Mexico school funding laws. Then-Gov. Bill Richardson himself was down here leading the effort, twisting arms and insisting that the spaceport project would not go forward without local support. Click here. (8/16)

Rainfall Research Satellite Begins Descent from Orbit (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
A long-lived satellite launched in 1997 to measure rainfall in the tropics has run out of fuel and will probably fall back to Earth within the next three years, NASA officials said this week. The Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission -- a joint project between NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency -- has outlived its original three-year life expectancy, and officials say the satellite will continue collecting science data until early 2016, when the craft's instruments will be switched off to prepare for re-entry.

Pressure readings from the TRMM satellite's fuel tank July 8 indicated the satellite was at the end of its fuel, according to an update posted Tuesday on the mission's website. "As a result, NASA has ceased station keeping maneuvers and TRMM has begun its drift downward from its operating altitude of 402 kilometers (250 miles)," the update said. (8/15)

Martians in Houston: Do We Have a Problem? (Source: Huffington Post)
Last week 100 or more hopefuls looking for a way to Mars converged at the South Shore Harbor Resort in League City, Texas, just outside Houston, for the annual convention of the Mars Society: engineers working on intricate ways to get us there, "aspiring Martians" chatting up Mars One leader Bas Lansdorp, and fresh-faced university students designing take-alongs for Dennis Tito's Inspiration Mars, along with a few naysayers convinced it'll never happen, at least not in the next 10 years, as the big poster hanging in the aptly named "Crystal Ballroom" meeting room predicted. Click here. (8/15)

1996 Plan to Use NASA’s Oldest Orbiter to Make Money on the Moon (Source: WIRED)
In an April 1996 paper presented at the 33rd Space Congress in Cocoa Beach, Florida, Carey McCleskey of the Vehicle Engineering Directorate at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center proposed using the oldest Orbiter’s excess mission capacity “to ignite a billion dollar, sustained enterprise on the Moon.” Specifically, he advocated using Columbia as a joint NASA/private sector Earth-orbital launch platform for rocket stages bearing small lunar landers. Columbia would remain in space for only a few hours during each of its lunar lander deployment missions. Click here

Editor's Note: Hundreds of technical papers from over 40 years of Space Congress events are now digitized and available online, under an arrangement between the Canaveral Council of Technical Societies and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Click here. (8/16)

Editorial: Should We Reach Out to China? (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
The Chinese space program is well and consistently funded, something to which NASA cannot always lay claim. If we want to dream big, we may be in for a rude awakening if we leave China behind. Ultimately, it comes down to one question. Is partnership in space a means to build cooperation, or a means to reward it?

Leroy Chiao is an advocate for the former. His argument is supported by pragmatism and a career working with international partners, including Russia. Congressman Wolf represents the other end of the spectrum, the belief that cooperating with China would be tantamount to endorsing the regime’s poor history on human rights. Both are right. Whether one is more right than the other is not as easy to discern. (8/17)

An Astronaut's Faith Often Rides Along Into Space (Source: Statesman Journal)
Sometime in the future, a man — or woman — may step onto the arid, red surface of Mars and, for a moment, set aside science before staring off into the distance of space to say a prayer. But will it be a lilting public call to prayer or a personal meditation recognizing God as the creator of an expansive universe necklaced with unexplored planets and galaxies? "People take their faith wherever they go, be it Earth or to the furthest corner of the universe," said Winston Scott, a former astronaut. "I don't think a person could abandon their faith, it's a part of who you are.

"It's a very personal thing. When I was in space, I didn't stop to have formal prayer, but my spirituality is expressed 24/7. On my flights, probably most of us prayed internally, but had you taken us and had us out there for six months, then it probably would be different," said Scott, who took three spacewalks 200 miles above the Earth. Since the dawn of the space age —— from missions to the moon to space shuttle flights and extended stays on the International Space Station — faith and religion have played a role in humanity's exploration of the universe. (8/16)

Manx Stamps Reach for the Stars (Source: IOM Today)
The clear skies of the Isle of Man are being celebrated with a set of stamps. The island now has a total of 26 ‘dark sky’ sites, which is by far the greatest concentration of such sites in Europe. 19 sites were recognized in January 2014, which were in addition to the seven that were similarly granted this status by the Dark Sky Discovery Network (DSDN) based at the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh during October 2012.

Nicole Stott, NASA astronaut and wife of Manxman Chris Stott gave her full support to the application for the original seven sites. She said then: "I tried on many occasions to identify the Isle of Man from orbit, but I had great difficulty because it is so dark! I eventually captured an image and it shows how wonderful the night skies in the Island are. The Manx skies are fantastic for astronomy."

The stamp issue has been produced following consultation with Howard Parkin FRAS of AstroManx and the pictures used on the stamps show spectacular images of the Manx night skies and feature some of the constellations clearly visible throughout the year from the island’s darker skies. (8/17)

Can Congress Grant Private Companies The Right To Mine Asteroids? (Source: io9)
U.S. companies are eyeing asteroids as the next frontier in lucrative mining ventures. But, they say, their plans are stymied by the vague status of private ownership in space. Earlier this summer, members of Congress introduced a bill to protect property rights for commercial exploitation of asteroids. Is that legal?

The bipartisan legislation, introduced by Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) and Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA), is called the American Space Technology for Exploring Resource Opportunities in Deep Space (ASTEROIDS) Act. The two congressmen, both members of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, declared in a joint statement that the bill would not only create more jobs but also safeguard America's economic security:

Congressmen Posey and Kilmer, however, say their legislation is not espousing a unilateral, U.S. land-grab. A spokesman for Posey's office told Space Policy Online that the bill repeatedly states that it should be implemented in a manner "consistent with international obligations" and does not confer ownership rights to asteroids. It only "allows those companies that mine the asteroid to keep what they bring back." And the bill affects only U.S. companies engaged in such activities. (8/14)

Brad Paisley Launches Song From Florida Launch Pad (Source: Collect Space)
Country music star Brad Paisley traveled to NASA's Kennedy Space Center on Saturday (Aug. 16) to launch his new space-themed song, "American Flag on the Moon." "I'm at NASA's Apollo launch pad in [Florida], leaking my new song," Paisley wrote on Twitter, sharing a photograph of him standing on the agency's historic Pad 39B. (8/16)

August 16, 2014

XCOR Breaking Down Walls with Midland - One Step Closer to Space (Source: XCOR)
At 10am this morning, just feet from the runway which will rocket XCOR customers to space and back, Midland Development Corp. and XCOR Aerospace invited local officials, contractors, Midland residents and local press to attend the kickoff of new renovations on the XCOR hangar with a ceremonial wall breaking inside of XCOR’s Commercial Spaceflight Research and Development Center Headquarters at Midland International Airport (MAF).

The start of hangar construction brought to mind prior eras of exploration for XCOR Chief Executive Officer Jeff Greason. “Midland stands at the heart of the American frontier,” Greason noted, “It is a symbol of the American West. As the first tenant in the commercial space industry to plant our home here we are honored to expand those opportunities not westward, but upward.”

Spaceport Development Board Chairman and Midland Mayor Pro Tem, John B. Love III noted, “We look forward to the transformation of Midland International Airport into the ‘Midland International Air and Spaceport’. This is truly an exciting day for Midland.” ... “As XCOR commences the Lynx flight test program this winter, the hangar construction signals the end of the beginning for our team. The next step is to get Lynx flying,” said XCOR President Andrew Nelson. (8/15)

Space is the Place to Solve the Riddle of Life, Maybe (Source: New Scientist)
How did early Earth's inert matter give rise to its teeming life today? That's one of the biggest questions in science – and has long been one of the hardest to answer. We've known for 60 years that life's most basic building blocks can form spontaneously, given the right conditions. But how did they assemble into complex organisms? Hard evidence to help us answer that question is lacking.Click here. (8/15)

Gifted Workers Opting for Private Sector Over NASA (Source: Houston Press)
As a NASA engineering co-op student at JSC, Amy Hoffman trained in various divisions to sign on eventually as a civil servant. She graduated from college after receiving a generous offer from NASA, doubly prestigious considering the substantial reductions in force hitting JSC in recent months. Then she received an invitation to visit a friend at his new job with SpaceX. Seeing SpaceX in production forced Hoffman to acknowledge NASA might not be the best fit for her.

At SpaceX headquarters, she was surprised to find open work areas where NASA would have had endless hallways, offices and desks. SpaceX resembling a giant workshop, a hive of activity in which employees stood working on nitty-gritty engineering. "They're very purpose-driven. It looked like every project was getting the attention it deserved." The tour reminded her of the many mentors who had gone into the commercial sector in search of better pay and more say in the direction their employers take.

She thought back to the attrition she saw firsthand at JSC and how understaffed divisions struggled to maintain operations. Click here. Editor's Note: This part of a see-saw phenomenon. Sometimes in the aerospace/defense industry -- probably in more difficult economic times -- the government sector tends to capture the talent, while in other times the talent seems to flow toward the private sector. It likely is an indicator of economic improvement that workers are now more inclined to accept jobs with more risk. (8/14)

General: DOD Must Change How it Buys Satellites (Source: C4ISR)
The Pentagon needs to fundamentally change the way it buys satellites in an effort to lower costs as US defense spending contracts, a top Air Force general said. The military oftentimes spends between $3 billion and $5 billion to design, develop and test new satellites, Lt. Gen. John Hyten, vice commander of Air Force Space Command, said. Those so-called non-recurring engineering costs come before DoD buys an operational satellite.

"We should not have to spend billions of dollars in non-recurring engineering … to build these kinds of satellites," Hyten said Tuesday while speaking at the annual Space and Missile Defense Symposium. At the same time, Hyten — who is scheduled to pin on a fourth star on Friday when he becomes the commander of Space Command — said that although the Air Force and industry have effectively brought down the costs of new satellites, much of the architecture is dated and "the world has changed." (8/14)

Dream Chaser's Next Flight Tests Set for Fall (Source: America Space)
The private Dream Chaser crew vehicle, aiming to launch U.S. astronauts back to space, will “resume test flights this fall with sophisticated orbital software” while simultaneously pushing forward with an ambitious “assembly program” of the orbital space plane vehicle destined for the maiden liftoff in 2016, Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) Space Systems, told AmericaSpace in an exclusive, one-on-one interview about their human spaceflight efforts to build an efficient astronaut transporter for NASA.

“We are focused on being ready to launch in November 2016. We have a launch slot [reserved with United Launch Alliance for the Atlas V rocket],” Sirangelo said. “We have begun the build of the first Dream Chaser orbital vehicle!” (8/15)

Cygnus Flies Away from Space Station (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
Orbital’s CRS-2/ORB-2 spacecraft is departing the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday, after she ably completed another critical resupply mission. The Cygnus was released by the Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS) to initiate the departure that will eventually result in a destructive re-entry for the spacecraft on Sunday. (8/15)

Finding Mars Life Could Answer Some Big Questions (Source: Aviation Week)
Controllers are in final preparations for the Sep. 21 red planet arrival of NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (Maven), an orbiter designed to help scientists figure out where the planet’s early atmosphere went, and with it the water that once flowed on its surface. As the Maven team gears up to take data, the winners in an international competition to place instruments on NASA's next Mars rover are hard at work on the imagers and spectrometers that will look for signs that the water once supported life.

 The 2020 rover will have a mechanism on its robotic arm that can pull sample cores about 10 cm (4 in.) deep; but under current plans, promising cores would be cached to return to Earth—somehow, some day—for deeper analysis with mass spectrometers and other equipment much too large to send to Mars. That isn’t soon enough for some astrobiologists, who remain intrigued by experiments on the two Viking landers that tested for living microorganisms. (8/15)

NASA Sees Weird Blurred Light Near Giant Black Hole (Source: Space.com)
A NASA spacecraft has spotted strange light shifts near the heart of a supermassive black hole that could help scientists better understand the inner workings of these monstrous objects. The agency's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Arrayprobe, or NuSTAR, looked on as a mysterious X-ray source, called a corona, moved closer to a supermassive black hole. The black hole's immense gravity pulled harder on the corona the closer it came, stretching and blurring the X-ray light in the process, researchers said.

"The corona recently collapsed in toward the black hole, with the result that the black hole's intense gravity pulled all the light down onto its surrounding disk, where material is spiraling inward," study lead author Michael Parker. NuSTAR's observations provide the most detailed look yet at such events, researchers said. While light cannot escape once it passes the "event horizon" of a black hole, high-energy emissions do stream from the vicinity of these objects — from the corona, for example, and from the superhot disk of material spiraling into a black hole's maw. (8/15)

When SpaceX Falters, Washington Looks The Other Way (Source: Forbes)
There’s a story making the rounds in Washington’s space community that when the spy agency responsible for operating reconnaissance satellites raised doubts about the suitability of launch vehicles made by SpaceX for carrying its spacecraft into orbit, White House officials directed the agency to stop complaining and move ahead with certification. The story goes on that SpaceX was then assigned three secret payloads on a sole-source (uncompeted) basis. Click here. (8/15)

Huntsville Team Fighting to Land on Moon, Win Jackpot (Source: WHNT)
Teams all over the world, including one with operations here in Huntsville, are racing to do something that’s never been done before. They’re working to land a privately-funded spacecraft on the surface of the moon. The teams are fighting for a huge, $20 million jackpot in Google’s Lunar XPRIZE competition. For U.S.-based Moon Express, one of just 18 teams remaining in the contest, it’s not just about the money. The team also hopes to create a new business model for private space exploration — one that can sustain real commercial interest in the long run. Click here. (8/14)

Art in Space (Source: Financial Times)
We have long been sending art beyond our world. Here are four works that broke through the stratosphere and made it into space. Click here. (8/15)

Video Shows Falcon-9 Booster's Soft Landing Off Florida Coast (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
A video clip released by SpaceX on Thursday shows a fresh view of the descent and splashdown of a Falcon 9 rocket's booster stage following a July 14 launch to boost six Orbcomm communications satellites into space. Click here. (8/15)