April 25, 2011

Future of Space Tourism: Who's Offering What (Source: Space.com)
Fifty years after Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to experience the wonders of spaceflight, commercial companies appear to be on the cusp of a breakthrough industry -- space tourism. In a bid to open up the final frontier to an expanding group of people, private firms are racing to provide paying customers with unique orbital and suborbital experiences.

Suborbital spaceships would take passengers up to space at an altitude of about 62 miles (100 kilometers) -- commonly known as the edge of space -- before returning to Earth. These passengers would get a glimpse of the edge of our planet and the blackness of space while experiencing several minutes of weightlessness.

On orbital flights, only those who can afford the multimillion dollar ride will have the chance to rocket into low-Earth orbit and visit the International Space Station. But, as the space tourism industry expands and more vehicles are able to take customers into space, these trips could go down in price. Click here to read the article. (4/25)

SpaceX Says It Can Do Commercial Manned Flight in 2014 (Source: Satellite Spotlight)
Fresh off its win under NASA’s CCDev awards this week, upstart rocket manufacturer SpaceX says it will be prepared to transport the first astronauts up to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2014, a scant 3 years from now. (4/25)

NASA and USAID Advance International Development With Science And Technology (Source: NASA)
NASA and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have agreed to expand their joint efforts to overcome international development challenges such as food security, climate change, and energy and environmental management. The agencies signed a five-year MOU that formalizes ongoing agency collaborations that use Earth science data to address developmental challenges, and to assist in disaster mitigation and humanitarian responses. (4/25)

Bill Introduced Directing NASA to Establish a Moon Base (Source: Ars Technica)
Assuming that Congressman Posey's bill could clear the full House and Senate (and survive an Obama veto), the impact may be much less than its supporters hope. As its text notes, a return to the Moon has been a Congressional priority several times before; that didn't stop Obama from dismissing it with "We've been there." And, more significantly, it clearly didn't ensure that the NASA budget was sufficient to actually accomplish that goal.

Simply stating that NASA's budget will be "consistent" with achieving it by 2020 leaves open a lot of room for different definitions of consistent, and allows the current Congress to shift the burden of finding money onto future ones, which may not be inclined to do so. Thus, on its own, the bill would accomplish nearly nothing and is sufficiently vague that it probably won't even be viewed as providing direction to NASA, at least within NASA.

And, given how contentious budget issues have been in the current Congress, any attempt to turn it into something concrete would probably make it a non-starter. (4/25)

The Ugly Truth for Constellation, and What's Next (Source: Ars Technica)
During the Bush administration, NASA was given the goal of preparing for long-duration missions in space, first to the Moon and then Mars. The Obama administration performed a detailed analysis of NASA's priorities and budget, which revealed some ugly truths: NASA didn't have the money to build the systems needed to accomplish any of this, and even if it were to get a budget infusion, the schedule was unworkable.

A commission recommended we give up on Mars, skip the Moon, and focus on developing the technology to enable long-duration space travel. The cancellations that accompanied this change of direction have not gone over well with either space enthusiasts or those who represent the districts in which some of the hardware would be built.

The new plan also has a significant risk, in that NASA would be ordered to do technology development without having a clear goal that it would use that technology to reach. Editor's Note: The "Flexible Path" approach laid out by the Augustine Panel doesn't seem to get much attention these days, especially without an established set of destinations and dates. (4/25)

NASA Solar Sail Is the 'Little Satellite That Could' (Source: AOL)
If you gaze up at the night sky on April 26 or 27, you might catch a glimpse of a promising new technology, a cult favorite of astrogeeks and something of a taxpayer treat in one shiny package -- NASA's NanoSail-D2 cruising past Earth using the power of the sun. The 100-square-foot polymer solar sail unfurled in low Earth orbit about 400 miles out on Jan. 20, winning some surprisingly enthusiastic followers.

Not bad for a little satellite that almost wasn't -- more than once. Actually, the NanoSail currently in space was not the one intended to make it off the ground. It was supposed to stay on Earth as backup for the first one. But the commercial rocket carrying it, Falcon 1, didn't separate stages properly after takeoff and crashed into the Pacific Ocean. (4/25)

FSU Law Team Wins North American Competition in Space Law (Source: FSU)
The Florida State University College of Law Moot Court Team has won the 2011 Manfred Lachs Space Law Moot Court Competition for the North American region. The competition was held April 16 in Washington, D.C., at Georgetown University Law Center. The team will represent North America in the international competition in Cape Town, South Africa, in October.

Tallahassee attorney Arthur Stern coached the team, two of whom were from Florida's Space Coast.. One of them also was named Best Oralist for the competition. Florida State defeated Georgetown in the final round of competition. The Manfred Lachs Space Law Moot Court Competition is organized annually by the International Institute of Space Law. The competition is based on a hypothetical space law dispute before the International Court of Justice. (4/25)

Editorial: Space Law Not So Far Out (Source: JournalStar.com)
When University of Nebraska officials began talking about starting a new program on space and telecommunication law, some people scratched their heads in wonderment. There was a lot of snarky comment about going to infinity and beyond, and how NU was going boldly where no university had gone before. Actually, that last part is true.

The program, which accepted its first students in 2008, remains the first and only program of its kind in the United States, and the only one worldwide taught in English, according to university officials. It seems to have found a niche. The program will graduate its third class this year. Click here to read the article. (4/25)

Funding the Seed Corn of Advanced Space Technology (Source: Space Review)
The final NASA fiscal year 2011 funding bill provided no explicit funding for space technology activities, a key element of the agency's future plans. Lou Friedman says that without such investment, it will become increasingly difficult to make new advances in robotic or human space exploration. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1832/1 to view the article. (4/25)

Commercial Crew's Final Four (Source: Space Review)
Last week NASA announced that four companies would share nearly $270 million in commercial crew development awards, the next step in efforts to develop commercial vehicles to carry astronauts to orbit. Jeff Foust reports on the outcome of the competition and whether there's room for other companies to compete later in the program. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1831/1 to view the article. (4/25)

Fifty Years of Piloted Spaceflight: Where are We Going? (Source: Space Review)
It's clear to many that, half a century after the era of human spaceflight began, we have fallen fall short of our early dreams for the exploration and settlement of space. Claude Lafleur take a look at what went wrong. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1830/1 to view the article. (4/25)

An Exercise in the Art of War (Source: Space Review)
China continues to press for a treaty banning the placement of weapons in outer space, even while developing its own ASAT capability. Michael Listner examines what may be at the root of Chinese strategy regarding space weaponization. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1828/1 to view the article. (4/25)

No Shuttle? Build One, AF Museum Backer Suggests (Source: Dayton Daily News)
Supporters of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force are suggesting that the community could get involved in helping to build the body of a space shuttle orbiter to incorporate the historic pieces that NASA intends to transfer to the museum. Mark Brown, a Dayton business executive and former shuttle astronaut, said he thinks it could be a morale booster for the community and help create excitement about the Air Force museum. He has suggested it to others, as well as museum officials. (4/25)

What Was Lost When Shuttle Missions Started to Feel Ho-Hum (Source: New York)
It is objectively no small feat, slipping the surly bonds of Earth. But somehow, over its 30 years of existence, NASA’s Space Shuttle program has become roughly as thrilling as the Delta Shuttle. Still, there’s something sad about the end of the program. It’s not so much that the program’s increasingly prosaic missions—they have amounted, in recent years, to something like space carpooling—will be missed. The sadness instead comes from the petering out of space travel’s promised transcendence.

The commonplace marvels of modern technology probably have something to do with this awe deficit—a 400-mile vertical round-trip in a less-than-sleek 1992-model vehicle may not seem as miraculous as it did in a time before one could, if booked on the right airline, stream Parks and Recreation onto an iPad mid-flight. The Shuttle program’s geopolitical moment has passed, too.

We’re no longer going to space to prove that our way of life is superior to an evil empire’s; instead, we’re going up there to do some repairs, drop off a magnetic spectrometer, and see the sights. And with deficits suddenly the Greatest Threat Our Nation Has Ever Faced, such errands now stand out as a sore thumb of a line item. (4/25)

Interview: Elon Musk (Source: Newsweek)
The electric-car (and space travel) pioneer and space prophet talks about his Hollywood reputation and why so many billionaires have intergalactic fantasies. Click here. (4/25)

TED Talk: Jeff Greason (Source: TED)
XCOR Aerospace's Jeff Greason talks about Making Space Pay and Having Fun Doing It! Click here to see the video. (4/25)

ATK Received $57 Million Contract from Orbital for Taurus II Second Stage (Source: ATK)
ATK was awarded a $57 million contract to provide the CASTOR 30XL as an upgraded second stage motor for Orbital Science Corp.'s Taurus II commercial launch vehicle, which will supply cargo for NASA to the International Space Station. The first two test flights of the Taurus II will use the original CASTOR 30A configuration, the next two flights will use a higher-performing CASTOR 30B motor, while the CASTOR 30XL will be used after the first four flights. (4/25)

Russia Prepares to Launch Space Freighter to Orbital Station (Source: RIA Novosti)
A Soyuz-U carrier rocket with the Progress M-10M cargo spacecraft has been transferred to a launch pad at the Baikonur Space Center in Kazakhstan in preparation for the April 27 launch, Russia's Federal Space Agency said on Monday. The Progress M-10M will deliver 2.5 tons of fuel and food supplies to the International Space Station (ISS). (4/25)

Lompoc Approves Agreement for California Space Center (Source: CSA)
The Lompoc City Council, in a vote of 5 to 0, approved an Exclusive Negotiation Agreement (ENA) between the City and CSA on April 19 for the California Space Center. The ENA allows the City and CSA to enter into formal negotiations expected to result in either the lease or purchase of a 96-acre site adjacent to Allan Hancock College which has sweeping views of launches at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Under terms of the ENA, CSA must provide the City with documents such as a revised master plan, pro forma, letters of intent from tenants, and evidence of financing.

In order to obtain a lease, CSA must (1) complete the state environmental process, (2) obtain city permits, and (3) request a change in zoning for the site. These processes will occur in parallel and are expected to be completed in 12 months or less. The City of Lompoc will serve as the lead agency for the environmental process, which is estimated to take 5 to 12 months. This compares to a 3 to 10 year process at the Air Force site. Upon completion of the environmental process, construction of the Center could begin.

Benefits of the Lompoc site include access to existing utilities, proximity to the college and its classrooms, as well as inclusion of an existing park with playground and picnic area. A final decision regarding relocation of the Center to the Lompoc site will be made by the CSA Board of Directors. (4/22)

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