April 5, 2011

Falcon Heavy Caters to Military Customer With California Launch (Source: SPACErePORT)
Smart move by SpaceX to plan its first Falcon Heavy mission from Vandenberg in California. In addition to meeting future NASA needs, the company is fielding the new rocket to compete for DOD business that currently goes solely to United Launch Alliance with their Delta-4 and Atlas-5 rockets. To meet its goal of becoming part of the Air Force's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program, SpaceX must establish a West Coast (polar orbit) launch capability, and prove the new rocket works. The Vandenberg launch plan becomes a driver for both of these objectives.

Meanwhile, the Vandenberg launch frees up SpaceX's LC-40 launch site at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport for at least eight upcoming Falcon-9 (medium-lift) missions scheduled prior to the 2012 Falcon Heavy debut. The California plan also gives SpaceX and NASA more time to determine how and from where SpaceX might handle Falcon-9 and Falcon Heavy missions for NASA at the Cape. LC-40 may not be the best location, given the size and infrastructure requirements for Falcon Heavy and crew-carrying Dragon capsules. One of the Space Shuttle's launch pads could be used instead. (4/5)

SpaceX Announces Launch Date for the World's Most Powerful Rocket (Source: SpaceX)
Elon Musk, CEO and chief rocket designer of SpaceX, unveiled the dramatic final specifications and launch date for the Falcon Heavy, the world’s largest rocket. “Falcon Heavy will carry more payload to orbit or escape velocity than any vehicle in history, apart from the Saturn V moon rocket. This opens a new world of capability for both government and commercial space missions,” Musk said.

"Falcon Heavy will arrive at our Vandenberg, California, launch complex by the end of next year, with liftoff to follow soon thereafter. First launch from our Cape Canaveral launch complex is planned for late 2013 or 2014.” With the ability to carry satellites or interplanetary spacecraft weighing over 53 metric tons (117,000 lb) to Low Earth Orbit (LEO), Falcon Heavy can lift nearly twice the payload of the next closest vehicle, the US Space Shuttle, and more than twice the payload of the Delta IV Heavy. Click here to see the video. (4/5)

Space Florida Comments on SpaceX Plans for Falcon Heavy (Source: Space Florida)
Today’s announcement by SpaceX is extremely exciting for the U.S. space industry and our competitiveness in the global marketplace. The Falcon Heavy will offer more payload lift capability (for a more aggressive price) than any other launch vehicle currently operating globally. This certainly gives the U.S. an edge. This announcement holds significant promise for Florida as well, with many of the post-demonstration Falcon Heavy launches being planned from the Cape. We look forward to working with SpaceX to help them accommodate their growth in Florida in the coming months and years. (4/5)

Space Talk on Colbert Report (Source: Comedy Central)
Author Andrew Chaikin explains to Stephen Colbert why humans need to follow in the footsteps of their robotic emissaries and travel to Mars. Click here to see the clip. (4/5)

Former Gov. Bob Graham Comments on New Florida Agenda (Source: St. Pete Times)
Florida should get serious about attracting the technology industries which are shaping and will shape the world's future. This will require a dual strategy: a renewed commitment to the protection of our competitive edge — Florida's environment — and building a world-class preschool-through-graduate school education system. The states which have benefited most by technology industries — such as North Carolina and Virginia — have done so not by selling themselves as the cheapest places to do business but rather as states that have built the infrastructure and the educational institutions which will most help businesses achieve sustained profitability.

In addition to a potential return to the Florida as a commodity policy of the early 20th century, this Legislature is on course to erase decades of investment and progress in education. Hopefully the Legislature will reject a proposal of a 10 percent per student cut in primary and secondary schools. Less likely is a change in the downward trajectory of support for higher education. Editor's Note: Graham, a former Florida Governor and U.S. Senator, will speak at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University's Daytona Beach campus on April 15 at 7:00 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. (4/5)

No Worries for Zero-G with Florida-Based Weightless Flights (Source: SPACErePORT)
Airframe fatigue issues that have grounded many of the nation's older-model 737 jets are no problem for Zero-G and its modified 727 aircraft. The company has three Florida-based tourism flights on its manifest through the fall of 2011, including two from the Space Coast (Apr. 30 and Aug. 20) and one from Miami (Aug. 27). Meanwhile, the company continues to serve NASA, university, and corporate microgravity research and training needs with flights from Houston and other locations. Visit GoZeroG.com for information and reservations. (4/5)

Russia Speeds Up Space Mission Plans as U.S. May Cut Spending (Source: Bloomberg)
Russia may accelerate planned missions to the moon and Mars as it seeks to maintain its lead over China in space exploration and close the gap with the U.S. Russia may start manned flights to the moon by the end of the decade, 10 years earlier than previously planned, and establish a base there by 2030, according to Russia’s Roscosmos space agency. Russia may also send a man to Mars by 2040.

“It is the first time that the government has allocated decent financing to us,” Anatoly Perminov, head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, said in a phone interview on April 2. The agency’s $3.5 billion budget for 2011 has almost tripled since 2007, reaching the highest since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. “We can now advance on all themes a bit,” Perminov said. (4/5)

EU Space Policy Document Calls for Dialogue with China (Source: Space News)
The European Commission on April 4 said Europe should open a broad dialogue with China on space and toughen its industrial policy to assure European independence in critical space technologies. The dialogue with China should be structured along lines similar to regular space policy consultations that the European Union (EU) has with the United States and Russia, the commission said in a document on space policy.

But in a reference to an ongoing dispute with China over frequencies to be used by European and Chinese positioning, navigation and timing satellite systems, the commission said it will “seek constructive solutions to issues of cooperation and sharing open frequencies in the field of satellite navigation.”

China has decided to place its encrypted, government-only navigation service on a section of radio spectrum that overlaps with Europe’s planned quasi-military service. Neither China nor the European Union is violating international regulations on broadcast interference by stepping on each other’s frequencies, because no broadcast interference will result. But the overlap means that neither China nor Europe could jam the other’s encrypted signals in a time of conflict without also jamming its own. (4/5)

Short-Term Spending Bill Would Trim $139 Million from NASA (Source: Space News)
NASA could lose $139 million in funding this year if Congress adopts a short-term spending bill introduced by the U.S. House of Representatives April 4 to keep the government operating through mid-April. The proposal, which includes $12 billion in proposed reductions to discretionary spending in 2011 and would fund DOD through the remainder of the fiscal year, would trim NASA’s space shuttle program by nearly $100 million below the 2010 appropriated level of $6.14 billion. Another $40 million cut would come from the agency’s construction and environmental compliance account, for which Congress appropriated $448 million last year. (4/5)

NASA Orders Station Astronauts To Seek Shelter as Chinese Space Junk Approaches (Source: WFTV)
A small piece of space junk is drifting dangerously close to the International Space Station. NASA has ordered the three station astronauts to seek shelter late Tuesday afternoon in the Russian Soyuz capsule that is docked at the orbiting complex. A NASA spokesman says there's no time to steer the station out of harm's way. The debris is from a Chinese satellite that was deliberately destroyed in 2007 as part of a weapons test. It's projected to pass within a couple miles of the space station. (4/5)

Space Debris No Threat to Station (Source: NASA)
Tracking data now indicates that a piece of orbital debris being monitored by Mission Control Houston will not pass close enough to the International Space Station to warrant the Expedition 27 crew members taking safe haven within their Soyuz TMA-20 spacecraft. Mission Control gave the crew the all-clear at 2:41 p.m. EDT as the space station orbited 220 miles above eastern Asia. (4/5)

Rising Launch Costs Could Curtail NASA Science Missions (Source: SpaceFlightNow)
Already faced with a potentially flat budget over the next half-decade, scientists and managers overseeing NASA's robotic science probes worry rising and volatile rocket launch prices could further limit the agency's ability to explore the solar system and maintain crucial climate research. Rising launch costs could claim a larger slice of a mission's budget, increasing the price of projects geared for planetary science, astrophysics and Earth observations, according to senior NASA officials.

With the federal government's spotlight on spending cuts, it isn't likely NASA will get a budget boost to offset the launch costs, which experts say are triggered by inefficient rocket buying practices, an eroding commercial market, and uncertainty about the future of the space program. That leaves NASA with just one option: fly fewer missions.

NASA uses a fleet of launch vehicles to deploy satellites. The agency often selects the United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 booster to launch solar system missions and large climate research spacecraft. But the Atlas 5 is overkill for many small and medium-class NASA spacecraft, unnecessarily raising the overall cost of missions. The phasing out of the smaller and less expensive Delta 2 rocket leaves NASA with no other proven launch vehicles for those probes. Click here. (4/5)

CSF Responds to Recent Aerospace Corp. Paper on NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (Source: CSF)
The Commercial Spaceflight Federation released a statement in response to an Aerospace Corporation White Paper on the business case of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The paper, titled “The Financial Feasibility and a Reliability Based Acquisition Approach for Commercial Crew,” is viewed by CSF as being inaccurate in various ways. Click here to read CSF's rebuke of the paper's findings. (4/5)

For Some Entrepreneurs, Moon Is Money (Source: GigaOM)
When I received an email from Dr. Barney Pell, founder of Powerset, a search startup that was acquired by Microsoft for $100 million in July 2008, I was incredulous. Pell and his two co-founders, Naveen Jain (Infospace) and Dr. Robert (Bob) Richards have started a new company called Moon Express to develop a space vehicle that will allow the company to tap into mineral resources on the lunar surface. The trio met as members of the board of Singularity University, which is based in the NASA Ames campus in Silicon Valley.

A year ago, they started the company with some initial funding from Pell and Jain, but they have since raised a little bit of angel funding. With seven full-time employees and a handful of contractors, the company isn’t looking for big round of funding just yet. It is all in the future, Pell said. Pell spent a large portion of his working life at NASA before leaving to work in Silicon Valley. He worked on projects for the Mars Exploration Rover mission along with several other projects related to autonomous systems.

For now the company has a contract from NASA worth up to $10 million “for the initial delivery order of the ‘Innovative Lunar Demonstration Data (ILDD)’ program.” The company is competing in the $30 million Google Lunar X PRIZE, “a competition to place a robot on the Moon’s surface that travels 500 meters and transmits high definition video, images and data back to Earth.” Click here to read the article. (4/5)

Russia And US To Discuss Nuke-Powered Spaceship Project (Source: Space Daily)
Russia's Federal Space Agency Roscosmos and NASA will discuss the development of a nuclear-powered spaceship on April 15, agency director Anatoly Perminov said. Not only the United States, but also "countries with a high level of reactor manufacturing technology" are to take part in the project, he said. China, France, Germany and Japan also have the technology to produce nuclear reactors.

A nuclear engine design is to be completed by 2012, while the project's implementation will require 17 billion rubles ($600 million). Most of the funding will come from Russian state-run nuclear corporation Rosatom, Perminov said. He said last year, nuclear engines for spaceships were a very promising area and should be created to make flights to Mars and other planets. (4/5)

Italy's SpaceLand Plans Astronaut Training Experience (Source: SpaceLand)
Italy's SpaceLand group plans a Jun. 5 Open Space Training Day at the European Space Center. The activity is open for the general public from ages 12 to 95. Included will be practice of Space Shuttle maneuvers, microgravity-procedures with brand new electro-hydraulic training facilities and several other typical astronaut selection tests, including man-rated centrifuges and tests in space habitat mockups. International visitors, students, scientists and space tourists will have their chance to qualify to become candidates for two SpaceLand's OPEN Lunar-gravity R&D and educational flight missions slated respectively for end of June and September at Star City in Moscow. Visit http://www.SpaceLand.it for information. (4/5)

Florida Seen as Leading Contender for 1 of 3 Shuttles (Source: Dayton Daily News)
Kennedy Space Center, site of all space shuttle launches during the program’s 30-year history, wants to be a permanent home for display of one of the orbiters. The KSC Visitor Complex, operated by a private company under contract to NASA, has a plan for an eye-catching horizontal display of the shuttle, with payload doors open, appearing to be in flight against a black backdrop. It is envisioned as a highlight attraction at what is already a tourist mecca on Florida’s Space Coast and longstanding home to much of the shuttle program’s workforce.

Rob Varley, executive director of Florida’s Space Coast Office of Tourism, had publicly complained last year that Florida wasn’t doing enough to lobby for a shuttle. But he thinks Delaware North’s proposal is solid and shows that his region is better organized now in its push. “They’ve got all that ready to go, so we feel pretty comfortable,” Varley said. (4/5)

Air Force Programs Face Scrutiny Amid Sweeping Spending Cuts (Source: AIA)
A $718 million request to modernize the F-22 Raptor is among numerous Air Force programs that could face scrutiny as Congress debates the fiscal 2012 budget request. The Government Accountability Office recently said the Air Force was the strongest driver of cost overruns in the Defense Department, making both high- and low-end programs fair game as lawmakers consider cuts. (4/4)

House Not Expected to Propose Major Defense Budget Cuts (Source: AIA)
House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., was due to release his response to the president's 2012 budget request April 5, and lawmakers say they don't expect it to contain any dramatic cuts in defense spending. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-A, said he expects to see a proposal close to President Barack Obama's $553 billion. McKeon said he would like to see $7 billion added to the request. (4/5)

Twin Launch Delays at Spaceport America (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
This week started off with the re-scheduling of our Student Launch for May 20. The drop test of a new system to pull out the parachute was necessary, and while the test was successful, some flight hardware was damaged, and we had to reschedule. The "Stig" launch was the second of two launches scheduled at Spaceport America last week. Mine was scheduled for Friday, Apr. 1, the Stig launch was scheduled for Apr. 2. We did not witness a launch on Saturday. That's two for two last week. But I did see steeled focus, a skilled, perfectly coordinated team working, problem solving, and a team focused on the next horizon. Armadillo plans to operate from Spaceport America eventually. That would bring the number of companies flying out of Spaceport America to three, Virgin Galactic, UP Aerospace, and hopefully, Armadillo Aerospace. (4/5)

Soyuz Carries Crew to Space Station (Source: NASA)
NASA astronaut Ron Garan and Russian cosmonauts Andrey Borisenko and Alexander Samokutyaev launched in their Soyuz TMA-21 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 6:18 p.m. EDT Monday (4:18 a.m. Tuesday, Kazakhstan time) beginning a two-day journey to the International Space Station. Their Soyuz, named for Yuri Gagarin, lifted off just one week shy of the 50th anniversary of Gagarin’s historic journey into space from that same launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Less than 10 minutes after launch, their spacecraft reached orbit and its antennas and solar arrays were deployed. (4/5)

Virginia Spaceport Authority Gets State Revenue Stream (Source: Spaceports Blog)
Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell signed into law a bill to earmark any human space flight or human space flight training generated state income tax revenue to the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority. The law is expected to become effective July 1 for tax years 2011-2015. Space Adventures is expected to resume commercial space flights on the Soyuz to the ISS in 2013-2014 and, perhaps, enlist two lunar space tourists for a $300-million flight around the Moon in 2015. The 6% state income tax rate paid by Space Adventures to Virginia would be promptly directed to the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority for spaceport infrastructure. (4/5)

Eastern Shore to Host Briefing on Wallops Launches (Source: Virginian Pilot)
Tourism officials from the Mid-Atlantic will attend a luncheon on the Eastern Shore on Tuesday to hear the latest on upcoming launches from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. Nearly 50 tourism officials will be briefed on upcoming ventures, including a U.S. Department of Defense ORS-1 satellite launch from the spaceport and the first launch of Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Taurus II vehicle later this year. The luncheon will will include officials from the Defense Department, Goodrich ISR Systems and ATK. (4/5)

Oklahoma Governor Signs Aerospace Incentive Bill (Source: AP)
New Republican Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill on Monday designed to lure more aerospace companies to Oklahoma by offering tax credits for salaries paid to qualified engineers. The measure, which is projected to cost the state nearly $6 million in its first year, allows companies to be reimbursed up to 10 percent of the salary paid to qualified engineers for up to five years if the engineer graduated from a university in Oklahoma. The reimbursement is 5 percent if the engineer graduated from a school outside of the state.

The measure also provides a tax credit for 50 percent of the tuition cost of an employee who attends a qualified engineering program at a public institution in Oklahoma. A spokesman for Boeing, which last year announced it was moving 550 aerospace jobs from California to Oklahoma City, said he's already been contacted by lawmakers from several states looking to enact similar tax incentives. "This is the only piece of legislation like it in the country," said Boeing spokesman Steve Hendrickson. (4/5)

Changes Ahead for Oklahoma Spaceport (Source: AP)
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin has proposed eliminating about $424,000 in state funding for the Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority, a state agency created to help develop a spaceport facility, launch systems and other space-industry projects at Burns Flat, a licensed spaceport in western Oklahoma. Fallin said Monday that while she supports the agency's mission, she believes it would be more efficient to merge the operations with the Department of Commerce or the Aeronautics Commission.

"I'm actually working with our legislators and Department of Commerce on further continuing to market that facility, but yet also trying to figure out how we can have shared resources as it relates to the aerospace industry and especially (the Space Industry Development Authority)," Fallin said. (4/5)

Black-Market Trinkets From Space (Source: New York Times)
Ebay and other Web sites pulse with hundreds of sales pitches. “The pieces below have an exceptional patina,” a site called Star-bits.com said of 10 pictured fragments. The ads are for chunks of meteorites, bits of asteroids that have fallen from the sky and are as prized by scientists as they are by collectors. As more meteorites have been discovered in recent years, interest in them has flourished and an illegal sales market has boomed — much to the dismay of the people who want to study them and the countries that consider them national treasures.

“It’s a black market,” said Ralph P. Harvey, a geologist who directs the federal search for meteorites in Antarctica. “It’s as organized as any drug trade and just as illegal.” The discovery of a rich and historically significant meteorite crater in southern Egypt, just north of the Sudanese border, has shown the voracious appetite for new fragments. Just as scientists appeared to be on the cusp of decrypting the evidence to solve an ancient puzzle, looters plundered the desolate site, and the political chaos in Egypt seems to ensure that the scientists will not be going back anytime soon. (4/5)

Local Pols, Shuttle Families Rally to Bring Orbiter to Houston (Source: Houston Chronicle)
We're now just eight days from when NASA administrator Charles Bolden will announce (April 12) which museums will receive space shuttles when the fleet is retired this summer. Stewart Powell and I have reported that Houston will likely be snubbed as part of the decision process, with Discovery, Endeavour and Atlantis landing elsewhere. Nevertheless Houston's representatives in Congress as well as local officials are making a last-minute bid to change Bolden's mind. As part of that Mayor Annise Parker, Judge Ed Emmett and surviving Columbia and Challenger family members will hold a rally at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday in front of city hall. (4/5)

Entrepreneur Raising Funds to Build Spaceport in Canada (Source: All Voices)
Entrepreneur, Redouane Al Fakir, Director of Space Launch Canada, is embarked on a fund raising campaign to build a spaceport on Vancouver Island. He's eyeing a site near Tofino or Ucluelet on the west coast of the island. Al Fakir has a phD from UBC, Vancouver, in astrophysics. He is touting the idea of a spaceport in Canada as a cost saving measure. Currently Canada must pay other countries when we wish to launch a satellite. The best cost figure that I can find for this adventure is around $100 million.

It is unclear at this time how a spaceport would impact on its surroundings. Al Fakir is vague on where rocket fuel would be tested and how it would be transported to the Island. Rocket fuel would be considered dangerous cargo and not allowed to be transported on the BC Ferry system. (4/5)

Prince William and Kate Middleton vs. Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly (Source: ABC)
Astronaut Mark Kelly and his wife, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, have never met Prince William and his bride, Kate Middleton -- but they may well meet in the headlines on April 29. A delay by NASA means the launch of the space shuttle Endeavour, commanded by Capt. Kelly, is now scheduled for the same day as the royal wedding. If the wedding and the shuttle launch coincide, can the world enjoy two headline stories in one day? Can't the shuttle launch move up a little? Can't the wedding countdown go into a 24-hour hold? (4/5)

Fire Slows Dark Matter Search (Source: New Scientist)
Neutrino and dark matter experiments in a former iron mine in Minnesota have escaped serious harm from a fire, but damage to laboratory infrastructure means it will take at least a few more weeks to get them running again. Sparks created during maintenance work on the Soudan Underground Laboratory started a fire on 17 March. Firefighters quickly put it out by injecting foam and water into the mine shaft, where the fire was located. But it was not immediately clear how much damage had been done to the experiments. (4/5)

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