May 13, 2011

Big US-Euro Divide on Commercial Spaceflight Regulations (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The United States and Europe are taking very different approaches to regulating the emerging commercial human spaceflight industry, a divergence that could cause headaches for spacecraft operators forced to operate in very different regulatory environments. The European Aviation Safety Administration (EASA) plans to certify winged vehicles that will fly into space under its authority to regulate aircraft.The FAA is taking a less strict approach of licensing vehicle launches without a costly certification process.

According to EASA’s regulations: “An aircraft is ‘any machine that can derive support in the atmosphere from the reactions of the air other than the reactions of the air against the earth’s surface.’ Thus, Suborbital Aeroplanes (SoA) generating aerodynamic lift during the atmospheric part of their flight are considered to be aircraft.”

Certifying aircraft is an expensive and time consuming process that many commercial space operators would like to avoid during the formative period of the industry. The FAA agrees and has adopted a “learn as you go” approach in which it would issue launch licenses to commercial operators but not certify their vehicles. The agency believes that early regulatory decisions by the government could hinder the development of the industry. Commercial operators would fly for a number of years before the FAA would formulate stricter regulations based on the experience gained. (5/13)

An Outer Space Imponderable: How Much Should Satellites Cost? (Source: National Defense)
At U.S. Air Force headquarters, civilian budget specialists and blue-suited officers are about to complete an in-depth green eyeshade examination of space programs. In Pentagon parlance, they are conducting a “should cost” review. All we know for certain is that space systems cost too much.

Weapon acquisitions chief Ashton Carter said recently that the Pentagon is overpaying for satellites and launch vehicles, and that every program office has been directed to rein in costs. When Defense Secretary Robert Gates terminated the “transformational satellite,” or TSAT, program two years ago, the decision was viewed as a tipping point for out-of-control space programs that were chronically behind schedule and always seem to require additional billions of dollars.

With no TSAT, or any sign of a replacement on the horizon, the Air Force is trying to salvage two key constellations — the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) classified communication satellites, and the Space Based Infrared (SBIRS) surveillance satellites. A rigorous “should cost” review is now under way, Erin Conaton, undersecretary of the Air Force, said May 11. The review primarily targets AEHF, SBIRS and the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV). (5/12)

USAF Test Launch Targets Broader Market (Source: Aviation Week)
The U.S. Air Force is crafting a plan to stimulate competition to break the virtual monopoly held by the United Launch Alliance’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle product family, even as USAF studies ways to reduce EELV cost. Among the competition initiatives is a test launch for companies seeking to break into the defense launch market.

Maj. Gen. John Hyten, director of space programs for the Air Force acquisition office, says the service has requested $135 million in the fiscal 2012 budget plan to fund competition for launch of NASA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory (Dscovr) satellite (formerly called Triana) as a flight test for a new launch provider. SpaceX Falcon 9 would be an appropriate launch vehicle for a satellite of its size. (5/12)

SFF and Heinlein Prize Trust Announce NewSpace Business Plan Prize (Source: SpaceRef)
The Space Frontier Foundation (SFF) will host the NewSpace Business Plan Competition during its NewSpace 2011 Conference and is currently accepting submissions. The goal is to help entrepreneurs develop problem-solving and game-changing technologies into functioning businesses in support of the commercial space industry. The conference will be held at Ames Research Center on July 28-30. Visit (5/12)

FAA’s Babbitt: Safety First in Commercial Spaceflight (Source: Parabolic Arc)
“The FAA’s role is also critical – ensuring safety. We’ve set the safety bar very high and the commercial air transportation industry has met it. We still have room for improvement and I am confident everyone here is ready and willing to do the work… The FAA will work with other agencies and with industry to accommodate and facilitate growth in commercial space – but we will continue to put safety first. Period.” (5/12)

Could Atmospheric Hydrogen Incubate Alien Life? (Source: Discovery)
From our understanding about how life forms, and thrives, astronomers know that our planet exists within a solar system "sweet spot" where the distance from the sun is not too cold and not too hot. Central to our sun's "habitable zone" is that liquid water can persist on the surface of the Earth -- and possibly Mars, in the past, when its atmosphere was a tad thicker.

As we discover more and more exoplanets orbiting their host stars, each star with their specific habitable zone (depending on how much energy they pump out), we can hypothesize that alien life may be able to survive, assuming the presence of liquid water, if the exoplanets orbit within their specific habitable zones.

But what if an exoplanet has an atmosphere that could trap the heat from a star, keeping water in a liquid form, beyond the habitable zone? A hydrogen atmosphere blanketing an exoplanet may be very efficient at boosting the greenhouse effect of that world, thus storing the meagre heat from a host star at distances beyond that star's habitable zone. (5/12)

'Dwarf Planet' is Covered in Crystal Ice (Source: AFP)
A bizarre mini-planet that orbits the Sun in deep space is covered with crystallised water, European astronomers reported on Thursday. Around 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles) long, the "dwarf planet" of Haumea lurks in the Kuiper Belt, which comprises rocks that move in a lonely orbit beyond Neptune. Haumea, named after a Hawaiian goddess of fertility and childbirth, was discovered in 2004 but detailed views of it are very rare and even now its precise orbit and size are unknown. (5/12)

Meteor Likely Caused Mysterious Boom Over Virginia (Source: WAVY)
Virginia Beach is a city full of sound. Waves crash at the Oceanfront and fighter jets scream overhead. However, a boom Tuesday night caught hundreds of normally unfazed residents from Virginia Beach to the Eastern Shore completely off-guard. "It shook my house," said one man. (5/12)

Space Agency Won't Say if Ottawa Will Get Canadarm (Source: CTV)
The Canadian Space Agency denies it has already decided to send the original Canadarm to a federally run museum in Ottawa after its final flight on board a U.S. shuttle. The Canadian Press reported on Wednesday that the giant space arm's first stop after it is removed from the shuttle Endeavour will be the CSA's headquarters near Montreal.

Stephen Quick, director general of the Ottawa museum, told the news agency the giant robotic marvel will eventually be headed his way to the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. Robert Godwin, curator of Toronto's privately run Canadian Air and Space Museum, also said the decision to send the first Canadarm to Ottawa has already been made. (5/12)

JPL Facility has Built Famed Spacecraft for 50 Years (Source: JPL)
See it at JPL Open House May 14 and 15. The Spacecraft Assembly Facility of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., was constructed in 1961 to support NASA's Ranger and Mariner missions to the moon, Venus and Mars. America had entered the Space Age just three years earlier, with the launch of the JPL-built Explorer 1 spacecraft.

The Spacecraft Assembly Facility, also known as JPL Building 179, originally had just one high bay, the large chamber now named High Bay 1. It is about 80 feet by 120 feet (about 24 by 36 meters). In contrast to the cleanliness standards for spacecraft assembly today, in the early days of the facility, personnel were even permitted to smoke inside this high bay. (5/12)

NASA's Galileo Reveals Magma 'Ocean' Beneath Surface of Jupiter's Moon (Source: UCLA)
A new analysis of data from NASA's Galileo spacecraft has revealed that beneath the surface of Jupiter's volcanic moon Io is an "ocean" of molten or partially molten magma. The finding is the first direct confirmation of such a magma layer on Io and explains why the moon is the most volcanic object known in the solar system. The research was conducted by scientists from UCLA, UC Santa Cruz and the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor. (5/12)

India to Launch French Satellite in 2012 (Source: Business Standard)
Continuing its program of commercial launch of foreign satellites, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has lined up launch of an image capturing satellite of France next year. “Because of our cost effective technology, many developed nations, including France and the US are willing to launch their satellites with our system," said an ISRO official.

The French satellite SPOT (Satellite Pour l'observation de la Terre) is a high-resolution, optical imaging, earth observation satellite system. Currently SPOT 5 is working in the space and is expected to be withdrawn by the end of 2013. India will launch the SPOT 6 satellite, which will provide continuous high definition images of earth. (5/12)

Inmarsat Secures Ex-Im Backing for Global Xpress (Source: Space News)
Mobile satellite services operator Inmarsat on May 12 announced it had signed a loan agreement with the U.S. Export-Import bank providing for up to $700 million for its Global Xpress Ka-band satellite system. London-based Inmarsat said the U.S. export-credit agency has agreed to a four-year drawdown that will be followed by an 8.5-year payback in equal installments at a fixed interest rate that was not disclosed. (5/12)

Cypriot Firm Sues To Halt NASA Satellite Launch from California (Source: Space News)
An offshore private equity firm that lost a bundle on Argentine bonds has asked a U.S. judge to halt the launch of a joint U.S.-Argentine satellite slated to lift off next month from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. In a lawsuit filed April 25, NML Capital Ltd. is seeking to impound the SAC-D/Aquarius satellite, currently undergoing final tests and preparation for launch at Vandenberg, until it obtains financial redress from the Argentine government, which allegedly owes some $1.5 billion to the Cypress-based private equity firm. (5/12)

What's 96 Percent of the Universe Made Of? Astronomers Don't Know (Source:
All the stars, planets and galaxies that can be seen today make up just 4 percent of the universe. The other 96 percent is made of stuff astronomers can't see, detect or even comprehend. These mysterious substances are called dark energy and dark matter. Astronomers infer their existence based on their gravitational influence on what little bits of the universe can be seen, but dark matter and energy themselves continue to elude all detection.

"The overwhelming majority of the universe is: who knows?" explains science writer Richard Panek, who spoke about these oddities of our universe on Monday (May 9) at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY) here in Manhattan. "It's unknown for now, and possibly forever." (5/12)

Washington Worries China Will Challenge U.S. Dominance in Space (Source:
U.S. power brokers aren't sure how to handle China's rapidly expanding space capabilities, according to testimony at a congressional hearing yesterday (May 11). At a hearing on "The Implications of China's Military and Civil Space Programs," a range of experts discussed what China's growing space capabilities might mean for the United States.

While opinions and viewpoints varied, a few key themes emerged, including the need to engage with China to better understand just what the nation hopes to achieve in space. The White House has recently stated a willingness to work with China on expensive, difficult space projects, such as a manned mission to Mars. Sen. Wolf thinks this is a bad idea, citing the potential threat China poses as well as its abysmal human-rights record.

"The U.S. has no business cooperating with the PLA to help develop its space program," said Wolf. However, other panelists cited the possible benefits to the United States of such cooperation, which range from expanding opportunities for American businesses to increasing space security. If the U.S. thinks China can become a "normal" spacefaring country, keen to exploit space commercially, collaboration is probably a good idea, according to one official. (5/12)

Docking, Extended Space Missions Up Next for China (Source:
China is finishing up testing on two large unmanned spacecraft scheduled to blast off later this year for the country's first in-orbit docking demonstration. The docking experiment is a key step in China's aggressive plan to field a massive space station the size of NASA's Skylab research platform by 2020.

China released fresh details on the space station program in April, calling for public suggestions on names for the complex, its three modules and a cargo resupply spaceship. The space station would weigh more than 130,000 pounds. Its core module would stretch nearly 60 feet long, then two experiment modules would blast off and join together to form the complex in orbit. (5/13)

Physics Cuts Will Damage UK Competitiveness, MPs Warn (Source: BBC)
Deep funding cuts could put the UK's prominence in astronomy and particle physics at risk, MPs have said. The Science and Technology Committee says astronomy funding will fall by 20% over four years - the science budget's average real-terms cut was 14.5%. The MPs say some of the resulting cuts are likely to deter leading scientists from working in the UK.

The government says it has protected the science budget but cannot make individual funding decisions. Committee chairman Labour MP Andrew Miller said: "If you don't invest in big science at the level it needs, it's going to have a big impact on our competitiveness and pre-eminence in areas that are important to the country." (5/13)

EADS Swings to Net Loss But Operating Profit Rises (Source: Market Watch)
European aerospace and defense giant EADS Friday posted an unexpected first-quarter loss, hit by lower deliveries and currency hedges. In the three months to the end of March, EADS FR:EAD +4.74% recorded a net loss of 12 million euros ($17 million), compared to a profit of €103 million in the year-earlier period. (5/13)

EADS Astrium Announces Work Force Reductions (Source: Space News)
Europe’s Astrium space hardware and services company plans to reduce its work force by 1,000 full-time employees and 1,000 subcontractors to realize more than 400 million euros ($560 million) in annual savings as it seeks to boost efficiency. EADS Chief Financial Officer Hans Peter Ring said Astrium’s internal transformation program, called Agile, is well under way and designed to prepare the company for “a challenging competitive environment.” (5/13)

NASA's Next Goal: Mars, Titan or Comet? (Source: TIME)
You can think of NASA's Discovery program as a sort of outer-space American Idol: every few years the agency invites scientists to propose unmanned planetary missions. The projects have to address some sort of fundamental science question, and (this is the tough part) they have to be relatively cheap to pull off — say, half a billion dollars or so. Then the proposals go through a grueling competition before judges who aren't as nasty as Simon Cowell but who are every bit as tough.

The one left standing at the end gets the equivalent of a recording contract: NASA supplies the funding and the launch vehicle, and away the winner goes — to orbit Mercury, as the Messenger spacecraft is doing right now; or to rendezvous with a couple of asteroids, as the Dawn mission will start doing this July; or to smash into a comet on purpose, a feat achieved by Deep Impact in 2005, a mission not to be confused with the movie of the same name. (5/13)

Canada: Space Program Not Grounded (Source: Montreal Gazette)
As the NASA Space Shuttle - the symbol of manned space exploration for the past three decades - nears retirement this summer, Canada's astronauts are confident there is still a bright future for them among the stars. Jeremy Hansen, one of the Canadian Space Agency's two newest recruits, is adamant that the end of the Space Shuttle program doesn't mean Canadian astronauts should temper their ambitions of exploring space.

"I think we're all going to be surprised about the space flight opportunities that we have coming up in the future," said the former Canadian Forces fighter pilot. "Maybe it's in five years, maybe it's in 15. But we're going to make some enormous strides." (5/13)

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