October 19, 2011

Russian Proton Launches U.S. Communications Satellite (Source: RIA Novosti)
A Proton-M carrier rocket carrying the U.S. ViaSat-1 communications satellite was launched from the Baikonur Space Center in Kazakhstan on Wednesday. ViaSat in January said the satellite launch would be delayed for several months due to a fault during a test on the satellite. The launch was originally scheduled for mid-May. (10/19)

U.S. Lawmakers Decry High Cost of Launching Spy Satellites (Source: Space News)
The top two members of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee on Oct. 19 said U.S. launch costs must come down to help the United States maintain its intelligence-gathering capability during a time of reduced budgets. Reps. Mike Rogers (R-MI) and Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) — respectively the chairman and ranking minority member of the committee — also said U.S. intelligence analysis will need to use fewer, but better-equipped and trained, image analysts.

“If it takes 14 analysts to analyze one [satellite orbit] around the world, well, let’s see if we can do it with 12, or 10,” Rogers said. “Let’s make it so that today’s analyst can be more efficient than the analyst that came before him.” (10/18)

Space Tourism Gaining Momentum (Source: Space Daily)
The space tourism industry, despite a slow start amid speculation and doubts, is gaining momentum, an industry conference in New Mexico heard. Leaders of the commercial spaceflight industry along with officials from NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration were gathering in Las Cruces this week for the seventh annual International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight. "I'm very bullish on the market. We're seeing a lot of activity," said George Nield, associate administrator for commercial space transportation at the FAA. "We're also seeing a real maturity in the industry itself." (10/19)

Astronomers Spot Birth Of Alien Planet for First Time (Source: Space.com)
Astronomers have photographed the youngest exoplanet ever found, spotting the alien world as it is still forming out of the dusty disk around its parent star, a new study reports. Researchers used Hawaii's Keck Observatory to capture the first direct images of a planet in the process of forming around its star. The newly born object, which astronomers are calling LkCa 15 b, appears to be a hot "protoplanet" that is sucking up a surrounding swath of cooler dust and gas. (10/19)

China Will Own the Moon, Space Entrepreneur Worries (Source: Space.com)
A new game of "Solar System Monopoly" is under way, and the United States is losing, commercial space entrepreneur Robert Bigelow said. The first prize, ownership of the moon, is up for grabs, and China will likely snag it, Bigelow said here at the 2011 International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight. Bigelow's Las Vegas-based company, Bigelow Aerospace, is constructing private inflatable space modules to rent out to government and commercial customers. The firm is even working on labs for a lunar colony.

But by the time the America gets into gear to build its own moon base, large swaths of lunar territory may already be claimed, Bigelow said. "Americans are still basking in the lunar glory from 40 years ago," Bigelow said. "But we don’t own one square foot of the damn place. NASA is a shadow of the space agency it once was in the 1960s and 1970s." In contrast, he argued, China has the motivation and ability to win the next space race and claim ownership of much of the moon.

Bigelow argued that international law would allow a nation to make such a claim, especially if it were able to enforce it through continuous human lunar presence. Owning the moon would be a windfall both financially and for international prestige, he said. Not only does it offer a jumping off point for further exploration of the solar system, but it also contains vast stores of valuable resources such as water and helium-3, a possible fuel for nuclear fusion. (10/19)

Russian Cosmonaut Dreams Up Moon Tunnel Colonies (Source: WIRED)
Following the discovery that the Moon's surface may hide a network of underground tunnels, a veteran Russian cosmonaut has plans to set up a colony of in this labyrinth of lava caves. In 2008, Japan's Kaguya spacecraft unveiled a mysterious, metres-deep cave in the Sea of Tranquility. NASA went back with its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) and snapped high resolution images of the enticing pit.

"They could be entrances to a geologic wonderland," Mark Robinson of Arizona State University, principal investigator for the LRO camera, said in 2010. "We believe the giant holes are skylights that formed when the ceilings of underground lava tubes collapsed."

Those long-dead lava tubes -- a vestigial signature of the Moon's explosive volcanic past -- could still remain as a labyrinth of underground tunnels. These, Russian space pioneers reckon, would be a perfect, natural shelter from hazardous outer-space conditions. (10/19)

Russia to the Rescue? (Source: American Spectator)
As the United States retreats from its space efforts, its partner in the latest project has been forced to appeal to Moscow for help. The European Space Agency has formally asked Russia if it would like to take part in the exploration of Mars, lest the withdrawal of the United States as a European partner leave the ambitious project in limbo. In short, one of the most ambitious exploration programs in space history is now in the hands of Moscow, thanks to the budget crisis nagging NASA. (10/19)

U.S., Japan Team Up On Global Topographic Map (Source: Aviation Week)
A U.S. and Japanese spacecraft collaboration has produced an enhanced global digital topographic map that spans 99% of the Earth’s surface for use in remote-sensing applications ranging from the identification of natural resources to the protection of regions with environmental or cultural significance.

The high-resolution topographic map was produced using data gathered from NASA’s Terra spacecraft and the Japanese Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer, one of five onboard instruments. The new data set adds 260,000 additional stereo-pair images to the original version of the map released by NASA and Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in mid-2009, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (10/19)

Meet the Man Who Wants to Mine the Moon (Source: FOX News)
The moon is made of far more valuable stuff than green cheese. And one man wants to capitalize on that fact. Naveen Jain, co-founder and chairman of Moon Express, Inc., wants to privatize the moon itself. Jain's company plans to piggyback on private shuttle flights, using them to carry his lunar landers and mining platforms to the moon.

"People ask, why do we want to go back to the moon? Isn't it just barren soil?" Jain said. "But the moon has never been explored from an entrepreneurial perspective." Our nearest neighbor in the sky holds a ransom in precious minerals, Jain explained: Twenty times more titanium and platinum than anywhere on earth, not to mention helium 3, a rare isotope of helium that many feel could be the future of energy on Earth and in space. (10/19)

Orbital Provides Update on Taurus-2 at Virginia Spaceport (Source: Orbital)
Orbital Sciences Corp. has published a photo essay providing an update on the company's work at Wallops Island begin launching Taurus-2 rockets on resupply missions to the International Space Station. Click here. (10/19)

Embry-Riddle Seeks Online Instructors for Space Courses (Source: SPACErePORT)
Embry-Riddle's Department of Online Instruction is in need of online instructors for ASCI 511, 513 and 517. These are courses in Remote Sensing, Space Habitation and Meteorology. If you know anyone who is interested and qualified you can refer them to our iRecruitment site at http://www.erau.edu/administration/hr-how-to-apply.html. (10/19)

NASA Watch: Virginia Doesn't Take Space Seriously (Source: NASA Watch)
If the commercial space sector in Virginia wants to be taken seriously - and have an effect (i.e. draw commercial space business to the state and then keep it there), then both government and private sector players will need to emulate what the folks are doing in Florida. They are constantly in the news - via all modes. They get it - and they are successful. Virginia does not get it - and various local stakeholders whine and complain when Florida make moves to protect its space sector. (10/19)

ISS Could Be Used for Satellite Assembly Until 2028 (Source: RIA Novosti)
The service life of the International Space Station (ISS) may be extended until 2028, a Russian space official said on Tuesday. The service life of the ISS ends in 2015 but participants of the project - Canada, the European Union, Japan, Russia and the United States – have recently agreed to extend its operation until at least 2020. “At present, experts have been instructed to find ways to extend the station’s service life until 2028,” Alexei Krasnov said.

The orbital station could be used as an assembly line and a launch pad for experimental spacecraft, including small satellites, he said. “These are going to be small-size satellites, but we will be able to launch them from the ISS to a variety of orbits,” Krasnov said. NASA views the ISS as “an anchor for the future of human space exploration” and a major component of the U.S. human space program. (10/18)

Florida Continues Food Fight (Source: TPIS)
You really cannot make this stuff up. Florida is clearly afraid of Wallops Flight Facility (WFF). In an article posted in the Orlando Sentinel’s "The Write Stuff" blog, while not mentioning WFF, they take a shot at "predatory" competition. For the record, TEA Party in Space (TPIS) is a non-partisan organization wanting to open up the free market that is space. We don't care who launches what, where; as long as an enemy of the United States doesn't end up with the technology or capability.

One must question just who is the predatory competition to KSC? Is predatory competition a couple of laid off engineers from KSC who have figured out how to launch vehicles cheaper by streamlining processes, procedures, and instituting new standards that all future commercial providers can design to? Or is predatory competition another state government willing to subsidize a launch site to attract commercial launchers and their vehicles? Or is predatory competition just a phrase used to conjure emotions in individuals up and down the space coast?

Mr. Putnam, just who are these vultures from other states? Why are they vultures? Surely Mr. Putnam must realize that the Virginia delegation in congress will read of this report and say, "what did we do to deserve this?" For the record, TPIS does not view Wallops or other launch locations as vultures. We view it as competition. Moreover, if a launch provider can launch cheaper while maintaining safety from somewhere besides KSC, good. That is American capitalism at work. (10/19)

Firm Brought In to Lead Space Center Project (Source: Santa Maria Times)
Three months after the fate of an educational and amusement space project in Lompoc was left in limbo, the Lompoc City Council voted 3-2 in favor of providing a new firm exclusive rights to plan the project but only after questions were raised. Without any other bids to take on the project, Environmental Educational Group was granted an exclusive negotiation agreement to devise a plan to revive the California Space Center project.

The motion does not allow EEG exclusive rights to construct the facility, but the city cannot negotiate with other firms during the time period that EEG is preparing its plan. The motion passed only after Councilmembers Cecilia Martner and Ashley Costa requested an exclusive pact be taken off the table, citing the need for more information about the firm’s history.

The project would be built on approximately 96 acres of property. Paul Westberg, an architect who had been involved with the project design, said he envisioned a complex that would have students from across the state coming to Lompoc to learn about space exploration. Westberg helped design the California Space Center with the California Space Authority earlier this year. The California Space Authority was dissolved in June, leaving the project in limbo. (10/18)

Falling Satellite ROSAT Hurtling Toward Earth (Source: Huffington Post)
The German Aerospace Center says one of its retired satellites is hurtling toward the atmosphere and pieces could crash into the earth as early as Friday. Spokesman Andreas Schuetz said most of the satellite--named ROSAT, which is about the size of a minivan--will burn up during re-entry. However, that up to 30 fragments weighing a total of 1.9 tons (1.7 metric tons) could crash into the earth between Friday and Monday. (10/19)

House Republicans Urge Supercommittee To Target NASA Earth Science for Cuts (Source: Space News)
NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) mission was singled out for cancellation in a list of budget cuts a group of House Republicans sent the bipartisan congressional supercommittee racing to produce a plan for trimming more than $1 trillion from the U.S. deficit over the next decade.

The recommendation to terminate OCO-2 was included in an Oct. 14 letter from the Republican members of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee outlining $1.5 billion in cuts to federal science spending in 2012 alone. Some $177 million of the proposed savings would come from NASA’s Earth science budget. Eleven Republicans including the committee’s chairman, Ralph Hall, signed the letter addressed to Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the co-chairs of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction.

The so-called supercommittee has until Nov. 23 to produce a plan for reducing the federal deficit by at least $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years. Congressional committees were given an Oct. 14 deadline for submitting their deficit-reduction ideas to the supercommittee. (10/19)

Scott Brings Upbeat Message to Space Officials (Source: Florida Today)
After meeting with space industry leaders and touring Kennedy Space Center, Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday was confident the Space Coast could overcome hard times after the shuttle program’s retirement. “We always have to look at all these changes and say, look, we have a great opportunity,” Scott said. “Logically, we’re going to be the ones that are going to continue to do spaceflight.”

After a public meeting at the KSC Visitor Complex, Scott and his cabinet met for about a half-hour with 11 representatives from small and large aerospace companies. They generally applauded the work done by Space Florida, the state’s aerospace economic development agency, to promote an emerging market for commercial space activity and to help companies navigate partnerships with NASA and the Air Force.

But they said the state could help even more by providing steady funding over time, making the Cape more business-friendly and helping to fight for the state’s interests in Washington. “Whatever you do, it helps if it’s predictable and consistent,” said SpaceX's Ken Bowersox. He noted that the state Dept. of Transportation this year committed $15 million for infrastructure upgrades at spaceports but included no money for such projects in a five-year work plan unveiled to county officials last week. (10/19)

Abu Dhabi's Aabar Boosts Virgin Galactic Stake (Source: Market Watch)
Abu Dhabi investment company Aabar Investments has boosted its stake in Virgin Galactic, Virgin Group's commercial spaceline, to 37.8% from 31.8%, according to the prospectus for a planned bond sale by Aabar's parent company. Aabar--owned by Abu Dhabi's International Petroleum Investment Co., or IPIC--invested an additional $110 million in Virgin Galactic in July, boosting its stake by 6%.

IPIC is wholly-owned by Abu Dhabi's government, for which Aabar has served as a diversified investor. Aabar and Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group in 2009 announced a strategic partnership under which Aabar would pay $280 million for a 31.8% stake in Virgin Galactic's holding company. At the time, Aabar said the acquisition valued that business at about $900 million. The acquisition was completed in 2010. (10/19)

Space Tourism: Where Are We Up To and What's Next? (Source: Asylum)
All over the world geeks' dreams took a step closer as Sir Richard confirmed that powered test flights of his WhiteKnight spacecrafts would take place next year, with their maiden manned voyages hopefully to follow shortly after. Eventually the spaceport will offer 2.5 hour flights to the edge of space, with passengers experiencing five minutes of weightlessness, all for the reasonable price of a three bedroom semi in Abersoch, i.e about £127,000.

But how long will it be before space travel really is an option for the masses and not just the kind of people who can spend £127,000 on an afternoon's activity? And what will come after that? When will be able to holiday on the moon? Will that ever even happen? Click here. (10/19)

NASA’s New Rules for Manned Private Spaceflight (Source: Popular Mechanics)
Our report on NASA’s new contract detailing the rules for crew-carrying spacecraft features the insights of Philip McAlister, director of NASA’s Commercial Spaceflight Development. Here, we offer the full transcript of our Oct. 12 interview with McAlister, in which he details how NASA is trying to change the way it does business. Click here. (10/19)

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