December 13, 2011

More Details on Stratolaunch (Source: SPACErePORT)
Stratolaunch will use a twin-fuselage carrier aircraft with a 385 foot wingspan. The carrier vehicle will be developed at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California, in a hangar now under development there. The air-launched rocket will be developed by SpaceX and be smaller than a Falcon-9 ("maybe a Falcon-4 or Falcon-5" referring to the number of engines). The rocket may or may not have wings similar to the Pegasus air-launched rocket. If launched from the ground, the rocket would have a lift capacity similar to a Delta-2, but it will enjoy a 5-10% performance boost due to the air-launch approach.

Although a promotional video shows the aircraft taking off and landing at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, no decision has been made on where the system will be based. This Q&A, however, says a significant number of jobs will be located in Florida, Alabama, and California, with Huntsville named as the "headquarters for this effort." SpaceX, Dynetics, and Scaled Composites (a Northrop Grumman subsidiary) are not investors in the project, they are contractors. The launch system will initially focus on cargo missions, but will ultimately be able to fly humans. (12/13)

Private Spaceflight Gets New Contender with Stratolaunch (Source:
Designer Burt Rutan, billionaire Paul Allen, rocketman Elon Musk and former NASA boss Mike Griffin are teaming to develop an air-launch rocket system that would use a super aircraft the size of two 747s to carry a liquid-fueled SpaceX booster to 30,000 feet where it would be dropped to fire hardware and humans into orbit. It is called Stratolaunch, a project being financed by Paul Allen, a co-founder of Microsoft, who wants to spur low-cost, private access to space.

Allen was a partner with Rutan, pumping more than $20 million in the SpaceShipOne project that captured the X Prize in 2004 as the first private spacecraft to make trips to the edge of space and back. But those were sub-orbital treks. Now, the duo wants to tackle orbital spaceflight to loft manned capsules and even satellites. "We are at the dawn of radical change in the space launch industry. Stratolaunch Systems is pioneering an innovative solution that will revolutionize space travel," said Allen.

Officials tout the air-launch nature of the system as giving the flexibility to send the rocket on any trajectory to reach any desired orbit, hauling the rocket over the open ocean to aim in all directions, which is something not possible from ground-based pads that are restricted from sending boosters flying over populated areas. Potential departure points include the space shuttle runway at Kennedy Space Center. Flight testing of the aircraft is expected to begin in 2016, with the first launch sometime later. Click here for a video. (12/13)

How to Reduce Churn in NASA Human Space Exploration (Source: Space News)
Widely recognized and lamented, the start-stop churn in NASA human space exploration results in waste in both fiscal and human terms. How can this churn be minimized? How can human space exploration be made to stay the course, be made sustainable across administrations, across budget crises, across generations — across setbacks and accomplishments? Not to suffer the same fate as Apollo, how do we continue human exploration of Mars after the first several landings? And how do we defeat the “been there, done that” platitude that can rob exploration of its richness? Click here. (12/13)

Sierra Nevada Simulates KSC Landing for Dream Chaser (Source: MSNBC)
Alan Boyle gets behind the flight controls of Sierra Nevada Corp.'s Dream Chaser simulator in Colorado, and lands the spaceship on a virtual Kennedy Space Center runway. Click here. (12/12)

JSC Partners With Texas' Largest Tech Incubator and Accelerator (Source:
The Houston Technology Center (HTC) and NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) have formed a strategic partnership to further expand HTC's mission of accelerating the growth of emerging technology companies in the Houston region and to develop the insights required to support NASA's long-term goals of increasing private/public collaboration. NRG Energy - a strong supporter of Houston's business community and diversified energy company - stepped up to support the effort with a $25,000 donation. (12/13)

Gingrich: NASA Sits Around and Thinks Space (Source: Space Politics)
Newt Gingrich spoke out again on space on Monday. In a rather collegial Lincoln-Douglas debate on national security and foreign policy issues with fellow presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, Gingrich referenced NASA as part of a broader discussion of procurement reform needed for the DoD. “You have [NASA] which has currently got no vehicles that can get to the space station,” he said. “Has it occured to you to wonder what the billions are for and what the thousands of employees are doing? They sit around and they think space.” A ripple of laughter could be heard from the audience at this point.

“Do you know how hard it is to get to a period where we’ve spent this much money and don’t have a vehicle that gets into space?” Earlier, Mitt Romney again raised the issue when asked about differences between himself and Gingrich. “The idea of a lunar colony? I think that’s going to be a problem in the general election,” Romney said. “So you’re suggesting he’s a little nutty?” asked POLITICO’s Mike Allen. “I’m suggesting he has differing views than I do on very important issues,” Romney responded. Others defended Gingrich’s views.

Dorian Davis said "zapping him on the space program is shortsighted pandering.” Davis says that space is of strategic importance but decries the lack "national public commitment” to spaceflight. Rand Simberg says the debate offers “a window into their mindsets”. Gingrich “sees space as a frontier of human opportunity and plenty, and wants to direct space policy toward opening it using the traditional American tools of entrepreneurship and competition,” while Romney “comes off as someone who not only has given no serious thought to space policy other than as a cudgel against his political opponent.” (12/13)

Camera Captures Light Particles Moving Through Space (Source: MSNBC)
A new imaging system that captures visual data at a rate of one-trillion-frames per second is fast enough to create virtual super-slow-motion videos of light particles traveling and scattering through space. For reference, light particles — photons — travel about a million times faster than a speeding bullet. While that's fast, researchers at MIT's Media Lab have developed a system for capturing data on the movement of photons through space and time and then stitching that data together in a computer to create virtual slow-motion videos. (12/13)

India: Governing Space: Rule Makers, Rule Takers and Spoilers (Source: Space News)
The debate on the governance of space has begun to receive scattered attention in New Delhi. Unfortunately, however, some of that attention has been technically ill-informed and politically destructive. A recent and widely circulated paper by the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation sums up the Indian strategic community’s response to the international code of space conduct proposed by the European Union (EU): “Not Invented Here!”

Many in Delhi’s strategic community have made no attempt to disaggregate the problems posed by space debris from the more contentious issue of anti-satellite weapons. Many analysts doggedly insist that an institutionalized legal investigative and enforcement authority must precede and undergird any cooperative regime. The assumption here is that norms and reputation have no relevance in the 21st-century society of states.

Indian analysts maintain on the one hand that Asia’s growing geopolitical clout leaves India generally invulnerable to Western pressure, but then they rush to claim that India’s participation in the proposed schemes to regulate the space commons will compromise its national interests. How precisely and what interests might become compromised is never explained. In a further twist, these pundits purport to speak on behalf of “Asian spacefaring nations,” when it is questionable if anybody outside Delhi has delegated India that responsibility. (12/13)

330 Billion Rubles for Glonass in 2012-2020 (Gadgets Needed!) (Source: Itar-Tass)
Some 330 billion rubles will be assigned for the development of the Glonass navigation satellite network in 2012-2020, Federal Space Agency deputy head Anatoly Shilov told a Tuesday press conference. “The current federal program of the Glonass development will end on December 31. This program resulted in the deployment of 24 operating satellites. We have fully deployed the cluster for the second time since 1995,” Shilov said. He recalled that Europe had been building its Galileo satellite navigation system for 20 years and the mission would be accomplished in 2018.

Further development of the Glonass network will be done under the federal program for 2012-2020. The program is being coordinated with the Economic Development Ministry. “Funds are available, and the allocation of 330 billion rubles is planned within nine years. The optimal configuration of the system has been selected. It is now necessary to develop user gadgets,” he said. (12/13)

Environmental Testing of the Nation's Next Missile Warning Satellite Complete (Source: Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed Martin has successfully completed thermal vacuum testing of the U.S. Air Force's second Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) geosynchronous (GEO-2) satellite. The milestone represents the spacecraft's most significant achievement to-date on the path to launch. SBIRS satellites deliver vastly improved missile warning capabilities for the nation while simultaneously improving the military's missile defense, technical intelligence and battlespace awareness mission areas.

During thermal vacuum testing, SBIRS GEO-2 was thoroughly tested at the extreme hot and cold temperatures it will experience in space to verify its functionality and performance. Thermal vacuum testing represents the last of several critical environmental test phases that validate the overall satellite design, quality of workmanship and survivability during space vehicle launch and on-orbit operations. (12/13)

NASA Taps All Sorts to Spur Innovation (Source: NextGov)
NASA is one of the most innovative agencies in government, but to keep its programs on the cutting edge, Jason Crusan has to get creative. As chief technologist for space operations, he tackles key problems by crowdsourcing ideas from the best and the brightest--both inside and outside government.

For example, the NASA Tournament Lab uses a challenge approach to drive innovation in unexpected places. Open calls online for software and design technology, such as a space-friendly exercise device, reach people who wouldn't normally respond to a traditional request for proposals. Crusan also works on CubeSat, a partnership with universities to build small satellites for orbit. Click here. (12/13)

Third Rock is NASA's Radio Station (Source: Houston Press)
Satellite radio got some new competition from a little old outfit called NASA when the government agency went live Monday with its new internet radio station, Third Rock. The station is described in NASA's press release as "crafted specifically to speak the language of tech-savvy young adults." The New Rock/Indie/Alternative format mixes mostly deep tracks from new rock albums with a scant seasoning of recognizable radio hits.

Using local radio consulting outfit RFC Media, which is the brainchild of longtime Houston rock radio veterans Pat Fant and Cruze who were around when the Buzz lifted off, to select the play list and program the tracks, NASA developed the station outside its budget through a Space Act Agreement grant. (12/13)

Deficit Has Grown at Virginia Space Museum (Source: Daily Press)
The troubled Virginia Air and Space Center in downtown Hampton has been racking up losses for the last four years and its deficit has now reached more than $3 million, according to auditors reports. Those financial reports highlight the scale of the challenge ahead for Brian DeProfio, interim director at the center, and for the Foundation of the Virginia Air and Space Center, the private nonprofit company that runs it.

The tipping point might come this month when the facility is scheduled to pay an outstanding $2.1 million loan to SunTrust bank, according to a September 2011 audit. DeProfio said Monday the SunTrust note is still outstanding. Hampton spokeswoman Robin McCormick said the city of Hampton is not a party to the SunTrust note and has "no authority or responsibility for the Virginia Air & Space Center board, except to appoint some of the members."

"While the Air and Space Center building and some of the exhibits are owned by the city of Hampton, the city does not manage or operate the center," McCormick said Nov. 30. Compounding the financial issues at the center is the fact that its visitor numbers are down. They dropped below 400,000 for the first time in 11 years in 2010-11, according to figures supplied by DeProfio. (12/13)

NASA Scored Big in 2011 – Poised for Historic Mars Exploration in 2012 (Source: America Space)
“MSL is very, very complicated,” says Rob Manning Curiosity chief engineer. “It is almost hard to imagine how complex it is,” he says. Diverse lunar and planetary exploration in 2011 by NASA should help dispel the widespread notion that the U. S. civilian space program is dead following phase out of the space shuttle. In fact the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) is propelling NASA into the future just months after the final shuttle mission recalled U.S. space glories of the past. Click here. (12/13)

ESA to Resume Attempts to Contact Russia's Failed Mars Probe (Source: RIA Novosti)
An ESA station will make two more attempts to contact Russia's troubled Phobos-Grunt spacecraft on Tuesday, the head of the ESA office in Moscow said. The attempts will be performed by European Space Agency's 15-meter antenna in Maspalomas, a station in the southern part of the Canary Islands' Gran Canaria. "We will make two more attempts on Tuesday on a request from the Russian side," Rene Pichel said. (12/13)

Israel Group Plans Space Industry Trade Event (Source: Airlift)
Israeli and U.S. grade groups are planning a Jan. 28 - Feb. 3 "Israel Space 2012" conference and trade mission in Israel. Click here for information. (12/13)

'What's Next?' Video Winners Announced (Source: Coalition for Space Exploration)
We are pleased to announce the winners of the "What's Next?" video contest. From traveling back to the moon, on to Mars and beyond, the video entries we received made it clear that the public has a strong understanding of the importance of space exploration and wants to help shape the future of the industry. We encourage you to view the videos to see the passionate messages from citizens who value space exploration and are excited about the future. Click here. (12/13)

ESA Challenges Astrium To Reduce Space Station Operations 30% by 2020 (Source: Space News)
Astrium Space Transportation will manage operations of Europe’s share of the international space station under a two-year contract signed Dec. 13 with the European Space Agency (ESA) and valued at $310 million. The contract gives Astrium control over Europe’s preparation of experiments to be sent to the station, station hardware maintenance and astronaut training for missions related to European hardware and Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) unmanned supply ship.

The contract includes a provision that Astrium and ESA will agree on regular cost reductions so that, by 2020 — the current presumed end date for the station’s operational life — annual operations cost 30 percent less than today. "These are not just efficiency cuts,” said Michael Menking, Astrium’s director of orbital systems and space exploration, in an interview after the contract signing. “We are talking about real reductions, and process changes.” (12/13)

Commercial Rocket Gets New Name as Debut Launch Nears (Source:
Orbital Sciences has rebranded its new commercial rocket, changing the booster's name from the Taurus 2 to Antares. The first launch is planned for February from Wallops Island, Virginia. That will be a qualification test-flight of the rocket in advance of launching a NASA-sponsored demonstration later in the spring to propel the Cygnus cargo ship to a linkup with the space station.

The company has been working on the new rocket for four years, bringing the design to fruition for entrance into the medium-size payload market of the launch industry. Orbital's other rocket lines -- Pegasus, Taurus XL and Minotaur -- are suited for smaller satellites and cargo weights. (12/13)

New Generation GPS Satellite Starts Tests in US (Source: AP)
A $5.5 billion upgrade to the Global Positioning System moved a step closer to launch this week when a prototype arrived at a Lockheed Martin complex in Colorado to begin months of tests. It's the guinea pig for a new generation of GPS satellites, called Block III, that's expected to make military and civilian receivers more accurate, powerful and reliable. They're also part of an international effort to allow civilian receivers to use signals from U.S., European, Russian and perhaps other satellite navigation systems. (12/13)

India Plans Space Museum (Source: New Indian Express)
Phase One of a new space museum facility will officially go live on Saturday at Pallikkara. The museum is jointly developed by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and Indira Rajan, a leading educationist in Kerala. Former President A P J Abdul Kalam will formally launch the construction activities of the museum by unveiling a massive model of PSLV being brought from Bangalore. The 1,800kg model will be up and ready for 'launch' when Kalam makes a touchdown in Kochi a day otherwise celebrated the world over by aviation aficionados as Wright Brothers' Day.

It's a sheer coincidence that the new museum is being launched on the same day the Wright Brothers eventually gave wings to humanity with their 12second historic flight on December 17, 1903, at Kitty Hawk. Tipped as a mini version of the US based Smithsonian Museum, once fully operational, only the Space Wing is currently being opened from an already existing structure. "It will be a comprehensive facility which will capture the best of natural and physical science, space and defense. Our aim is to inspire students towards science streams," former ISRO chairman G Madhavan Nair said.

"We are seeking the support of industries and corporates to make this a mustsee facility in India. In the next few years, we are confident that the museum will eventually grow as a onestopplace that showcases the growth and might of Indian aerospace and defence sectors," Nair said. (12/13)

Gallery in Dubai Offers a Space Odyssey (Source: The National)
"How do you put a price on a dream?" These were Anousheh Ansari's words when asked about her desire to be the first Iranian in space and the fourth ever "space tourist", heading skyward on her own funds. "I would go to space even if it was a one-way ticket," she said. "If it meant going and never returning, if it meant losing my life over it!"

Third Rock from the Sun is The Empty Quarter's exploration into how space has captivated humanity. The gallery posits this skyward yearning as essential - almost the ultimate expression of our capacity to dream. It charts the evolution of this dream, however: space is shown first as an intangible muse, later a frontier of ideologies and then today accessible to a new cast of interstellar millionaires.

The work of the Belgian photographer Vincent Fournier forms the crux of this show. Fournier headed to a facility in Utah where scientists run tests for walking on Mars. In the grandeur of this scenery, tainted red by minerals in the rock and dusted with flecks of grey snow, Fournier's camera becomes complicit in the fiction of these experiments: with no manipulation of colour, merely capturing the landscape in a dreamlike light, interrupted only by a lonesome "astronaut" in full suit and steamed-up helmet practising their zero-gravity walk. (12/13)

Japan's H-2A Launch a Success, but Global Competitiveness Remains Challenge (Source: Mainichi Daily News)
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) successfully launched an H-2A rocket carrying an intelligence satellite on Dec. 12, boosting the launch vehicle's success rate to 95 percent, but they are still far behind their overseas rivals in terms of technology and track record.

Mitsubishi, keen to increase orders from overseas to launch satellites, has taken 10 years to achieve its goal of raising the vehicle's success rate to 95 percent -- on par with its competitors in the U.S., Europe and Russia -- since its first liftoff in 2001. But Europe's Ariane, U.S. Atlas, and Russian Proton rockets have each been launched 200-300 times, and their success rates are high, ranging from 88 to 95 percent. Japan has had a total of only 29 launches, three of which have failed.

The only overseas order thus far has been for a South Korean multipurpose "KOMPSAT-3" satellite. Because of the drop in the value of the Russian ruble and the Euro against the Japanese yen, fees for launching satellites using Japanese rockets are higher than those of overseas rivals. In addition to launching fees, there are technological hurdles facing the H-2A program. And the position of Japan's Tanegashima spaceport is too far north. (12/13)

Building the Universe Inside a Supercomputer (Source: Discovery)
Researchers from the Korea Institute for Advanced Study in Seoul have completed the largest simulation of the universe ever attempted. The simulation calculates the evolution of 374 billion cold dark matter particles in a box some 10 gigaparsecs across -- this represents approximately two thirds the size of the observable Universe. This virtual universe is 8,800 times larger than the previous record holder.

These are staggering numbers and the calculations required a stupidly fast supercomputer -- called Tachyon II -- to process them. Tachyon II is currently the 26th fastest supercomputer in the world. Despite the huge processing power available to it, the simulation, called "Horizon Run 3," still took 20 days to run. (12/13)

Big Question for 2012: Was There Ever Life on Mars? (Source: Discovery)
On Aug. 6, 2012 if all goes well, NASA's Mars Science Laboratory will touch down to tackle a new set of questions about whether there was life on Mars. A pair of predecessor rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, as well as a fleet of orbiting spacecraft have laid the groundwork for the mission, amassing an impressive body of evidence for past water on the surface of Mars. Those findings are key, for without water scientists aren't sure life can exist. With water, we know it's possible.

The Mars Science Laboratory, nicknamed Curiosity, is designed to nail down some specifics about the water, such as how long it existed in liquid form and whether it was too acidic to support life. But it also breaks new ground with the first studies since NASA's '70s-era Viking Mars landers to look for other ingredients for life, namely organics. Click here. (12/13)

Editorial: Bipartisan Support for NASA Needed (Source: Florida Today)
Regarding the recent article, “ULA chief urges NASA to get moving,” with today’s budget squeeze, I’m glad someone is thinking about how we can do more in space with less. It’s critical to free up funds because there’s so much more to do. NASA’s discovery of the first truly Earth-like planet, Kepler 22B, reminds us our time as a spacefaring people is only just dawning, and greater challenges lie ahead.

But Congress doesn’t seem to get it. Next year’s budget cuts funding for human spaceflight — extending the time we will be stuck paying millions to Russians to reach the orbiting space station — and no one can tell when the new heavy Space Launch System rocket will get off the ground, critical for human exploration of our solar system. Each new administration seems determined to put its own mark on the space program, but the resulting cancellations and reboots have left NASA looking bruised, not branded.

What happened to the bipartisan spirit that once drove these efforts, with President Kennedy launching Apollo but President Nixon seeing it through? Florida already has lost thousands of jobs with the end of the shuttle program, and a trillion dollars in proposed defense cuts will further decimate our aerospace and engineering communities. (12/13)

Next Steps in a New Space Race (Source: MSNBC)
If you think America's space effort is in a state of flux now, you ain't seen nothing yet: Just wait until billionaires Richard Branson and Robert Bigelow are vying to offer orbital hotels, or until there are as many brands of spaceships built in the United States as commercial jets. Or not.

That's the curious thing about Space Race 2.0: It's definitely a marathon, not a sprint, and the field of contestants have had dropouts (like the bankrupt Rocketplane Kistler) as well as drop-ins (like Boeing). If any of the racers make it to the finish line, NASA will once again be able to send U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station on U.S.-built spacecraft, ending the post-shuttle spaceship gap. There may also be opportunities for businesses and foreign governments to purchase their own presence in space, in the form of private-sector space stations.

Regular folks may be able to buy vacation packages that include a quick up-and-down on a suborbital spacecraft, or even a stay on one of those space stations. There'll be new opportunities for space research and manufacturing as well. Alan Stern, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institution as well as an adviser to the Blue Origin space venture, has called low-cost space research the "killer app" for the space travel industry — right up there with space tourism and space station resupply. Click here. (12/13)

Why Adding "In Space" to Any Concept Really Does Make It Better (Source: iO9)
Everybody always says that every story idea has been done before - which is totally not true, because nobody's done a "nuns raise an ostrich to be the perfect killer" story before. But even if a story idea has been done to death, you can always make it fresh and brilliant all over again, by adding just two little words: "in space."

Science fiction fans have known this forever, but it's time that everybody was told. There is no genre, no type of story, no set of story beats, that cannot be improved by adding "in space." It bears the same relation to storytelling that "in bed" does to fortune cookies. And we've got the proof, right here. Click here. (12/12)

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