December 2, 2011

Long Confusing Path Toward Space Station Utilization (Source: NASA Watch)
I was just at the NASA Education Stakeholders summit session on the ISS National Laboratory Education Project. Two things were apparent. First, little if any progress has been made on transferring responsibilities between NASA JSC and CASIS, the non-profit selected by NASA earlier this year to operate U.S. resources on the ISS. It was obvious that NASA has not done much - and since CASIS is still being formed, that it has not been able to do much either.

Only several minutes were spent on this topic. No one from CASIS was on the agenda. Given that the agency has had a year to think about how they would transfer things (no matter who was selected), you'd think that they would have had a plan laid out the moment that CASIS came online. Guess not. (12/2)

Spaceport America Showcases Private Space Industry's Half-Built Dream (Source:
After two hours of driving through the desert, a structure appears to rise from the sand. It's soft and rounded, and almost the same color as the beige terrain around it. Yet as our tour bus drives closer, light glints off metal. What resembled a mushroom in shape and color from the distance starts to take form as a futuristic building. A hangar, in fact. I am here at Spaceport America, a half-built dream to transform a desolate stretch of scrub brush into the worldwide capital of the commercial space industry. Click here. (12/2)

Five European Nations Agree To Pool Resources for Satellite Bandwidth Buys (Source: Space News)
The European Defense Agency (EDA) has secured backing from five of its governments to pool resources to purchase commercial satellite bandwidth on the spot market for military use as a way of saving money, EDA officials said. The effort will start small, with no more than 2 million or so euros ($2.7 million) being put into an EDA account to be used by contractor Astrium Services to purchase mainly C- and Ku-band satellite capacity on behalf of the five participating nations — Britain, France, Italy, Poland and Romania. (12/2)

Space Expedition Curacao - Is Bermuda Next? (Source: BangStyle)
Curacao, an island in the Caribbean that has a heritage that is both European and African and represents more than 50 nationalities, has initiated a space program called Space Expedition Curacao. Space Expedition Curacao has recruited at least 35 spaceflight participants so far this year, and chief executive officer of joint venture partner XCOR Aerospace said on Monday that “the finalization of a new multi-million dollar deal will allow them to proceed full pace on lifting off in 2014.”

On the heels of this announcement last month, Bermuda’s Minister of Environment, Planning and Infrastructure Strategy, Walter Roban, shared news that Bermuda is seeking to revamp their own investment attitude. They are doing so in order to inaugurate Bermuda as an attractive territory in which to base space operations which is looking to be tax-efficient as well. (12/2)

Could Curiosity Infect Mars? (Source: Discovery)
During the run up to the launch of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity on Nov. 26, a step in the "planetary protection" procedure wasn't adhered to. The procedure's key purpose is to make sure organic material from Earth doesn't get transferred accidentally to another planet -- in this case, Mars. MSL project developers decided not to send a set of drill bits -- attached to the rover's exterior, ready to be used by the robotic arm's drill -- through a final ultra-cleanliness step before launch.

This deviation in protocol wasn't communicated to NASA's planetary protection officer Cassie Conley until it was too late. "(MSL project developers) didn't submit the request for the deviation not to comply with their planetary protection plan until several months ago," she said. The deviation was made by project managers as they considered the risk to be very low -- the rover wouldn't be drilling anywhere near potentially life-harboring ice in Gale Crater, the region of Mars Curiosity will be exploring. (12/2)

Defense Authorization Bill Includes $527B for Pentagon (Source: Defense News)
The U.S. Senate has passed the defense authorization bill for 2012 by a 93-7 vote. The Pentagon will receive a base budget of $527 billion under the bill, which now heads to conference committee. The 2012 budget for the Department of Defense includes $117 billion for war spending. (12/2)

NASA Satellite Confirms Decline in Pollution from US Coal Power Plants (Source: Space Daily)
A team of scientists have used the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) on NASA's Aura satellite to confirm major reductions in the levels of a key air pollutant generated by coal power plants in the eastern United States. The pollutant, sulfur dioxide, contributes to the formation of acid rain and can cause serious health problems. (12/2)

Europe Ends Calls to Stranded Mars Probe (Source: BBC)
It is looking increasingly grim for Russia's Mars mission Phobos-Grunt, which has been stuck circling the Earth since its launch in early November. Apart from some brief radio contact with the wayward probe a week-and-a-half ago, there has been total silence from the spacecraft. The European Space Agency announced on Friday that it was now ceasing any further attempts to get a signal. Russian engineers are expected to keep trying to the last. (12/2)

Mountains and Buried Ice on Mars (Source: ESA)
New images from Mars Express show the Phlegra Montes mountain range, in a region where radar probing indicates large volumes of water ice are hiding below. This could be a source of water for future astronauts. Phlegra Montes is a range of gently curving mountains and ridges on Mars. It extends from the northeastern portion of the Elysium volcanic province to the northern lowlands, spanning latitudes from roughly 30°N to 50°N. (12/2)

Space Forum Results Months Away (Source: Florida Today)
A report due within 90 days should shed more light on the results from two days of invitation-only space policy meetings this week in Orlando that sought to improve cooperation among states. Representatives from eight states and at least four federal agencies met Tuesday and Wednesday at the U.S. States and Federal Government Space Forum, Space Florida confirmed in a press release Thursday.

The conference gathered state and federal policy experts “to discuss ways to increase productive engagement regarding space-related issues in the coming months and years,” said Space Florida President Frank DiBello. Partnering to make the U.S. more competitive globally by maintaining a skilled space workforce and lowering costs will become more important in an era of tight government budgets and increased reliance on commercial space activity, according to the meeting’s agenda. (12/2)

Globalstar Swaps for Healthy Satellite Before Next Launch (Source:
Struggling with recurring problems with satellite momentum wheels, Globalstar exchanged one of six mobile communications spacecraft set to launch in December with a spare platform to ensure it does not succumb to an issue that has knocked one of the company's newest satellites out of service. Officials with Globalstar and Thales Alenia Space, the satellite's manufacturer, decided on the change-out after reviews showed it might be affected by an issue with its momentum wheels, which maintain the orientation of the craft in space. (12/2)

After Human Spaceflight, NASA Continues Robo Style Exploration (Source:
Despite what most people think, NASA's funding is not astronomical. NASA's 2012 budget is only 0.45 percent of the federal budget, a small figure which the agency has endured over most of its existence. With NASA's constantly limited funding, the plan of returning humans to the solar system in the distant future may change, too, but only time will tell. Click here. (12/2)

Eisenhower Center Hosts Wide-Ranging Multi-State Space Discussion (Source: Space Florida)
The first annual U.S. States and Federal Government Space Forum was held Nov. 29-30 in Orlando. This first-of-its kind event was led by the Eisenhower Center for Space and Defense Studies of the United States Air Force Academy and sponsored by Space Florida. An Eisenhower Center report on the meeting should be released prior to a follow-up meeting during the National Space Symposium in April.

As part of this event, conducted under Chatham House Rule, The Eisenhower Center facilitated discussions to enhance working relationships between Federal and State governments to advance U.S. capabilities within the various sectors of the space enterprise in today’s constrained fiscal environment. Participants included representatives from Federal space-related agencies including NASA, DOD, FAA and Homeland Security, Lt. Governors of Florida and Alaska, and officials from Alabama, Alaska, California, Florida, Virginia, Massachusetts, New York, and Ohio.

“This event was meant to gather individuals from industry and government – those who had expertise in Federal and State policy formation – to discuss ways to increase productive engagement regarding space-related issues in the coming months and years,” noted Space Florida President Frank DiBello. “We were extremely pleased with the results of this initial forum and look forward to facilitating in a similar event in 2012.” (12/2)

Florida Leads in Enabling Spaceport Investments (Source: SPACErePORT)
During the multi-state meeting in Orlando, one topic of interest among the states was Florida's success in establishing space as a sector within the state's department of transportation. It looks like next year another $15 million may be available from FDOT for spaceport infrastructure investments. In preparation, Space Florida is supporting legislation in Tallahassee that will formalize and expand the types of spaceport infrastructure that would be eligible for FDOT money. (Currently, FDOT uses airport definitions that limit the eligibility of some spaceport projects.) Click here for a copy of the legislation, and here for Space Florida's "talking points" in support of the legislation. (12/2)

Spaceport America OKs Plan for Vertical Launch Area (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
Spaceport America officials OK'd a pared-down plan for a vertical launch area earlier this week. The proposal calls for about $3 million to be spent on a second rocket launch pad at the spaceport, water and wastewater and other infrastructure, said state Spaceport Authority Chairman Rick Holdridge of Deming.

An initial plan called for more spending, Holdridge said, but the Spaceport Authority curtailed it to leave extra room in the budget for other unfinished projects, such as paving a southern route to the spaceport and building visitor centers. "We want to be as conservative as we can, because we realize we're not going to get any more money," he said.

So far, 12 vertical launches have taken place at Spaceport America - a $209-million, under-construction commercial space launch site just north of Do a Ana County. UP Aerospace and Armadillo Aerospace are the two horizontal-launch clients so far. The original proposal planned for constructing a permanent building at the vertical launch area, Holdridge said. But, with the budget revisions, the spaceport will buy portable buildings instead that can be transported around for different customers, he said. (12/2)

New Mexico Plans Liability Legislation for Launch Programs (Source: Space Politics)
Legislation that would limit liability for commercial spaceflight providers in New Mexico was formally endorsed Thursday by a state senate committee. The bill would be similar to existing legislation in Florida, Texas, and Virginia that would protect companies from lawsuits stemming from accidents that resulted in the injury or death of spaceflight participants, with exceptions for those accidents caused by gross negligence.

The legislation passed the finance committee of the New Mexico Senate on a 12-0 vote, and will be taken up by the full legislature in its next session in January. Similar legislation was introduced earlier this year but failed to pass. (12/2)

Successful Chinese Launch Breaks Annual Record (Source:
Shattering a record for annual Chinese launch activity, a Long March rocket streaked into a predawn sky Thursday and entered orbit with a Beidou navigation satellite. It was the 16th successful space launch this year for China, eclipsing a record set last year. One or two more Chinese launchings could occur before the end of 2011, further extending the record mark.

The 172-foot-tall rocket deployed China's 10th operational Beidou navigation satellite launched since 2007. Chinese officials said the launch was successful. China will launch more Beidou satellites next year, and the system will be complete by 2020 with 30 satellites in orbit. (12/2)

Satellite Swap Puts Globalstar on Track for Dec. 28 Launch (Source: Space News)
Mobile satellite services provider Globalstar will launch its third batch of six second-generation satellites Dec. 28, three weeks later than planned, to give satellite builder Thales Alenia Space time to replace one of the six because of suspected momentum-wheel problems, according to the satellites’ builder and launch services provider. (12/2)

10 Mega-Construction Projects That Could Save the Environment — and the Economy (Source: i09)
We humans are builders. One of the ways we leave a mark on the universe is by creating massive structures that show that some opposable digits have been here. So when things get tough, like due to an economic meltdown or a cascading environmental crisis, what can we do but build? Here are 10 massive engineering projects — some pretty real, some quite fanciful — that could help turn our economic and environmental crises around. (Includes "Space Elevator" and "Lunar Ring". (12/2)

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