December 6, 2011

Most Florida House Redistricting Maps Would Reduce Spaceport Representation (Source: SPACErePORT)
A week after the Florida Senate released their Congressional redistricting plan, which would eliminate two-district representation for the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, the Florida House has released seven of its own redistricting options. Only one of these retains the two-district situation at the spaceport.

Like the Senate plan, six of the House options would basically push Rep. Sandy Adams' current district northward (above KSC), while Rep. Bill Posey's district would morph to include both the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and KSC. The House and Senate options must be reconciled during the upcoming Florida Legislative Session, which begins in January. Click here. (12/6)

Air Force Space Monitoring Deal Saves SETI (Source: LA Times)
Alien enthusiasts, get psyched. Thanks to the help of 2,700 independent supporters and a new deal with the U.S. Air Force, the SETI Institute's Allen Telescope Array (ATA) is back online as of Monday. For the first time since April, the group of 42 giant radio telescopes built to monitor the universe full-time for radio waves that might be sent out by life forms on other planets, is listening once again. The bulk of the funding came from a partnership with the U.S. Air Force to help with its space situational awareness mission. (12/6)

Replica Engines Installed in Discovery (Source: Florida Today)
Technicians at Kennedy Space Center are outfitting Discovery with replica main engines just over four months before the retired orbiter's planned ferry flight to the Smithsonian Institution. The first of the three replica engine nozzles was installed Monday inside Orbiter Processing Facility-1, where Discovery is being readied for public display. (12/6)

New Weather Satellite Opens Eyes on Western U.S. (Source:
There was a changing of the guard 22,300 miles above Earth on Tuesday as an 11-year-old weather observatory gave way to its replacement to cover the western view of the Americas. The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite 11, or GOES 11 for short, downlinked its final visible-light, full-disk image on Monday at 2100 GMT as it prepared for retirement.

The craft was launched from Cape Canaveral atop an Atlas 2A rocket back in May 2000 under the name GOES L and entered service in June 2006. Now, it will be maneuvered into a graveyard orbit 135 miles higher than the geostationary satellite belt and decommissioned on Dec. 15. (12/6)

How to Picture the Size of the Universe (Source: WIRED)
Space, as Douglas Adams once so aptly wrote, is big. To try imagining how big, place a penny down in front of you. If our sun were the size of that penny, the nearest star, Alpha Centauri, would be 350 miles away. Depending on where you live, that’s very likely in the next state (or possibly country) over.

Attempting to imagine distances larger than this quickly becomes troublesome. At this scale, the Milky Way galaxy would be 7.5 million miles across, or more than 30 times the distance between the Earth and the moon. As you can see, these are rather inhuman dimensions that are almost impossible to really get a sense of.

But that doesn’t mean it’s completely impossible. Astronomers have made observations and simulations that in some way capture the enormity of our cosmos. In this gallery, Wired will look at the size and scale of the universe’s largest, farthest, and most mysterious objects. Click here. (12/6)

String-Theory Calculations Describe 'Birth of the Universe' (Source: Physics World)
Researchers in Japan have developed what may be the first string-theory model with a natural mechanism for explaining why our universe would seem to exist in three spatial dimensions if it actually has six more. According to their model, only three of the nine dimensions started to grow at the beginning of the universe, accounting both for the universe's continuing expansion and for its apparently three-dimensional nature. (12/6)

China to Launch Communications Satellite for Turkmenistan (Source: Xinhua)
China will launch a communications satellite for Turkmenistan with its Long March-3B carrier rocket in 2014, the Chinese launch contractor said on Tuesday. The satellite will be Turkmenistan's first communications satellite. It will be sent into orbit at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China's Sichuan province, based on the SPACEBUS 4000C2 platform made by Thales Alenia Space France (TASF). (12/6)

FAA Chief Resigns After DUI Arrest (Source: AP)
FAA administrator Randy Babbitt resigned Tuesday as head of the Federal Aviation Administration following his arrest over the weekend on charges of drunken driving. Babbitt was about halfway through a five-year term. Deputy FAA Administrator Michael Huerta will serve as acting administrator. Industry officials and lawmakers said they expect Huerta to continue in the post through next year since the White House probably will want to avoid a possible nomination fight before the presidential election.

In recent months, Huerta has been leading the FAA's troubled NextGen effort to transition from an air traffic control system based on World War II-era radar technology to one based on satellite technology. Huerta was managing director of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and held several senior transportation department posts during former President Bill Clinton's administration. (12/6)

Program Passes Milestone for Spaceport Advances (Source: NASA)
The program tasked with setting up NASA's Kennedy Space Center to host an array of launchers and spacecraft passed a milestone last week when the 21st Century Ground Systems Program's Mission Concept Review was completed. "It gets all of our stakeholders on board," said Scott Colloredo, the project manager for the 21st Century Ground Systems Program. "We feel good about it."

The program is one of two new programs for KSC that basically opened their doors in the past year or so. The other is the Commercial Crew Program. They join the center's other program, the Launch Services Program, which moved to Kennedy in 1998. The 21st Century Ground Systems Program is a big step for NASA and Kennedy in that it is set up to accommodate a number of rockets with new techniques and parcel out the center's extensive array of facilities to several users.

Launch Pad 39B is envisioned as a site that could see the liftoff of a Space Launch System super rocket one week, an Atlas V the next and a private rocket the week after that. Previously, the launch infrastructure was a project that was tied strongly to an individual launcher and spacecraft. "We've kind of graduated from a project to a program," Colloredo said. "It's exciting in a lot of ways. It's tough." Click here. (12/6)

North Korea Making Missile Able to Hit U.S. (Source: Washington Times)
New intelligence indicates that North Korea is moving ahead with building its first road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile, an easily hidden weapon capable of hitting the United States, according to Obama administration officials. (12/6)

Earth's Wild Ride: Our Voyage Through the Milky Way (Source: New Scientist)
For billions of years, Earth has been on a perilous journey through space. As our planet whirls around the sun, the whole solar system undertakes a far grander voyage, circling our island universe every 200 million years. Weaving our way through the disc of the Milky Way, we have drifted through brilliant spiral arms, braved the Stygian darkness of dense nebulae, and witnessed the spectacular death of giant stars.

Many of these marvels may well have been deadly, raining lethal radiation onto Earth's surface or hurling huge missiles into our path. Some may have wiped out swathes of life, smashed up continents or turned the planet to ice. Others may have been more benign, perhaps even sowing the seeds of life. As yet, this is guesswork. We cannot retrace our path through the galaxy's gravitational melee, still less calculate what incidents befell us where and when. Click here. (12/6)

Andrews Space Awarded Contract for Air Force Reusable Booster Program (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Andrews Space has been awarded a $250 million-ceiling, eight year contract by the Air Force (USAF) for ground and flight experiments and demonstrations in support of the Air Force’s proposed Reusable Booster System. Andrews will initially complete work consisting of requirements refinement and initial design of the RBS Pathfinder system.

Following that, Andrews will compete with other awardees for additional tasks including work to conduct flight and ground experiments and demonstrations to address key technologies, processes and system attributes (TPSAs) associated with the RBS concept. Areas of study include: aeromechanics, configuration, flight performance, structures and materials, flight controls and health management, flight systems, propulsion, grounds system and operations. (12/6)

Lockheed Martin Selected by Air Force for Reusable Booster Project (Source: Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed Martin [NYSE: LMT] has been selected by the U.S. Air Force for a contract award to support the Reusable Booster System (RBS) Flight and Ground Experiments program. The value of the first task order is $2 million, with a contract ordering value of up to $250 million over the five-year IDIQ contract period. The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center are developing the RBS as the next generation launch vehicle that will significantly improve the affordability, operability, and responsiveness of future spacelift capabilities over current expendable launchers.

Initial RBS Flight and Ground Experiments task orders will provide for an RBS flight demonstration vehicle called RBS Pathfinder scheduled to launch in 2015. The RBS Pathfinder is an innovative reusable, winged, rocket-powered flight test vehicle that will demonstrate the Reusable Booster Systems' "rocketback" maneuver capabilities and validate the system requirements that will drive refinements in the design of the operational RBS. (12/6)

SpaceX Dragon ISS Flight to Slip Further, Pending Combined-Mission Approval (Source:
SpaceX’s Dragon demonstration flight to the International Space Station (ISS) is understood to be moving into the February/March timeframe, while approval for the combination of the C2/C3 (D2/D3) missions – which would result in Dragon arriving at the orbital outpost – is still pending official approval from NASA and the ISS partners.

A final decision to combine the second and third of three planned Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) demonstration flights for SpaceX’s Dragon capsule still hasn’t been made, though it’s been due for several weeks. An official decision, resulting a mission which will see the first commercial spacecraft to arrive at the Space Station, will be made by Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Mission Directorate Associate Administrator Bill Gersteinmaier.

Several challenges have been – or continue to be – evaluated, such as the series of software updates that have been planned for the ISS, which will enable the station to support the new commercial vehicles at the outpost. Mr Gersteinmaier did note that SpaceX had delivered the final update version of their software for NASA evaluation, during the Soyuz TMA-22 post-docking media briefing in Russia. (12/6)

Bolden: NASA Not Budgeting for Sequestration (Source: Space Policy Online)
NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden told a Space Transportation Association (STA) audience that NASA is not planning for a budget that would reflect deep cuts required by sequestration under the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011. Bolden said he is "optimistic" that Congress will not allow the sequestration to go into effect. "I, like the President, am very confident that the going to find a way to solve the problem," he asserted.

The BCA created the congressional "supercommittee" that was tasked with reducing the deficit by $1.2 trillion over 10 years. If it failed, automatic reductions called a "sequester" of a similar magnitude would go into effect for all the government departments and agencies that are funded as part of the "discretionary" part of the government. There also would be a modest cut to Medicare providers.

Exactly how much any particular agency would be cut in any given year is uncertain at this point since the calculations depend on a number of factors. However, cuts on the order of 7-8 percent for non-defense discretionary agencies like NASA have been floated. These would be cuts to projected funding levels through FY-2021. (12/6)

A Troubling LEO Environment Projection (Source: @Jeff_Foust)
In the increasingly cluttered orbital environment, even with an active debris removal (ADR) of 5 objects per year, a total of 14 catastrophic collisions are expected. The need for ADR is highlighted in the National Space Policy where both the DoD and NASA are directed to pursue research and development of technologies and techniques to remove on-orbit debris. Click here. (12/6)

Revisiting a 1992 Study on Commercial Space Impediments (Source: SPACErePORT)
In 1992, the Spaceport Florida Authority sponsored a controversial study titled: "Impediments to Commercial Space Launch Operations at CCAFS/KSC". The study gathered not-for-attribution input from commercial launch vehicle and payload customers at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. 20 years later, I have summarized this study's findings and recommendations in a 35 question survey, to determine if the issues raised have been resolved or require continued attention. I'm trying to find qualified people to complete the survey. Please click here. (12/6)

Report: Wallops Spaceport Needs State Money (Source: Daily Press)
Another week, another report on Virginia's Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. This one, courtesy of Herndon-based Center for Innovative Technology, draws similar conclusions as a report issued last month by Gov. Bob McDonnell's office. Both say that the spaceport, which abuts NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore, is growing rapidly and could grow even more because NASA is investing in commercial spaceflight.

The center's report differs in that it goes straight for the jugular — in this case, the shrinking coffers of Virginia's government. "Continued operations of the [Virginia Commercial Spaceflight] Authority and Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport are contingent upon increased annual financial support from the Commonwealth," says the first of several recommendations in the report that call for "immediate attention."

It'll be interesting to see if McDonnell, who prides himself on small government, ponies up the money to expand the authority when he releases a two-year state budget this month. It'll also be interesting to see how the newly Republican-controlled General Assembly reacts. Click here. (12/6)

Orbital Gains Membership on Virginia Spaceport Board (Source: Daily Press)
A recent report from Gov. Bob McDonnell's office, completed by an outside consulting firm, said while the state spacecport authority's relationship with Orbital Sciences Corp. is paramount, Virginia needs to limit Orbital's influence to attract other aerospace companies. It stated that Orbital should no longer have a voting presence on the authority's board of directors. McDonnell had let Orbital's representation on the board slip to one member. That changed Friday when he appointed to the board Bob Richards, vice president of Orbital's human spaceflight systems' advanced programs group. (12/6)

Virginia Spaces Out (Source: Washington Life)
Looking for an adventurous vacation closer to home? Virginia has just the thing. Thanks to V.A.’s unique position of being one out of four states launching rockets for tourists, the land has become a hub for astro aficionados and enthralled onlookers alike. Down on the eastern shore, travellers can visit the Wallops Flight Facility, which recently became NASA’s primary facility for suborbital missions and is home to a host of programs including the Wallops Balloon program, Aircraft program, and of course rocket launches.

Away from Wallops in northern Virginia is The National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, where the whole family can take a virtual tour into space with the flight simulator, watch an I-MAX space themed movie, and even crack open a bag of hermetically sealed astronaut ice cream. At the Virginia Air and Space Museum – the birth place of America’s space program – you can view the actual Apollo 12 Command Capsule that went to the moon, see a moon rock, historic planes, and even a Mars meteorite.

And if all this gets you in the mood to float, flip and soar as if you were in space, well, you can do that too thanks to Arlington based company, ZERO-G. The company offers weightlessness experiences via flights on its specially modified Boeing 727, which performs parabolic arcs to create the space-like environment. A ZERO-G Experience is available starting at $4,950 per person and includes 12-15 parabolas, your own ZERO-G flight suit, ZERO-G merchandise. Their next flight in the DC-area is scheduled for March 17. (12/6)

Florida Senators: Why Aren't Our Universities Attracting More Space-Researching 'Tim Tebows'? (Source: Sunshine State News)
State senators want to explore why universities in Florida, both private and public, fail to attract the “Tim Tebows” of space research when NASA has spent a half century launching rockets from the Sunshine State. Members of the Military Affairs, Space, and Domestic Security Committee agreed Monday to invite presidents of universities and colleges in Florida to explain what is needed to get their schools more involved in the space industry.

Sen. Thad Altman, R-Melbourne, who chairs the committee, said the state must attract the “Tim Tebows” of scientific research if it wants to land a bigger share of the estimated $25 billion that NASA will contract for scientific space research in the next five years. “There are 20 states when it comes to space research that are ahead of Florida,” Altman said. “If we want to be a space state, we need to take a look at what is happening and why we are not performing better nationally. I think part of the problem has been people assume we’re a major player and this scientific work slipped by us.”

committee members Sens. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, Jim Norman, R-Tampa, and Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, said the federal research dollars are allocated based on merit rather than politics and the problem is simply that space hasn’t been the focus of university research in Florida. “If we don’t have the technical expertise, we can’t expect the money to be spent in Florida,” Jones said. “If we didn’t capitalize on space, shame on us and the research system.” (12/6)

Marshall Space Flight Center Moves Forward with Propulsion Institute (Source: Huntsville Times)
How bad are things in America's rocket propulsion industry? Bad enough that the answer to that question might soon be, "What rocket propulsion industry?" That's why NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center is finding broad interest in its new National Institute for Rocket Propulsion Systems (NIRPS).

"The biggest surprise is the extent industry has shown up," said Dr. Dale Thomas, Marshall associate director and lead planner for the institute. Thomas said he expected the military and academia to be interested, and they are. But industry has to pay from its own bottom line for every hour of employee time it invests in anything, and it is ready to help NIRPS. (12/5)

The Sad Self-Obsession Surrounding NASA's Kepler-22b Discovery (Source: C/net)
Here we are, burning up our planet until it is a wasteland fit only for Denzel Washington.
Yet the minute we discover that there might exist another place out there whose average temperature is 72 degrees, we get all excited that it's "another Earth." We don't even say "another San Diego," which seems more approximate to that average temperature than, say, New Jersey. No, we're excited because there might be more people like us out there. Or, perhaps, because there might be somewhere to which we can escape when we finally blow up this little place.

In case you have spent the last 24 hours staring into the mirror and wondering about buying yourself plastic surgery for Christmas, NASA today unveiled the discovery of Kepler-22b, a planet that might house water and therefore might house life as we know it. With a tiny leap of logic, we are therefore forced to imagine that we might have found our twin. (12/6)

Giant Asteroid 'More Like a Planet' (Source: UKPA)
Scientists say new views of the massive asteroid Vesta reveal it is more like a planet. Since slipping into orbit around Vesta in July, NASA's Dawn spacecraft has beamed back stunning images of the second largest object residing in the asteroid belt. Vesta's rugged surface is unique compared to the solar system's much smaller and lightweight asteroids. Impact craters dot Vesta's surface along with grooves, troughs and a variety of minerals. "Vesta is unlike any other asteroid," said mission co-scientist Vishnu Reddy. (12/6)

A New Online Database of Habitable Worlds (Source: PHL)
Scientists are now starting to identify potential habitable exoplanets after nearly twenty years of the detection of the first planets around other stars. Over 700 exoplanets have been detected and confirmed with thousands more still awaiting further confirmation by missions such as NASA Kepler. Most of these are gas giants, similar to Jupiter and Neptune, but orbiting very dangerously close to their stars. Only a few have the right size and orbit to be considered suitable for any life.

Now the Planetary Habitability Laboratory (PHL) of the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo (UPR Arecibo) presents a new assessment of the habitability of these worlds as part of its Habitable Exoplanets Catalog (HEC). The catalog not only identifies new potential habitable exoplanets, including exomoons like the Pandora world in the movie Avatar, but also ranks them according to various habitability indices. Click here. (12/6)

Distant Space Travel: What Does it Take? (Source:
New astronauts now being recruited by NASA could be among those going to Mars sometime in the mid-2030s. While that trip will be challenging to say the least, it's just the tip of the iceberg for humans envisioning longer journeys. After years in deep hibernation, long distance space travelers emerge in reasonably good health. It's the classic view of science fiction tales like "Avatar." But in the real world, suspending life in deep sleep would only aggravate problems humans have already experienced in space even when not sleeping.

"You're spinal cord expands. You gain a couple of inches in height because of the loss of gravity. Your muscle mass decreases. Your bones de-calcify," explained Seth Jarvis, director if the Clark Planetarium. But what if we could modify the human experience in space? We're not just talking about a two week trip to the moon -- a trip we've already taken. Now we're going way beyond that: to Mars, a two-year journey, and even beyond that! Click here. (12/6)

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