January 20, 2012

Highlights From Wallops Island Public Meeting (Source: SPACErePORT)
NASA held a public meeting to update Virginia and Maryland residents and public officials near the Wallops Island spaceport on plans for 2012 and beyond. Wallops employs about 1,100 NASA employees and had a 2011 budget of about $200 million. For 2012, NASA plans 35 suborbital rocket launches, 2-3 orbital Antares launches, 13-17 balloon launches, and 7 aircraft science projects.

NASA will extend an existing seawall and add sand to 3.7 miles of shoreline to protect the spaceport's infrastructure. They plan a new badging office and a reconfigured main base entrance. Virginia's governor has requested $4 million to complete the new Antares launch pad, and another $4 million for a new taxiway to connect a Wallops Island runway to a new Wallops Research Park.

NASA is also working closely with state officials in Virginia and Maryland to establish an FAA Test Range for unmanned aerial systems. And NASA says additional launch vehicles are interested in using Wallops, but this would require infrastructure improvements and new support facilities on the north end of the installation. (1/20)

Mystery Surrounds Secretive X-37B Plans (Source: Space.com)
The United States Air Force's secretive X-37B space plane has been circling Earth for more than 10 months, and there's no telling when it might come down. As of Friday (Jan. 20), the mysterious robotic X-37B spacecraft has been aloft for 321 days, significantly outlasting its stated mission design lifetime of 270 days. But it may stay up for even longer yet, experts say, particularly if the military views this space mission — the second ever for the hush-hush vehicle — as something of an endurance test. "Because it is an experimental vehicle, they kind of want to see what its limits are," said Brian Weeden, a technical adviser with the Secure World Foundation and a former orbital analyst with the Air Force. (1/20)

Stratolaunch Systems Breaks Ground on Mojave Production Facility (Source: Stratolaunch)
Stratolaunch Systems announced the ground breaking on a production facility and hangar at the Mojave Air and Space Port. The construction of these facilities will be performed by the Bakersfield-based Wallace and Smith General Contractors. The fabrication facility, an 88,000 square foot building, will be used to manufacture the carrier aircraft wing assemblies and associated parts for the new aircraft. The fabrication facility is projected to be completed in late 2012.

The aircraft hangar, a 92,640 square foot building, will serve as the aircraft assembly and test facility and will encompass 20,250 square foot of office space. The hangar facility has a projected completion of mid 2013. "Today marks the start of an exciting journey for us. Over the next year," said Gary Wentz, CEO and President of Stratolaunch Systems. "We will have a visible presence in the Antelope Valley with two new facilities and a pair of 747-400 aircraft which will undergo salvage to supply parts and subsystems for integration into our carrier aircraft." (1/20)

U.S. Government Looking To Lower Landsat Costs (Source: Space News)
U.S. government agencies are looking together for ways to reduce the cost of future Landsat missions as a result of congressional direction included in the 2012 budget passed in December. “Although Congress has provided $2 million to the U.S. Geological Service for Landsat 9 program development, they have also requested that the Administration re-examine how to proceed with future Landsat missions,” said an Interior Department spokesman.

“Accordingly, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, Office of Management and Budget, USGS, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have formed a team to look at all possible options for Landsat missions, addressing performance, cost and risk.” President Obama requested $48 million for USGS to pave the way for development of Landsat 9 and Landsat 10, spacecraft designed to extend the Landsat program’s 40-year record of providing moderate-resolution imagery on global agriculture, land use and natural disasters. (1/20)

Allied Investment in WGS Could Pinch Demand for Commercial Bandwidth (Source: Space News)
Commercial satellite fleet operators hoping future military demand will offset slowing growth in North America and Europe might have heard warning shots the week of Jan. 17 as five new nations joined the U.S. Defense Department’s Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) network as a way to reduce spending on commercial bandwidth.

The agreement of Canada, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and New Zealand to invest a combined $620 million in a ninth WGS satellite over 20 years — the U.S. Air Force will finance the rest of the billion-dollar WGS-9 program — came less than a week before the successful Jan. 19 launch of WGS-4. (1/20)

Catching a Gravity Wave: Canceled Laser Space Antenna May Still Fly (Source: Scientific American)
Ripples in the fabric of spacetime regularly zip across the universe from titanic cosmic events, such as the mergers of supermassive black holes millions to billions of times the mass of the sun. These so-called gravitational waves ought to be ubiquitous but faint, and no experiment has yet registered the disturbance caused by a passing wave.

The Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) was supposed to do just that. The spaceborne observatory, also known as LISA, was to be a joint mission between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) to detect gravitational waves and give scientists a whole new window through which to look on the universe and understand its underpinnings. Cost overruns concerning the next-generation James Webb Space Telescope apparently helped doom LISA. Reports of its death may have been greatly exaggerated, however, as researchers are still fighting hard toward launch.

Even scaled-back versions of the project might still have a good chance of making revolutionary discoveries, the scientists maintain. As originally planned, LISA would have involved three identical spacecraft trailing Earth in an orbit around the sun. (1/20)

US Military Wants Mobile Telescopes to Spot Dead Satellites (Source: Space.com)
The U.S. military's "Phoenix" project aims to recycle spare parts from old satellites to create new Frankenstein spacecraft in orbit, but it needs faster telescope imaging to find satellites suitable for cannibalization. Now it has called for a swarm of mobile ground telescopes capable of spotting possible space targets from many angles. Such interconnected ground telescopes could measure the light reflections of space objects from different angles — a method that allows them to figure out the position and speed of the objects moving across the sky.

The telescopes would transmit the collected light to one another through fiber-optic cables similar to those that deliver Internet and TV signals to homes. "We know the fiber-optic control community is engaged in precision control of light," said Lt. Col. Travis Blake, an Air Force officer and program manager at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). "If those solutions could be meshed with the unique demands of astronomic imaging, we could develop a new means of better, faster imaging of objects." (1/20)

Weird World! 'Oozing' Alien Planet Is a Super-Earth Wonder (Source: Space.com)
A new look at an alien planet that orbits extremely close to its parent star suggests that the rocky world might not be a scorching hot wasteland, as was thought. In fact, the planet may actually be stranger and wetter than astronomers ever imagined. The exotic planet 55 Cancri e is a relatively close alien planet, just 40 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Cancer (The Crab).

55 Cancri e is 26 times closer to its parent star than Mercury is to the sun, according to NASA officials. 55 Cancri e is part of a multiplanet system that was first detected in 1997. Five planets circle the host star, and 55 Cancri e was discovered in 2004. Originally, estimates of the planet's size and mass indicated that it was an ultra-dense rocky world, but Spitzer's observations suggest that about a fifth of the planet's mass must be made up of light elements and compounds, including water, scientists said. (1/20)

An Evaporating Exoplanet? (Source: Sky & Telescope)
There’s something strange obscuring the light from a cool, low-mass star observed by NASA’s Kepler mission. Every 15.685 Earth days, KIC 12557548’s light dims for about 1.5 hours. The dips in starlight aren’t always the same — some events block more light than others — so the occultations don’t look like the regular blip caused by a planet passing in front of the star. After considering various options, an international team of astronomers reported recently that the signal might be from debris thrown off by a small rocky planet as it disintegrates under the star’s glare. (1/20)

Exede: The Satellite Broadband Service You've Been Waiting For? (Source: cnet)
Buried among the gadgets, superthin screen OLED TVs, and all the other products we saw at CES this year was something not terribly sexy-looking, but something that will potentially affect millions of people living in rural America. It's Exede, a new satellite broadband service from ViaSat that just launched this week. Yes, you heard right, satellite, those contraptions that orbit the earth, and until now a very sluggish way to receive Internet service (satellite has frequently been referred to as the Internet service of "last resort").

However, thanks to the launch of ViaSat-1, a next-generation satellite system that was launched in October of last year, satellite-based Internet service just got a lot more attractive, with ViaSat saying it will offer up to 12Mbps downstream and up to 3Mbps upstream starting at $50 per month with a setup fee of $149.99. Those throughput numbers represent huge speed increases over the previous version of the company's service, which topped out at 1.5Mbps downstream and a mere 256Kbps upstream (the entry-level $50 service only delivered 512Kbps downstream and 128Kbps upstream). (1/20)

Shepard Space Capsule Leaving Naval Academy (Source: WTOP)
The space capsule that carried the first American into space is leaving the Naval Academy. The Freedom 7 capsule carried academy graduate Alan Shepard into space in 1961 in a 15-minute Project Mercury suborbital flight. The capsule is heading to the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library in Boston. The academy says the NASA space capsule arrived at the school in 1998 and has been on display since then at its visitor center, where it will be until the end of February. The Naval Academy says it has produced 52 astronauts, more than any other college or university in the nation. (1/20)

KSC Seeks Ideas for Shuttle Logistics Depot (Source: SPACErePORT)
NASA has issued a Request for Information (RFI) aimed at identifying alternative uses and preserving the key capabilities of the NASA Shuttle Logistics Depot (NSLD), located outside of KSC property in the City of Cape Canaveral. KSC is seeking industry interest in the operation and/or maintenance of this NASA property, including a potential loan agreement for this property in which the submitter would, at their own expense, take possession of the equipment and maintain it for the term of the loan.

NASA KSC is seeking suggestions how the equipment would be used and/or maintained in order to make the contemplated loan agreement feasible. Collectively, this equipment supports capabilities like flight hardware fabrication, cable fabrication, reverse engineering and production of Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) flight hardware. NASA seeks to keep ownership of all assets in their entirety as part of this loan agreement. To the extent that NASA enters into a loan agreement, it will do so via a Space Act Agreement (SAA). (1/20)

FAA Tech Center Concept Needs Traction (Source: SPACErePORT)
Acknowledging that the Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) could have done a better job conveying the need and benefits of the FAA Tech Center proposed by President Obama to be placed at Kennedy Space Center, staffers said the project is basically in limbo as AST is forced to tighten its belt amid agency budget cuts in 2012. President Obama sought $5 million last year to startup the Tech Center, which would have initially been located in the LC-39 Industrial Area on KSC. His current level of support for the project is unknown, but it is among Florida's federal space policy priorities for 2012.

AST continues to operate under a Congressional moratorium on new human spaceflight regulations, which will expire at the end of 2012. Commercial spaceflight proponents are concerned that AST will be underfunded and unprepared to deal with the inevitable increase in commercial spaceflight activities over the next several years. The Tech Center at KSC would not be staffed with regulators, but would conduct applied research for launch safety and standards development...something the industry says is badly needed.

AST confirmed that Virginia has submitted a formal letter to the FAA to express interest in hosting the FAA Tech Center in that state. Meanwhile, KSC planners see the Tech Center as an enabler for restructuring the NASA center as a launch site for multiple commercial users. Members of the Florida Congressional Delegation may soon take-up this issue as deliberations proceed on the FAA's reauthorization. Florida space advocates also hope the issue will gain traction among candidates seeking Florida votes during the elections this year. (1/20)

Glenn, Kelly to be Featured at OSU Event (Source: Columbus Dispatch)
A celebration next month of the 50th anniversary of the Friendship 7 spaceflight is to feature John Glenn and Mark Kelly, Ohio State University plans to announce. The Feb. 20 dinner event at Ohio State will mark the 1962 mission in which Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. Kelly, the NASA astronaut who was commander of the space shuttle Endeavour’s final mission, will deliver the keynote speech. Proceeds from the $1,000-a-ticket dinner will go to the John Glenn School of Public Affairs and the College of Engineering. (1/20)

Florida’s Unemployment Drops 2.1 Percentage Points (Source: Gov. Rick Scott)
Governor Rick Scott announced today that Florida’s unemployment rate went down again in the last month of 2011 to 9.9 percent. A total of 5,100 new private-sector jobs were also added in December, solidifying Florida’s status as one of the nation’s leaders in job creation last year. Since Governor Scott took office, the state’s unemployment rate has dropped 2.1 percentage points, from a high of 12 percent in December 2010, to the first single-digit unemployment rate in more than two-and-a-half years in December 2011. (1/20)

Delay Until March for Space Station's 1st Private Hookup (Source: AP)
The first commercial cargo run to the International Space Station is off until spring. SpaceX planned to launch its unmanned supply ship from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Feb. 7. But the company said more testing was needed with the spacecraft, named Dragon. On Friday, officials confirmed the launch would not occur until late March. (1/20)

Burt Rutan on Designing the World’s Largest Aircraft (Source: Popular Mechanics)
Burt Rutan is best known as the designer of the first privately built craft to send people into space—-SpaceShipOne. Last month, SpaceShipOne’s financier, Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen, announced the formation of a new space project called Stratolaunch. It is planning to build the world’s largest aircraft, a 385-foot-wingspan behemoth that would launch satellites, and eventually astronauts, to orbit aboard modified Falcon 9 rockets.

Although he retired from Scaled early last year, Rutan is a member of the Stratolaunch board of directors, and parts of the Stratolaunch plans are based on his initial concepts and designs. We reached him via email to ask about how the concept evolved, and the future of space travel. Click here. (1/20)

Florida Researchers Theorize on Lack of Intelligent Life in Galaxy (Source: The Economist)
The idea that intelligent life on Earth is a cosmic oddity strikes many as unwarranted terrestrial exceptionalism. Some theorize that although civilizations exist, they are few and slow to expand—and so have yet to reach Earth, or that the galaxy is teeming with intelligent lifeforms, but they are unevenly distributed; Earth just happens to find itself in a bare patch. The latest attempt to calculate whether such scenarios ring true comes from Thomas Hair and Andrew Hedman, of Florida Gulf Coast University. They reckon the odds are rather long. To arrive at their conclusion Dr Hair and Mr Hedman assumed that outer space is dotted with solar systems, about five light years apart.

They then asked how quickly a single civilization armed with the requisite technology would spread its tentacles, depending on the degree of colonizing zeal, expressed as the probability that intelligent beings decide to hop from one planet to the next in 1,000 years (500 years for the trip, at a modest one-tenth of the speed of light, and another 500 years to prepare for the next hop). Their research suggests that humans really do have the Milky Way to themselves. Either that or the neighbours are a particularly timid bunch. Click here. (1/20)

Dollar Appreciation: Buy Me to the Moon (Source: EuroMoney)
How can the dollar rise in value? By sending it to the moon. Rich Jurek has launched a virtual museum of $2 bills that have been flown into space -- with some of those bills valued in the thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars at auction. Astronauts and cosmonauts often took the rare $2 bills on their voyages for good luck. At Jurek's Jefferson Museum, there are eight such bills. The most valuable is one once owned by Gene Cernan. Click here. (1/20)

China: Failure of Mission Hits Mars Research (Source: Xinhua)
The loss of China's first interplanetary probe, attached to an ill-fated Russian spacecraft, has cost scientists the chance to conduct breakthrough research on Mars, a top scientist said. New objectives must now be considered for a Mars exploration mission, probably in 2016, said Wu Ji, director-general of the National Space Science Center under the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Yinghuo-1, launched in November two years later than originally planned from Kazakhstan on the Russian Phobos-Grunt spacecraft, crashed into the Pacific Ocean on Monday. (1/20)

Britain's Got Talent Winner Could Go Into Space (Source: Mirror)
Simon Cowell always wanted to rule the Earth – now he has set his sights on space as well. The TV mogul is returning to British screens after a year in exile and he’s come up with an out-of-this-world stunt to announce his comeback. In a telly first, Simon has declared he intends to blast this year’s Britain’s Got Talent winner into orbit. He has teamed up with show’s new sponsor, Virgin’s Richard Branson, to offer the prize of a flight in Virgin Galactic’s 2,500mph spaceship. Editor's Note: Not "into orbit". (1/20)

AIA Chief: Defense Investments Yield More Spinoffs (Source: AIA)
"When we directly compare, buck for buck, research and development and other investments, defense-related investments generate far more groundbreaking advances. They range from the Internet and laser eye surgery technologies to scores of our most significant technological advances like GPS and the breast-cancer vaccine just announced," Marion Blakey writes. (1/20)

Pentagon Puts Missile Program, Satellite on Chopping Block (Source: Bloomberg)
The Pentagon will propose to cut a Joint Air-to-Ground Missile program, a Defense Weather Satellite System and an attack-aircraft program as part of its search for savings due to new budget cuts. The potential $6.8 billion missile program was for a contest between Lockheed Martin and Raytheon Co. The satellite being targeted is already in progress at Northrop Grumman; $445 million for development had been requested in fiscal year 2012. (1/20)

State Tax Incentives May Not Be Main Draw for Aerospace Firms (Source: Bloomberg)
States are struggling to find money for tax and other economic incentives even in a strapped economy to help attract new business and jobs from aerospace and defense companies such as Boeing or Bombardier, even though such incentives do not always pay off or keep companies from relocating. "Big companies make these location decisions on much bigger issues than what most local politicians understand," said Sam Staley of Florida State University.

While incentives don’t hurt, business leaders often put more weight on such things as wage rates and profitability, according to Staley. Boeing's recent decision to close its factory in Kansas, in favor of a new one elsewhere, leaves Wichita with a $43 million tax-funded aerospace training center without an employer where it can send trainees, for example. (1/20)

Bill Making Cecil Eligible for Space-Related Tax Exemptions Advances (Source: Florida Times-Union)
A bill that would make Cecil Airport eligible to offer tax exemptions as a way to attract space-related business passed its third House committee stop Thursday. Cecil was designated a spaceport by the Federal Aviation Authority in 2010. Under the legislation, sponsored by state Rep. Lake Ray, Florida would recognize Cecil as a spaceport. That official designation would allows it to be eligible for a state law that provides a tax exemption for machinery or equipment purchased for a new or expanding business in a spaceport territory.

"As the industry shifts its focus toward space tourism, the Cecil Field Spaceport could become a hub for reusable systems capable of transporting humans and general cargo into space," read a House analysis of the bill. The bill would cost the state $100,000 in revenue, the analysis concludes. Ray's bill would also allow Space Florida, an independent special district that advocates for Florida's space industry, to designate property a spaceport territory that has already been licensed as a spaceport territory by FAA. (1/20)

Iran to Launch New Satellite in February (Source: PressTV)
Iran's Defense Minister Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi has announced plans for launching a satellite into space as well as kicking off several military projects in February. On November 12, Vahidi announced that Iran is set to launch into space three domestically manufactured satellites dubbed Fajr (Dawn), Navid (Harbinger) and Tolou (Rise) in the course of the current and the next Iranian calendar years. (1/20)

GOP Turns Up Heat on Space Code of Conduct (Source: AOL Defense)
Four senior Republican lawmakers warned the Obama administration to work closely with Congress as it drafts a space code of conduct. Reps. Mike Turner, chair of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, and Joe Heck, chair of the House Intelligence subcommittee on technical and tactical intelligence, were joined by Sens. Jeff Sessions, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, and Jon Kyl, the Senate's Republican Whip, in the Jan. 18 letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and and Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper.

The letter says they are "deeply concerned about the unknown consequences" any limitations inherent in a code of conduct might have on "future military or intelligence programs." Reflecting Kyl's focus on arms control, the letter also takes the stand that the code "could establish the foundation for a future arms control regime that binds the United States without the approval of Congress." Finally, the lawmakers press the administration to share with Congress any "comprehensive analysis of the impact of a code of conduct on our nation's economic and national security." (1/20)

Embry-Riddle Project Would Optimize Space Crew Selection (Source: ERAU)
Three Florida universities, led by a researcher in Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University's human factors group, are combining efforts to study the optimal way to select crewmembers for long-duration space missions. In response to a NASA research announcement, Dr. Jason Kring from Embry-Riddle, Dr. John Deaton from Florida Tech, and Dr. Peter Hancock from UCF, propose to investigate the relationship between crew composition and performance.

Building on research conducted by Dr. Deaton in 2011, the team plans to create a diagnostic instrument to quantify the risk of performance decrements due to inadequate crew composition and then test the composition-performance relationship for crews in one or more space analogs. Results will form the basis of a predictive model of crew composition and performance to inform future crew selection decisions.

This model could provide NASA with a structured approach to identifying the optimal combination of task, social, and technical roles within astronaut and mission control support crews needed to sustain high levels of performance and teamwork for long-duration missions. In addition, the team has already convened an advisory board of experts in the behavioral sciences and individuals with flight experience to support the research. (1/20)

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