January 21, 2012

Obama Eases Travelers' Paths (to KSC) (Source: Florida Today)
Easing visa restrictions on foreign visitors could lead to a huge increase in travel to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, one of Central Florida’s most popular destinations for international tourists. “We really rely on visitors from South America, from Europe and from Asia,” said John Stine, director of sales and marketing at the Visitor Complex, which broke ground Wednesday on a building to exhibit shuttle Atlantis. “They are critical to our success.”

President Obama ordered the Commerce and Interior departments to develop a national tourism strategy that highlights national parks, and cultural and historic sites. And he's adding business executives to a tourism advisory board. “It is very frustrating to see what some of these countries have had to go through with visas,” Stine said. Half the visitors to the Visitor Complex are international, and that number could be increased greatly. While speaking at Disney, Obama supported bipartisan legislation cosponsored by U.S. Rep. Bill Posey that would streamline travel to the U.S. for international tourists. (1/20)

Virginia: Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Stardust (Source: Potomac Local)
Virginia Delegate Terry Kilgore is proposing legislation to provide tax breaks to Virginia residents who send their cremated remains into outer space. Under House Bill 19, Virginians would get an income tax deduction if they entered a prepaid contract with a commercial space flight entity “to place the taxpayer’s human cremated remains into earth or lunar orbit from a spaceport facility operated by the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority.”

The tax break would be in effect from 2013 through 2020. Eligible taxpayers could deduct from their taxable income up to $2,500 in any one year and up to $8,000 total. While the measure may seem a bit out of this world, it has a down-to-earth purpose: economic development. Proponents say incentives like tax breaks for “space burials” will help launch the fledgling industry. It’s an idea both Republicans and Democrats can agree on.

“What I can tell you is, we’re very busy on our end getting our new launch pad complete. I am aware of the market for space burial, and I certainly think it’s a good idea,” said Rick Baldwin, spaceport manager at MARS. Some companies also think space burials are a good idea. Celestis Inc., based in Houston, began offering “memorial spaceflights” to the public in 1997. For $995, the company will launch a canister of remains into space and have it return to Earth. For $2,995, the remains can orbit Earth. Moon orbit is available for $9,995. In 2014, Celestis will begin sending remains into “deep space.” The price: $12,500. (1/21)

Colorado May Become 5th State to Adopt Spaceflight Liability Bill (Sources: Spaceports Blog, Denver Business Journal)
Colorado’s biggest obstacle in becoming a center of commercial space travel is not a lack of infrastructure or marketing, but the threat of injury-related lawsuits, economic development leaders believe. So, the 2012 Colorado General Assembly (state legislature) may join Virginia, Florida, New Mexico and Texas with a liability limit on human space travel - known as the Colorado Space Jobs Act. With the Front Range Airport in Colorado applying for FAA designation to become a commercial spaceport, Colorado state Sen. Mary Hodge has introduced a bill that would limit liability for any space-travel company that gets customers to sign an injury waiver. (1/20)

NASA Debunks Mysterious Triangular 'UFO' (Source: Discovery)
Once again, alien conspiracy theorists have attempted to use publicly available NASA images to prove that the space agency must be engaging in an elaborate UFO cover-up. And, once again, they've been foiled by the laws of physics. This time, they called attention to peculiar new footage captured by a telescope onboard NASA's STEREO-B spacecraft — one of a pair of probes parked on either side of the sun which, together, provide a 360-degree view of the inner solar system. The footage shows Venus, Earth and, on the opposite side of the field-of-view, a mysterious triangular object headed our way. Click here. (1/19)

Virginia, Maryland Call For UAS Test Range Designation (Source: Gov. McDonnell)
Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley sent a joint letter to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood asking him to select the Virginia/Maryland region as host of an Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) test range called for in the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act and FAA Reauthorization Bill. The governors highlighted the region's existing technical expertise in the defense industry, established UAS facilities and appropriate airspace for this type of testing and development.

"The Mid-Atlantic region represents a significant resource to the federal government as they develop a UAS test range," said Governor McDonnell. "Virginia and Maryland already host many companies that provide technical expertise, staffing, and support to the federal government's military and technology programs, and our collection of restricted airspace will provide the perfect training area for this type of testing. Furthermore, the existing DoD, NASA industry and academic institutions in our states can provide the FAA with resources to develop the cutting-edge UAS technology at no additional cost to the taxpayer." (1/20)

Florida Students Participate in NASA Astronomy Program (Source: Daytona Beach News-Journal)
Kaelyn Badura and Colleen Tilley have sky-high career ambitions and now both girls are looking at the sky itself in a new way. The Pine Ridge High School seniors and their teacher, Diane Sartore, just returned from a meeting of the American Astronomical Society, where they helped present results of a research project that documented 27 "young stellar objects" never before identified. Those objects, Colleen said, are stars that are less than 10,000 years old, which is considered "very young" in astronomical circles.

The Pine Ridge group was part of a team that also included high school teachers and students from Minnesota, Oregon and Illinois. Their research project was sponsored by NASA and its Infrared Processing and Analysis Center. By the end of this year, the Pine Ridge group will collaborate with the rest of its research team to write an article for publication in a scientific journal. (1/21)

PWR Ad Calls Out Rocket Propulsion Upstarts (Source: Florida Today)
Thursday night’s successful Delta IV rocket launch could provide the latest highlight for a Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne advertising campaign that takes a thinly veiled swipe at SpaceX. The company, whose engines power United Launch Alliance’s Delta and Atlas rockets and propelled space shuttle crews to orbit, touts its record of producing “smoke and fire” in 14 launches last year, rather than “smoke and mirrors.”

“While the other guys launch powerful press conferences, we power launches of people and critical payloads,” an ad reads. The left side of the ad’s split image shows a microphone on a table with the tag, “Others’ idea of making noise.” On the right side, the microphone takes the shape of an Atlas V rocket blasting off, with the retort, “Ours.” Click here. (1/21)

Project Bifrost: Rockets of the Future? (Source: Discovery)
Chances are you own a smart phone or some kind of electronic device with capabilities that would stun even an Apple engineer from ten years ago. We've come to expect that technology advances at a mind-boggling pace, but just how far has rocket technology advanced in say, the past three decades? Not much. The rockets that sent men to the moon were powered by chemical combustion, which in its most powerful form ignites hydrogen with oxygen. The space shuttle main engine, essentially the state of the art for rocket propulsion, uses the same chemicals.

No doubt, these rockets do their job well for what we ask of them. But, suppose we wanted to dream a little bit bigger, and actually explore the rest of the solar system and beyond. How far can these chemical rockets send us? Not very far. Chemical rockets have fundamental energy limits which give them a maximum exhaust velocity that is too low for most piloted missions with destinations further than the moon.

The fission rocket being referred to here is the Nuclear Thermal Rocket, or NTR. An NTR uses nuclear fission as an energy source instead of chemical combustion, and uses just hydrogen as a propellant, allowing it to achieve a very high exhaust velocity and high thrust. That's the kind of mind-boggling technology upgrade that means piloted missions to deep space, which are beyond the pale for chemical rockets, suddenly become very feasible. Click here. (1/21)

Breakthrough on FAA Reauthorization Bill; Will it Extend a CSLAA Provision? (Source: Space Politics)
House and Senate negotiators have reached a compromise on long-delayed reauthorization legislation for the FAA. The compromise involves organized labor provisions in the bill that had forced a long series of short-term extensions. The compromise clears the way for drafting a version that both houses can pass, a task reported to be “manageable” with the labor deal in place.

The relevance to space policy is that the bill could resolve an issue for the commercial human spaceflight community: a provision in the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act (CSLAA) of 2004 that limits the ability of the FAA to pass safety regulations for such vehicles. That provision is set to expire this December, but as noted here last month, some in the industry have been seeking an extension since the industry has built up less experience than expected when the CSLAA passed. The House version of the FAA reauthorization bill does provide an extension, while the Senate version does not.

It’s not clear yet if the final version of the reauthorization bill-—which may take a few weeks to draft-—will include CSLAA language. Discussion at a recent industry meeting revolved around what the FAA would do when its current restriction expires on December 23. Wayne Hale said there was an understanding that the FAA would not immediately promulgate a series of new safety regulations, citing the time it takes to develop and make open for public comment any new rulemaking. “No one at the FAA is working in a back office to deliver a bunch of new proposed regulations on December 24th,” he said. (1/21)

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