February 28, 2012

Legislation Could Speed NextGen Implementation (Source: Bloomberg)
Legislation passed this month could be good news for the implementation of the NextGen system. "It has the potential to accelerate NextGen," said Richard Efford, assistant vice president for legislative affairs at the Aerospace Industries Association. The legislation includes 25 sections that address NextGen and could benefit companies such as General Electric and Honeywell. (2/28)

Virgin Galactic Plans Test Flight Beyond Earth's Atmosphere (Source: Reuters)
Virgin Galactic expects this year to test its spacecraft beyond the atmosphere, a precursor to similar commercial flights. The company expects to launch passenger suborbital flights next year or in 2014. (2/28)

Virgin Galactic Plans Test Flight in Space This Year (Source: Reuters)
Virgin Galactic expects to test fly its first spacecraft beyond the Earth's atmosphere this year, with commercial suborbital passenger service to follow in 2013 or 2014, company officials said. Nearly 500 customers have signed up for rides on SpaceShipTwo, a six-passenger, two-pilot spaceship being built and tested by Scaled Composites, an aerospace company founded by aircraft designer Burt Rutan and now owned by Northrop Grumman. (2/28)

Does NASA's Budget Need a Boost? (Source: MSNBC)
NASA will be dealing with some tough choices in the years ahead: The space agency has to start virtually from square one on its Mars exploration program. It has to rein in budget overruns on the $8.8 billion James Webb Space Telescope, widely seen as the heir to the Hubble Space Telescope. It's spending hundreds of millions of dollars on commercial efforts to replace the space shuttle, and billions of dollars on the development of a new launch system to send astronauts beyond Earth orbit for the first time in more than 40 years. And to top it off, it's been allotted less money for next year than it's getting this year.

How can NASA strike the proper balance in its budget? It can't, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson says. In his latest book, "Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier," Tyson explains why America's space effort needs more of a boost than it's getting. "I'd really argue for doubling NASA's budget," Tyson said. Click here. (2/28)

Blue Origin to Conduct Pad-Abort Test for New Shepard (Source: Flight Global)
Blue Origin plans to conduct a pad-abort test in the summer of 2012, a crucial milestone in qualifying the company's New Shepard vehicle for human spaceflight. Blue Origin, the low-profile rocket company founded by internet entrepreneur Jeff Bezos, was one of four companies to receive awards under the second round of NASA's commercial crew development program (CCDev).

Blue Origin said a second New Shepard vehicle is being built, but declined to provide additional details. Blue Origin's first vehicle was destroyed in August 2011 during a test flight from the company's facility at Van Horn in Texas. At the time of its destruction, the rocket was accelerating through mach 1.2 at approximately 45,000ft. "We always expected to lose it during flight testing, it was never going to be the operational vehicle," said Alexander, "and we're building the next vehicle now."

The New Shepard rocket is designed to reach apogee at approximately 100km, at which point a capsule will separate and continue on an upward trajectory. The now capsule-less rocket will tip over, deploying a flared surface to improve stability and increase drag, firing its engines just above the Earth's surface to land gently back at its launch pad. (2/29)

Lost in Space? Cuts to NASA Threaten Innovation, Diplomacy (Source: PBS)
Planetary scientists and space aficionados alike are up in arms over NASA’s 2013 budget, released last week. The agency announced that it would pull out of a mission partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA) due to budget cuts. That project, called the “ExoMars” Mission, would have sent two robotic vehicles to the Red Planet: one to scour its surface and the other to orbit overhead, both searching for signs of the planet’s past ability to harbor life.

And the Mars Program is not the only victim of the current budget climate. The cuts will affect missions in their prime, like the Cassini Mission to Saturn, and missions in their infancy, like a planned explorer to Jupiter’s oceanic moon Europa, both of which involve strong European connections. This on top of a year where NASA has already flip-flopped on agreements with its European partners over several missions-in-planning, from a gravitational waves detection project to a joint mission to Jupiter’s moons. In each case, NASA initially acted as a partner, only to leave ESA scrambling to make up the costs. (2/28)

SwRI and XCOR Agree to Pioneering Research Test Flight Missions (Source: SwRI)
Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) has reached an agreement with XCOR Aerospace, Inc. to conduct pioneering suborbital space missions with Institute payload specialist astronauts flying aboard one or two test missions in the XCOR Aerospace Lynx Mark I vehicle. The flights will test capabilities of the Lynx vehicle with actual researchers and research experiments aboard.

In 2011, SwRI and XCOR Aerospace inked a deal for six SwRI suborbital flights aboard Lynx, with options for three more. Today's announcement moves the first such flights ahead of XCOR's commercial services to be a part of XCOR's Lynx test flight program. (2/28)

No Longer the Final Frontier (Source: National Journal)
NASA’s changing priorities can have a major economic impact on communities, but it’s not always a bad thing. Whether the priority is to return Americans to the moon, take humans to Mars, or develop a powerful—and expensive—space telescope, from the public’s perspective the goals of NASA can often seem ill-defined.

The release earlier this month of NASA’s budget proposal, which would reset some of the agency’s priorities yet again, didn’t help clarify the situation. Media reports about this churning of priorities tend to focus on the big-picture issues of what it means for America’s future in space. Often overlooked, however, is what it means for the communities where NASA has facilities and contractors. How do they fare in adapting to the uncertainty?

For some communities, such as those on Florida’s Space Coast, the loss of jobs has been in the thousands, especially with the end of the shuttle program. But another community—and at least one contractor—are faring well. Huntsville, Ala., home to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, would seem to be particularly vulnerable to changes in space-program priorities and funding levels. Click here. (2/28)

Texans Tell NASA: Don’t Close Key Research Facility at JSC (Source: Houston Chronicle)
Texans in the House – Republicans and Democrats alike – are fighting NASA’s plan to close down a test facility at Houston’s Johnson Space Center that’s used to assess the impact of re-entry on spacecraft materials and structures. Twenty-seven House members from Texas – and three colleagues from districts with ties to NASA in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida – made their pitch in a letter to NASA administrator Charles Bolden.

The letter, put together by Rep. Pete Olson, a Republican whose Sugar Land district includes JSC, asks NASA to “reconsider this decision and immediately suspend any further actions to close or take the JSC `arc-jet’ facility offline until we have an opportunity to fully review” the decision. By closing the JSC facility, NASA would be forced to rely on a single test site at Ames Research Center located at Moffett Field in California’s Silicon Valley, the lawmakers warned. (2/28)

MSU Satellite Surpasses Goal; NASA Taps MSU to Queue Up for Another (Source: MSU)
The Montana State University satellite that rode into space on a NASA rocket has now gathered information longer than the historic U.S. satellite it was built to honor, says the director of MSU's Space Science and Engineering Laboratory (SSEL). Almost four months after the Oct. 28 launch and shortly after learning that NASA selected another MSU satellite for possible launch on a NASA rocket next year, SSEL Director David Klumpar cheered as he suddenly realized that Montana's only satellite had collected data for 111 days as of Feb. 15. Since then, the satellite has well surpassed the entire 111-day mission of its history-making predecessor, Explorer-1, the first successful U.S. satellite. (2/28)

Antarctic Salty Soil Sucks Water Out of Atmosphere: Could it Happen on Mars? (Source: OSU)
The frigid McMurdo Dry Valleys in Antarctica are a cold, polar desert, yet the sandy soils there are frequently dotted with moist patches in the spring despite a lack of snowmelt and no possibility of rain. A new study, led by an Oregon State University geologist, has found that that the salty soils in the region actually suck moisture out of the atmosphere, raising the possibility that such a process could take place on Mars or on other planets. (2/28)

Florida Underwater Lab Supports Asteroid Mission Training: NEEMO 16 Planned in June (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
The next NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) mission is being scheduled for June, with teams already preparing for a recon trip ahead of the exercise. The underwater training exercises are staged at the Aquarius underwater habitat in Key Largo, Florida – simulating the conditions and protocols for a real Near Earth Asteroid (NEA) mission.

NEEMO has been in work for many years now, with missions 1 to 13 primarily used for astronaut training, while NEEMO 14 tested equipment and operational concepts for space exploration. NEEMO 15 was the first real full scale operation – even including Mission Operations Directorate (MOD) teams – continuing the trend of testing equipment and operations required for exploration of Near-Earth Asteroids (NEAs). Click here. (2/28)

NASA's Huge Rocket Needs Engine with Flight Heritage (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
NASA must find and purchase a cost-effective, proven cryogenic propulsion system for the first two flights of the agency's heavy-lift Space Launch System because the behemoth rocket's Apollo-era upper stage engine will not be ready in time, officials said. The clock is ticking for the rocket to be ready in time for its first mission in late 2017. And NASA has a tight budget to pay for the upper stage, which is planned to send humans to the moon on a flight in 2021, according to agency managers.

The Space Launch System's initial missions are expected to dispatch Orion space capsules on flights around the moon and back to Earth. The 2021 launching will carry a crew. Both flights will be powered into space by cryogenic core stage with three space shuttle main engines, known as RS-25D/E engines, and twin five-segment solid rocket boosters. But development of the J-2X upper stage engine, an upgraded version of a powerplant used on the Saturn 5 rocket, will not be finished in time.

Instead, NASA is planning to procure an interim upper stage to fly in 2017 and 2021. One possibility is the RL10 engine, which is used on the upper stages of the United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 and Delta 4 rockets. The hydrogen-fueled engine, produced by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, was also used on the Saturn 1 rocket in the 1960s. Editor's Note: How about a cluster of SpaceX Merlin engines? (2/28)

New Center for Microgravity Research and Education in Florida (Source: Parabolic Arc)
More jobs and economic investment may be coming to Central Florida thanks to the creation of the new Center for Microgravity Research and Education. The center will conduct fundamental research in ground-based laboratories, on parabolic microgravity airplane flights, with a laboratory drop tower, and on suborbital rocket flights. The center will also develop experiments for the International Space Station.

“If we’re going to be exploring and operating equipment and scientific instruments on environments such as the moon or asteroids, it’s essential to understand how things behave in that low-gravity environment,” said Joshua Colwell, the director of the center and an associate professor of physics at UCF.

The center will establish Central Florida and the Space Coast as a national leader in scientific utilization of the emerging commercial suborbital launch industry. Its facilities are at the Kennedy Space Center’s Space Life Sciences Laboratory and the University of Central Florida’s Orlando campus. (2/28)

Astrobotic Technology Inc. Wins NASA Task Order for Moon Expedition Data (Source: SpaceRef)
NASA has awarded Astrobotic Technology Inc. an additional task in its $10 million Innovative Lunar Demonstrations Data (ILDD) contract under which NASA buys information about the company's commercial robotic expeditions to the Moon. The $100,000 task order brings total funding under the ILDD contract thus far to $610,000.

Astrobotic Technology will launch its first expedition on a Falcon 9 rocket under contract from Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX). In summer 2015, it will deliver a robot to the Moon's south pole to prospect for water, methane and other minerals. Turned into rocket propellant, these resources will dramatically reduce the cost of space exploration by providing an off-planet refueling station. (2/28)

Neil Armstrong, 1st Person on Moon, Touts Suborbital Spaceflight (Source: Space.com)
Neil Armstrong, the first person to set foot on the moon, thinks humanity should stop neglecting the space environment much closer to Earth. The U.S. dropped most of its test flights in the stratosphere and suborbital space after figuring out how to send humans to low-Earth orbit and the moon, said Armstrong. He thinks it's time for that to change.

"In the suborbital area, there are a lot of things to be done," Armstrong said here Monday during a presentation at the 2012 Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference (NSRC-2012). "This is an area that has been essentially absent for about four decades, since the X-15 finished its job." (2/28)

Suborbital Company Announcements and Other Developments at NSRC (Source: New Space Journal)
A big focus at the 2012 Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference in Palo Alto was on the progress that five companies—-Armadillo Aerospace, Blue Origin, Masten Space Systems, Virgin Galactic, and XCOR Aerospace—-are making on the vehicles that can carry the research payloads, and perhaps even the researchers themselves, in the near future. These companies all offered some updates on the technical and other developments that are bringing them ever closer to flight. Click here. (2/28)

Embry-Riddle Grad Student Accepts Human Factors Internship at JSC (Source: ERAU)
One of Embry-Riddle's graduate students has been accepted for a summer internship at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. As part of the National Space and Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) Summer Internship Program, she will work in the laboratory of John De Witt this summer. The program “…provides the opportunity for undergraduate, graduate or medical students from across the country to join ongoing project activities and gain hands-on experience in space biomedical research. (2/28)

California Aerospace Leader Expresses Concern Over Potential Loss of Industry (Source: LA Times)
California is at risk of losing aerospace companies to other states if it doesn’t become more business-friendly, according to Stuart Witt, general manager of the Mojave Air and Space Port. Witt said that California politicians need to do more so other states don’t lure the emerging commercial space industry away from the Southland.

Just last August, aerospace giant Northrop Grumman Corp.moved its corporate headquarters from Century City to Falls Church, Va. The company joined an exodus of military companies -- including Lockheed Martin Corp., Science Applications International Corp. and Computer Sciences Corp. -- that have abandoned Southern California since the mid-1990s. (2/28)

Startram Could Usher in Era of Low-Cost Space Travel (Source: Next Big Future)
Next Big Future has covered the Startram concept in detail before. The GEN 1 concept involves using long, evacuated tunnels to accelerate unmanned payloads to orbital velocity. In theory, this concept could bring launch costs to LEO down to $50 dollar per kilogram. A more ambitious GEN 1.5 system could would take longer and greater resources to develop but could also put humans into orbit for a similar per-kilogram cost. In an interview with Sander Olson, Startram visionary James Powell discusses why he believes that the concept is viable, and how it could be developed within twenty years for $40 billion. Click here. (2/28)

Dream Job: Being an Astronaut and Blasting Off to... Hawaii (Source: CNBC)
Plenty of little kids have dreamed of becoming an astronaut. And plenty of adults have dreamed of jetting off to Hawaii. Now, Cornell and the University of Hawaii are making a double dream come true for eight lucky people, offering a job to work on an astronaut mission in Hawaii — and they will teach you how to cook ... on another planet.

Wait, cook? Don’t astronauts have their food delivered in little space pouches? Yep, this mission is about cooking. But it’s about the great beyond of cooking — beyond those little silver pouches — testing crew-cooked food, which IS possible on a planetary-surface mission. That’s right, while you would be cooking, you would be paving the way for a Planetary Surface Mission. Click here. (2/28)

Galileo on the Ground Reaches Some of Earth’s Loneliest Places (Source: ESA)
A worldwide chain of Galileo ground stations on some of the remotest sites on Earth is nearing completion ahead of this year’s launch of two more satellites. Engineers spent a hectic Christmas and New Year on the main island of the Kerguelen group in the Indian Ocean, working against the clock to install the latest Galileo sensor station – measuring regional signal accuracy so corrections can be made if needed. (2/28)

Neil deGrasse Tyson on Politics, New Frontiers, and Science Evangelism (Source: PopSci)
2012 marks the first year in three decades that the U.S. is not launching its own publicly funded manned space vehicle, and it could also be China's year to shine, on Earth and in space. It’s a transition period for American space exploration, but even amid all this change there’s something greater, yet less tangible, that’s lacking: As a country, we need a clear mission. America’s unofficial space spokesman, Neil deGrasse Tyson, has something to say about that. Click here. (2/28)

USAF Museum in Ohio In Line to get Shuttle Exhibit (Source: WHIO)
The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Ohio, which lost out in a competition last year to receive one of the retiring space orbiters, will ultimately wind up with a visually similar shuttle exhibit as the result of a separate contribution from NASA. This July, the museum expects to receive a crew compartment trainer that NASA used for years to train shuttle orbiter crews at Johnson Space Center in Houston. It was used to train all Air Force shuttle astronauts in operation of orbiter systems and controls, museum officials said Monday. (2/28)

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