February 5, 2012

A Bunch Of Cool Things I Just Learned About The Commercialization Of Space (Source: Business Insider)
I went to the DLD conference in Munich a couple of weeks ago. One of the cool things about the DLD conference is that they throw in speakers and panels on topics other than the latest buzzy consumer web feature. Like space. Before I got to the conference, I got an invitation to a special breakfast seminar about space.

That sounded cool, so I went. I sat in the back in the Google+ lounge eating three fried eggs and listening to folks from Virgin Galactic and Space Adventures (the company that shoots people into space on Russian rockets), and Esther Dyson, who has done the training to go into space. Here are some cool things I learned. (2/5)

Editorial: Cutting NASA’s Budget Would Be a Bad Move (Source: Washington Post)
When released next week, President Obama’s 2013 budget will undoubtedly kick off another round of discussions over how much to spend on the nation’s space program and which space projects should be funded. In this era of austerity, a likely issue will be NASA’s support of commercial space enterprises, which some view as low priority. In 2010, Obama proposed a fundamental change in how NASA operates, shifting development of taxis to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station from the government to the private sector.

Congress agreed, but last year gave the president less than half what he’d requested for these ventures — $406 million instead of $850 million, barely 2 percent of NASA’s $17.8 billion budget. To grow the economy, spur innovation and create jobs, the government should commit the financial resources to the space program and not look at this as an area to gut.

Critics of commercial space enterprises do not understand that “new space,” as this new industry is often called, is grounded in a long history of exploration and economic growth. It is space done the way Americans have always developed new geographic and industrial frontiers. New space is old America. Click here. (2/5)

Alaska's Governor Proposes $8 Million for Kodiak Spaceport Costs (Source: Juneau Empire)
Gov. Sean Parnell allocated $8 million in his proposed FY 2013 operating budget for basic operations and maintenance of the Kodiak Launch Complex. Alaska Aerospace testified in House Military and Veterans Affairs finance sub-committee on Feb. 3 to convince legislators to keep it there. Craig Campbell President and CEO of Alaska Aerospace Corp. said his company requested $8 million last year, but received only half that. This year, the state will fund Kodiak’s operation through the operating budget, as opposed to the capital budget as in years past, Campbell said. (2/5)

Alaska Spaceport Sees Niche in Light, Maybe Medium-Lift Rockets (Source: Juneau Empire)
With big government largess a thing of the past, how will Campbell alter course at the Kodiak spaceport to make it commercially viable? Campbell said Vandenberg plans to focus on heavy-lift rockets, leaving Kodiak open to vie for the light and medium lift market. Campbell said Kodiak is not looking to grow into the heavy-lift market, but if Alaska’s spaceport can find customers for a medium-lift launch it will seek funding to build the capacity to handle rockets of well over 200 feet. Building this capacity could cost around $100 million. (2/5)

Alaska Spaceport Expects Annual Athena Launches (Source: Juneau Empire)
The Kodiak launch facility is tailor made for the Athena rocket, which stands about 90 feet tall. Lockheed Martin announced in 2010 that it would re-release its Athena family of small rockets. To find customers to buy payload space on their redesigned rockets, Lockheed Martin turned to the growing industry of micro- and nano-satellites. “We have a yearly commitment to a Kodiak launch,” Campbell said. “It’s really good for us, it doesn’t just rely on federal government.” (2/5)

Software Testing Remains an Obstacle for SpaceX Flight (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk said Friday the first Dragon spacecraft will likely reach the International Space Station in April, echoing a senior NASA manager's comments earlier this week as engineers update the spaceship's operating software after problems surfaced during a simulation in January. Officials last month postponed the mission's launch from Feb. 7, citing the need for additional work to optimize for the safety and success of the flight.

Describing an "insane amount of testing" on the Dragon's control software, Musk said a sizable chunk of the work in the weeks ahead will wring out the capsule's fault-tolerance capabilities, which are designed to respond to system failures without jeopardizing the space station astronauts or the spacecraft. (2/4)

What's So Funny About Permanent Base on Moon? (Source: Yuma Sun)
It you want to see how far America’s space efforts have fallen in recent years, just look at the ridicule heaped on GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich for proposing a permanent manned base on the moon. Another candidate, Ron Paul, perhaps had the best one-liner response. He said he didn’t think much of the base idea, but he could think of some politicians he would like to send to the moon. Political cartoonists and commentators have had a field day with the idea since then.

So there we are. The idea of a moon base and mankind venturing into space is now nothing but a joke. How far we have come since the momentous day in 1969 when mankind first set foot on the moon after a decade long race to meet the challenge first announced by President John F. Kennedy to Congress in 1961. He said, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”

Of course, Gingrich is a different messenger and a long way from being president yet and perhaps that is part of the reason for his proposal not being taken seriously. But there is nothing particularly wild about the idea. It fact, it has been U.S. space policy with presidential support for decades, only being put aside in recent years by President Obama. The problem is that policy does not necessarily mean reality. (2/5)

Cleaning Up Deadly Debris (Source: Boston Globe)
Newt Gingrich's proposal for a privately funded outpost on the moon revived questions about this nation’s 21st-century space agenda — but not the most pressing one. The most immediate issue about space is not technology, money, or aliens. It is governance. There is none. Under international rules, each country is responsible for its own space program. That was workable when only the United States and Russia were up in the air, but now 11 counties have the capacity to launch satellites. Countries may not be allowed to appropriate outer space, such as the moon, by fiat, but not many other rules govern the skies.

And it is a mess, literally, as space debris has become a very challenging issue with over 22,000 pieces floating out there ready to crash to earth. These include the remnants of batteries, motor waste, and even spent spacecraft, such as Russia’s Phobos-Grunt which re-entered the atmosphere in January off the coast of Chile. According to NASA, nearly 1.5 million additional pieces of small space junk threaten other spacecraft.

Several countries, including the U.S., are working to develop collision warning measures and international standards for debris minimization. Additional safety and security standards are being proposed for independent space exploration. This is a good use of resources. There may be a private sector, as Gingrich imagines, to pay for space development. But an effort to create international norms governing the skies must come first. (2/5)

Focus is on Colorado, California for Next Imaging Satellites (Source: Denver Post)
The next generation of high-resolution, Earth-imaging satellites is being built in Boulder and California. Scheduled for launch in June 2014, WorldView-3 will join DigitalGlobe's orbiting constellation of satellites to expand the Longmont-based company's library, which contains millions of square miles of Earth images. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., which is building WorldView-3 under a fixed-price contract valued at about $200 million, also built WorldView-2, launched in 2009; WorldView-1, launched in 2007; and QuickBird, launched in 2001.

Using tried and true equipment lowers risk, increases efficiency and controls costs, Dierks said. WorldView-3 will have the same eight-color spectrum as WorldView-2, though its gyros will allow it to move more agilely so it can focus left and right over a broader area. Resolution also has improved from QuickBird, when it was 24 inches. WorldView-1's resolution is 20 inches; WorldView-2, 18 inches; and WorldView-3 about 12 inches. Only U.S. government entities are allowed to secure images with resolution less than 20 inches. (2/5)

Guion Bluford Jr., First Black Astronaut in Space: Black History Month (Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer)
As part of Black History Month, we remember Guion Bluford Jr., the first black astronaut to travel in space.
Bluford, now 69, was a member of four space shuttle crews from 1983 to 1992, logging nearly 700 hours in space. He flew twice on the Challenger, which later exploded in 1986, killing all aboard, and twice on the Discovery. The retired Air Force colonel also was a fighter pilot during the Vietnam War and flew 144 combat missions from October 1966 to June 1967.

Bluford, who grew up in Philadelphia, holds bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in aerospace engineering and a master's in business administration. He applied to be part of NASA's budding shuttle program in the late 1970s and told interviewers he became interested in airplanes and spacecraft as a child. (2/5)

SLS Interest in DoD Launch Market and Secondary Payloads Potential (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
The Space Launch System (SLS) teams are looking into the potential of finding extra roles for the vehicle, in addition to – or in tandem with – the flagship exploration missions, noting its availabity for Department of Defense (DoD) payloads and even what is known as “Secondary Payloads” – allowing satellites to hitch a ride with the Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle (HLV).

SLS managers need to present a roadmap and a schedule which is far removed from the “worst case” scenario, one which sees SLS involved in a widely-spaced opening salvo of missions, before increasing to a flight rate of just one mission per year in the 2020s – an unacceptably low flight rate in most people’s eyes. In a reminder of the Space Shuttle’s past, SLS managers are also eyeing up the possibility of launching military payloads. They believe NASA’s previous experience with DoD missions opens up the potential to carry out SLS launches with military payloads. (2/5)

Over 6,000 Individuals Apply for NASA’s Astronaut Corps (Source: RIA Novosti)
Over 6,000 individuals have applied for joining NASA’s astronaut corps, which is twice as many as the U.S. space agency typically receives, NASA said. Late last year, NASA announced a selection procedure for 15 individuals to join the 21st astronaut class. The number of applicants surpassed all expectations, with NASA receiving 6,372 applications, the largest number since 1978 which had more than 8,000 submissions. (2/5)

Atlas V Rises as Vehicle of Choice for Manned Missions (Source: Florida Today)
It’s beginning to look more and more like the Atlas V rocket is going to one day carry astronauts into Earth orbit. Transitioning Atlas V from launching satellites and robotic space probes to delivering people to the International Space Station would represent a major breakthrough in cooperation among the nation’s private, military and civilian space interests.

That level of cooperation, leveraging existing, successful space assets, is going to be critical to fielding a space program that makes steady progress, stays on schedule, and comes in on budget. It was super-critical to the rapid, successful ramp up of the early human spaceflight program, built upon the transition of launch technology first employed by the military. (2/5)

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