March 15, 2012

Why Elon Musk Wants To Bring People to Mars—and Go There Himself (Source: Slate)
At a small Future Tense gathering last night, Elon Musk—he of PayPal, Tesla Motors, and SpaceX—discussed the privatization of space travel and exploration with Robert Wright, host of “The Wright Show” on Slate. Musk explained the technology he envisions for SpaceX, like “full and rapid reusability” of spacecraft and methane as fuel; he also expressed his disappointment with the space industry’s post-Saturn V progress—or, rather, decline: “We take for granted that technology improves, but that’s not been the case” with space, he said.

When the discussion turned to space tourism, Musk suggested that in 10 years, a person might be able to buy a trip to space for the relative bargain of $100,000 to $200,000. But “I don’t know if there’s enough interest in just going to orbit,” he said. When it comes to bringing lay people into space, his focus is on getting them farther afield: Mars. He imagines that it would be possible to start bringing everyday people to Mars for a self-sustaining colony perhaps 10 years after first landing there, once there’s a high flight rate, a reusable launch system, and a low-cost source fuel—-perhaps methane—-he envisions a self-sustaining colony.

He wants a trip to Mars to cost about $500,000, or “roughly the cost of a middle-class house in California.” Why that price point? Musk imagines that then, “enough people would choose to sell all their stuff and move to Mars.” The obvious question is: Why should public or private enterprise spend this much money on a venture that seems unnecessary in a time of austerity? Musk suggests that “making life multiplanetary” might be a worthwhile insurance policy for humanity. But it would also be “the grandest adventure … like, a really fun thing.” There will always be problems on Earth, he says, so if we wait for a better moment, it will likely never come. (3/15)

Space Travel Moves to Private Sector (Source: 60 Minutes)
He's already the first private citizen to launch a spaceship into orbit and bring it back to Earth, so it's no surprise Elon Musk believes he will be the first entrepreneur to put a man into space, too. But as he vies with other, larger private sector companies to do so, he tells Scott Pelley the criticism of the commercialization of space travel from the very astronauts who inspired his quest is difficult to take. In an extensive interview, Musk talks to Pelley and allows cameras into his SpaceX factory for a 60 Minutes story to be broadcast Sunday, March 18 at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

With the Space Shuttle program now retired, NASA does not have a vehicle to put Americans into space. The Obama administration has decided to farm out the next manned spacecraft to the private sector. Musk, the Internet billionaire who co-founded PayPal, has invested $100 million into his company, known as SpaceX, to compete for the contract. "I think we are at the dawn of a new era," he tells Pelley, about the government handoff of the manned orbital space program to the private sector. Does he believe his rocket will be the next American craft to put an astronaut into space? "I believe that is the most likely outcome," says Musk. Click here. (3/15)

Edge of Space Skydiving: Test Jump Completed (Source: On Orbit)
Felix Baumgartner, the Austrian BASE jumper aiming to break the world freefall record by jumping from 120,000 ft above the earth's surface, moved a step closer to achieving his dream today after the successful completion of a test flight from 71,581 ft (21,818 metres). After an ascent lasting about 1 hour and 30 minutes at a rate reaching speeds of 1,200 ft. per minute, the Red Bull Stratos capsule and a modified version of the balloon reached its top manned altitude of 71,581 ft. The altitude was significant as it was the first time he passed the Armstrong Line of approximately 63,000 ft, where the atmospheric pressure truly tests Felix's custom-made space suit.

Felix then ran through his 39-step safety checklist before manually depressurizing the capsule, opening the door and stepping off the external platform. Felix reached a top speed of 364.4 miles per hour and continued to freefall for a total of three minutes and 43 seconds. Felix then deployed his parachute at 7,890 ft above sea level before landing safely back on earth about 30 miles from the original launch site.

Felix spent a total of about eight minutes and eight seconds in the air from launch to touchdown. Upon landing, Felix was met by a retrieval team who gave him a thorough medical check before transporting him back to the launch site. Once Felix was safely retrieved, Mission Control triggered the release of the balloon from the capsule and both returned back to earth for technical evaluation. Here's a photo. (3/15)

United Technologies to Sell Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne and Hamilton Sundstrand Units (Source: Washington Post)
United Technologies said Thursday that it will sell its rocket engine and wind power businesses to help finance its $16.5 billion purchase of aerospace supplier Goodrich Corp. It will sell Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne (PWR), Clipper Windpower and three businesses of its Hamilton Sundstrand aerospace components manufacturer. It expects to raise $3 billion with the sales. United Technologies will now focus on its core businesses in commercial and military aerospace and commercial construction.

The sale of Rocketdyne, owned by United Technologies for seven years, is partly in response to the end to NASA’s 30-year space shuttle program last July. “Without a national space policy, growth will be limited,” Hayes said. Editor's Note: PWR manufactures rocket engines in South Florida. It is unclear whether Hamilton Sundstrand's "Space Systems" unit will be among those sold. This unit provides space life support systems, including space suits for NASA. (3/15)

Revisiting Alabama’s Primary Results (Source: Space Politics)
Folks are wondering if Newt Gingrich’s recent comments on space in Huntsville helped or hurt him there during the GOP primary. Based on the results from the state’s three northern counties, including Madison where Huntsville is located, Gingrich polled one to two percentage points below his statewide total, a difference that is probably not statistically significant. (Rick Santorum, who said little about space in a Huntsville visit two days after Gingrich’s, did worse in Madison County than he did statewide or in the other two north Alabama counties, with Mitt Romney doing better there.)

Gingrich’s comments on space, in Huntsville or earlier, certainly did not help him there, but they may not have hurt him either: keep in mind that his disdain for NASA bureaucracy may have been, for some, a liability in a place that’s home to a major NASA center. Editor's Note: News polls showed that 45% of GOP primary voters in Mississippi and Alabama largely believed that President Obama is a Muslim, suggesting that those voters might more likely vote for Santorum or Gingrich. Romney's stronger showing in Madison County may have been an indicator of the more educated electorate there. (3/15)

NASA Selects Next Class of Student Ambassadors (Source: NASA)
NASA recently inducted 100 high-performing interns into the 2012 NASA Student Ambassadors Virtual Community. Their selection is part of the agency's effort to engage undergraduate and graduate students in science, engineering, mathematics and technology, or STEM, research and interactive opportunities. This fourth group of student ambassadors, known as Cohort IV, includes interns from 34 states and 73 universities. Editor's Note: Fourteen are from Florida and three are from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Click here. (3/15)

NASA Unveils New Galactic Atlas (Source: WIRED)
NASA has released a new atlas of more than 560 million stars, galaxies and asteroids, many never seen before. The more than 18,000 images were taken by the Wide-field Survey Explorer (WISE), NASA’s infrared space telescope. With WISE, scientists discovered Y Dwarf stars, the dimmest stars of the brown dwarf family. By solar standards, they’re exceptionally cold: One discovered in 2011 had a temperature of only 80 degrees Fahrenheit. By comparison, our sun has a scalding surface temperature of about 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Scientists were also able to find the first-ever asteroid with the same orbit as Earth. Neptune, Jupiter and Mars also have these so-called trojan asteroids, but Earth’s had been difficult to find because they’re only visible in daylight. For apocalypse worrywarts, WISE also brought some good news: A survey of near-Earth asteroids showed fewer mid-sized objects than previously thought. Click here. (3/15)

SpaceX, ULA Exploring Use of Shuttle Launch Pad (Source: Space News)
SpaceX and ULA are probing NASA for details about using space shuttle launch infrastructure at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, a senior agency official said. “NASA has responded to one request by SpaceX and is in the process of responding to a second data/information request,” NASA associate administrator for space shuttle operations, Bill Hill, said. SpaceX is interested in Launch Complex 39A, from which the final shuttle missions launched. The pad was also to be the launch site for the Ares rockets NASA was developing under the canceled Constellation program.

Hill also said NASA has received requests for information and data about Pad 39A from “other potential commercial users.” United Launch Alliance, the Denver-based Boeing and Lockheed Martin joint venture, is the only other U.S. launch provider with rockets big enough to require use of the space shuttle facilities. “We have been in discussions with NASA about using former space shuttle infrastructure, and those discussions are ongoing,” a ULA spokeswoman said. Editor's Note: I'm sure ATK is in the mix too, looking for a launch pad from which their Liberty rocket would operate. (3/15)

EADS' Astrium Interested in US Digital Imagery Firms (Source: Reuters)
Europe's leading space company, Astrium, is "generally interested" in acquiring one of two U.S. digital imagery providers, GeoEye Inc or DigitalGlobe Inc, and would look carefully at a deal if the price was affordable, a top Astrium executive told Reuters on Tuesday. Evert Dudok, chief executive of Astrium Satellites, said the company's parent, Europe's EADS, was actively looking for takeover targets in the United States, and either of the two companies would be a good fit with Astrium, which is ranked No. 3 -- behind them -- in the geospatial information market. (3/13)

Roscosmos to Develop System for Monitoring Space Threats (Source: Interfax)
The federal space agency Roscosmos will put 65 million rubles into a project to develop an automated warning system to prevent the collision of satellites and manned spaceships with space garbage, and to predict when space debris will fall on Earth. Information about a tender for the development of an automated warning system against space hazards in 2012 has been posted on Roscosmos' website.

The system will "spot, forecast and assess near-earth hazards, including dangerously-near flights of the protected objects and sources of space risks, provide the ballistic tracking of dangerous situations and establish whether space objects have been destroyed," according to the posting.

At the initial stage, the system will provide cover for 30 protected spaceships, issue warnings 30 hours before the emergence of a risk, and assess the probability of a collision. It will also predict when space objects will leave their orbits and fall on Earth. The system will monitor the situation at geostationary, high elliptical and medium-altitude orbits in the low-orbit sector of the near-earth space, and calculate parameters of solar and geomagnetic activity, which is necessary to determine the orbits of space objects. (3/15)

Comet Takes Swan Dive Into Sun (Source:
Just three months after one comet made a seemingly death-defying plunge through the sun, another icy wanderer is set to try its own luck in a solar rendezvous. The newly discovered comet Swan is on a collision course with our star, and it should plummet through the solar atmosphere sometime late today (March 14), researchers say. Swan's dive follows shortly after that of comet Lovejoy, which shocked astronomers by emerging from behind the sun on Dec. 15, 2011, stripped of its tail but otherwise intact. (3/15)

Galactic Recycling May Explain Star-Formation Mystery (Source:
Galaxies don't seem to have enough matter inside them to keep forming new stars at the rates that they do. Now, astronomers have caught a galaxy in the act of recycling material that it previously threw out, which may explain the discrepancy. New observations provide the first direct evidence of gas flowing into distant galaxies that are actively creating baby stars, offering support for the "galactic recycling" theory. (3/15)

Where Did the Sun Come From? The Search Continues (Source: Scientific American)
We all come from somewhere. If you wind the clock back far enough, we all come from the same place. Sometime about 4.5 billion years ago, the sun was born, and a disk of debris swirling around it soon coalesced into Earth and the rest of the planets. But where did that happen? Where was the sun born? One of the leading candidates for the sun’s birthplace has probably been ruled out, according to a new study.

Most stars seem to have been born in clusters or groups. Assuming the sun did the same before venturing out on its own, some remnant of the sun’s native cluster might still exist within the galaxy. And inside that cluster would reside stars born in the same chemical environment, at around the same time, as the sun. Those stars, in short, would be the long-lost siblings of the only star in the universe that we know to support life. Click here. (3/15)

Roscosmos Chief's Injury Results From Fight Over Woman at Party (Source: Flight Global)
After dramatic newswire reports that General Vladimir Popovkin, head of Russia's space agency Roscosmos, had been hospitalized due to "physical and emotional exhaustion" the exact cause remains a mystery. The Russian newspapers originally noted that the Popovkin fell on the stairs of the space agency hitting his head on the marble railing. However, according to the Daily Express newspaper who quote from other Moscow media sources, Popovkin was injured with a head wound after an alleged "fight over a woman" at an office party.

A man, who has not been identified, was alleged to have struck General Popovkin with a glass bottle. According to the reports the space official Aleksander Paramonov was also hospitalized from the party. The woman in question was apparently General Popovkin's press secretary, Anna Vedischeva, 28. Vedischeva was appointed despite criticism when it was revealed that she was an ex-glamor model who, by her own admission, knew nothing about space or public relations. The party where the incident allegedly took place was to celebrate International Woman's Day on 8 March. (3/15)

Space Insurers Have Successful Run But Fret About Hacking, Debris and Policy (Source: Flight Global)
In fixing the underwriting errors of the late 1990s and early 2000s,the space insurance market has had a series of mainly profitable years. Meantime, as the commercial demand for bandwidth hungry high definition television and broadband mobile services has grown which even the military makes use of, so has the demand for new large communications satellites. As a result the insurance market is set to benefit from insurance premium given that most major operators tend to insure the launch and first year in orbit. Click here. (3/15)

Space Tech to China (Source: Washington Times)
A senior Pentagon official told Congress last week that the U.S. government is concerned about the leakage of embargoed U.S. space technology to China. Gregory L. Schulte, deputy assistant defense secretary for space policy, was asked during a House Armed Services subcommittee hearing whether illicit exports of U.S. satellite technology by the French company Thales would boost China’s ambitious space weapons program.

Mr. Schulte was questioned by Rep. Michael R. Turner, Ohio Republican and chairman of the strategic forces subcommittee, about a recent letter he and two other lawmakers had written to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thales‘ sale of satellites to China that contained restricted U.S. space technology. The letter raised concerns about whether such tech transfers would boost the “increasingly aggressive activity in space [by] the People's Republic of China.” Mr. Schulte said the State Department is investigating the Thales satellite export case. (3/15)

Space Launch Executives Get Testy Over Rocket Contracts (Source: National Defense)
Launching large satellites is one of the more risky and expensive duties the U.S. military must perform. A failure means millions of taxpayer dollars down the drain, and years of delays in replacing the lost spacecraft. How to stabilize the cost of sending these pricey spacecraft into orbit — now more than $150 million per launch — is the subject of controversy and debate in the industry.

At the heart of the debate is a proposal by the Air Force to buy a preset number of Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) rockets. Buying eight rockets per year would bring stability to the industrial base and keep costs down until the end of the proposed contract in 2020, or so the thinking goes. Gwynne Shotwell, president of SpaceX, argued that a block buy would hand over a monopoly to the incumbent, United Launch Alliance, until the end of the decade.

Cliff Perkins of Lockheed Martin countered that giving contracts to SpaceX would be “cavalier” because its rockets do not have a long track record. Congress is skeptical of the block buy and has ordered the Air Force keep close tabs on the cost-savings. It also reclassified the EELV has an “acquisition” program rather than a “sustainment” program, which will require more stringent reporting on program costs. The GAO last year also questioned whether the Air Force will end up with excess rockets. Click here. (3/15)

Air Force Re-Thinks Rocket Purchase Strategy (Source: Aviation Week)
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said she is trying to ensure that Air Force space launch contracts are competitively bid, because a “California company,” SpaceX, could save the government millions of dollars and would produce the rockets for launch in the U.S. United Launch Alliance (ULA) has a $1.5 billion contract to build nine EELVs for national security missions in fiscal 2014.

“We have been concerned about the cost of the EELV and ULA’s performance,” Air Force Secretary Michael Donley said. “We believe we’ve been paying more than we need to for space launch.” But at the same time, the Air Force has had a “string of successful launches,” he said, and it wants to make sure any newcomers will be reliable. Donley says the Air Force is working with NASA and the National Reconnaissance Office to certify new companies by flying payloads of lesser value to prove their reliability.

In the meantime, the Air Force is working on a “should-cost review” of the EELV and plans to wrap up the program’s acquisition strategy by the spring. Feinstein says SpaceX and other new companies are under the impression they will not be able to compete for the rest of the decade. “That’s tragic,” the senator declared, adding hat the company could save the government millions of dollars if it can compete. (3/15)

Moon Exploration Robots Tested on Sand Dunes in Japan (Source: Mainichi)
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has conducted tests of prototype moon exploration robots, that were designed by several institutions to become part of Japan's next-generation lunar exploratory equipment. On March 13, the agency conducted test runs on a total of eight robot prototypes at the Nakatajima sand dunes in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, a vast undulated land area somewhat resembling the moon's surface. (3/15)

NASA Unveils Video History of the Moon (Source: USA Today)
Craters and cooled lava plains litter the moon's surface today. And based on NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) survey of the moon, we now have a pretty good idea of the hard knocks that Luna has taken. LRO scientists recently also released a view of the far side of the moon recently as well, worth a gander too. In case you ever wondered what was on the other side of the moon. Click here. (3/15)

Radio Glitch Delays Wallops Launch Salvo (Source: Daily Press)
NASA postponed the launch of five sounding rockets early Thursday from Wallops Island on the Eastern Shore. The rockets, which will help NASA learn more about a jet stream at the edge of space, were to go off sometime between midnight and 1:30 a.m. The mission was scrubbed Wednesday afternoon after researchers discovered a radio problem with one of the rockets. The next launch attempt will occur no earlier than Friday, NASA said in a statement. (3/15)

Loral Delivers Propulsion System for Lunar Spacecraft (Source: Loral)
Loral completed on time delivery of a new propulsion system to NASA. The propulsion system for the Lunar Atmosphere Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft was delivered to NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., on Thursday, March 8 following successful completion of the final delivery reviews and sign-off. (3/15)

Marshall Engineers Conduct Sub-Scale Test of SLS Booster (Source: America Space)
Engineers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center have successfully tested a motor that was designed to mimic the characteristics of the full-scale version of the rocket motor. The 20-second-long firing helped to prove out insulation materials that will be used on the version that NASA is hoping to use on the design of its new Space Launch System or SLS.

“Test firing small motors at Marshall provides a quick, affordable and effective way to evaluate the new nozzle liner’s performance,” said Scott Ringel, an engineer at Marshall and the design lead for this test. “We have sophisticated analytic and computer modeling tools that tell us whether the new nozzle insulation will perform well, but nothing gives us better confidence than a hot-fire test.” (3/15)

Mojave Engineers Conduct Full-Scale Test of SpaceShipTwo Rocket (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The ninth test firing of RocketMotorTwo from Scaled Composites was conducted on March 13 at the Mojave Air & Space Port. This was the first test firing since Nov. 29, 2011. All objectives were completed with the engine performing a full 45 second hot fire as planned. The duration of burn was chosen to allow examination of the engine's internal core geometry. (3/15)

ISS Crews Get Down to Work (Source: Florida Today)
Orbiting some 220 miles above Earth, the International Space Station is open for scientific business. More than 13 years after its first two building blocks were linked in low Earth orbit, the assembly is complete, and the outpost is fully staffed by rotating crews of six. We caught up with NASA ISS Program Scientist Julie Robinson to talk about research plans. Click here. (3/15)

Lawmakers Unhappy With NASA Budget Priorities (Source: Aviation Week)
U.S. space-policy leaders remain divided over NASA’s direction as President Barack Obama’s first term winds down, with another slugfest between the White House and Congress over the agency’s fiscal 2013 budget request likely this year. The chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA has rejected plans to immediately shut down cooperation with the European Space Agency (ESA) on robotic Mars exploration.

And based on questioning in the first round of hearings on NASA’s new budget, the “balance” between spending on the agency’s internal follow-on to the retired space shuttle fleet and on seed money for a private fleet of crew vehicles to service low Earth orbit continues to be a major point of contention.

In his first trip up to Capitol Hill with the $17.7 billion request, Administrator Charles Bolden ran into unusually sharp questioning from a strategically placed Republican senator, who says the agency was “fudging the future” by shifting funds from the Orion multipurpose crew vehicle (MPCV) and its Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket to the commercial crew development (CCDev) account. Click here. (3/15)

Scientists Circle Wagons Against Cuts At NASA (Source: Aviation Week)
The panel of outside scientists that advises NASA on its spending priorities wants the agency to restore aid for robotic planetary exploration in its fiscal 2014 budget request, and urges agency managers to keep the same scientific priorities for Mars regardless of funding levels. “The current funding profile for the nation’s robotic planetary exploration program will sacrifice critical capabilities and our leadership to other space-faring nations as they pursue capabilities and goals abandoned by the United States,” wrote the science committee of the NASA Advisory Council (NAC). (3/15)

Two Engineers and 500 Online Supporters Shaking Up Space Travel (Source: WIRED)
In a disused Copenhagen shipyard, two aerospace engineers are running an open-source rocket program. Their dream? To go into space. Copenhagen Suborbitals was founded in 2008 by Kristian von Bengtson, now 37, and Peter Madsen, 41. In June 2011, they launched Tycho Brahe (named after the Danish astronomer), a nine-meter-long rocket propelled by seven tons of thrust, from a launcher, Heat1X, in the Baltic. It had to be shut down after two minutes when the rocket began to over-arc and rapidly dropped from 30km to 2.8km.

Copenhagen Suborbitals is funded by donations, including 500 members who give $20 (£12) a month via PayPal. All the plans are shared online and design challenges are crowdsourced. Up to 30 volunteers help build the rockets from cheap components. "We use simple materials because we don't need to optimize the rocket the way the pro guys do," says von Bengtson. "As long as it gets us into space, it's fine." Click here. (3/15)

Astrium: No Plan for US Imagery Takeover (Source: Reuters)
Europe's Astrium earlier in the week commented on a possible acquisition of one of two U.S. digital imagery providers, GeoEye or DigitalGlobe. But later, an executive said it has "absolutely no plans" for such a deal. Evert Dudok said Europe's EADS was actively looking for takeover targets in the U.S., and his subsidiary was "generally interested" in the two U.S. companies, especially if the price was right. But on Wednesday, Eric Béranger said that his unit - which would head up any acquisition of GeoEye or DigitalGlobe - had no plans on its drawing board at this time. (3/15)

NASA Extends SAIC Contract at JSC (Source: Bay Area Citizen)
NASA has exercised two six-month options to the agency's Safety and Mission Assurance Support Services Contract with Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) of San Diego for the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
The options are worth $32.9 million. Exercise of the options provides continuity of support services in safety, reliability and quality assurance, engineering products and technical services for Johnson's Safety and Mission Assurance Directorate for the International Space Station Program, Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, and Extravehicular Activity Office. (3/15)

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