May 15, 2012

Robots, Platinum, and Tiny Space Telescopes: The Pitch for Mining Asteroids (Source: The Atlantic)
A company's plan to harvest off-world minerals is wild and exciting, but could its real promise lie in helping space science regain its footing, i.e. funding? A lot has been written about the business prospects of Planetary Resources, Inc., the billionaire-backed space venture that recently announced its intention to mine platinum, and other metals, from near-earth asteroids. The firm claims that a single successful mining mission could bring it tens of trillions of dollars in revenue, and could potentially supply the raw materials for generations of computing devices.

These are ambitious goals, but not everyone is convinced that Planetary Resources can muster the technology or the staying power to reach them. The firm's critics have pointed out that flooding the market with asteroid-sized quantities of platinum, which currently sells for over $1,500 an ounce, could reduce its price considerably, endangering the business model of the entire enterprise. But even if Planetary Resources falls flat on its face, a serious (and seriously funded) attempt at asteroid mining could have interesting collateral effects---it could, for instance, entirely remake the way that we do science in space. Click here. (5/15)

Measat Lawsuit Alleges Breach of Contract, Collusion by Intelsat in 2009 Launch (Source: Space News)
Satellite fleet operator Measat of Malaysia is suing fleet operator Intelsat for at least $29 million in a U.S. District Court, alleging breach of contract and collusion in Intelsat’s handling of the launch of a Measat satellite in 2009. The lawsuit alleges that Intelsat knowingly mishandled a contract to launch the Measat-3a telecommunications satellite aboard a Sea Launch/Land Launch rocket from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The satellite’s launch was delayed for months following two accidents involving cranes that were maneuvering the satellite at the Baikonur spaceport. The accidents, in August and November 2008, forced the satellite to be returned to the manufacturer, Orbital Sciences Corp. The launch delays forced Measat to forgo revenue from Measat-3a customers, sending the company’s finances into a tailspin as it missed debt service milestones.

The company says it was “teetering on financial disaster” and, in this condition, fell prey to what it alleges were illegal Intelsat demands in the ensuing months leading to the eventual launch date. At the time, Intelsat had several launch contracts with Sea Launch left over from Intelsat’s purchase of satellite fleet operator PanAmSat. Intelsat used some of these contracts for its own satellites, but sold one — for $40.25 million — to Measat. (5/15)

Spaceflight Federation Plans May 17 Discussion on Commercial Spaceflight (Source: CSF)
The Commercial Spaceflight Federation will hold a press conference call on Thursday May 17th, at 2:00PM EDT with CSF President Michael Lopez-Alegria, NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver, and XCOR Aerospace CEO Jeff Greason to discuss the state of the emerging commercial spaceflight industry. With the next COTS cargo demonstration flight coming up this weekend, this is a great moment to take stock of the commercial spaceflight industry, and the ways NASA and the industry are cooperating to expand our presence in space and bring space closer to all Americans.

Members of the press interested in participating should dial in ten minutes prior to the call. Reporters should dial (213) 493-0800 and enter the participant access number, which is 1098901#. (5/15)

Sen. Nelson Labels House Commercial Crew Bill ‘Silliness’ (Source: Space News)
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) expressed strong opposition to a House spending bill that directs NASA to hurry its selection of a company to provide astronaut transportation under the agency’s Commercial Crew Program, calling the measure “silliness” and “anti-competitive,” Florida Today reports.

The House bill, approved May 10, includes $500 million for the Commercial Crew Program, under which four companies are vying to develop a rocket to replace the space shuttle. “Continuing on the current path runs a high risk of failure by one or more companies receiving government subsidies ... leaving the taxpayer with no tangible benefits in exchange for a substantial investment,” the bill states.

Nelson, however, citing “several excellent proposals” from the four companies — SpaceX, Sierra Nevada, Boeing and Blue Origin — said competition is crucial to developing a viable and affordable system. “Why should we not have competition for commercial crew and bring down the cost?” he said. Editor's Note: It was an absence of competition that gave us the Ares-1, a sole-source rocket development program that went way over budget and way behind schedule. (5/15)

TDRS-4 Mission Complete and Retired From Active Service (Source: SpaceRef)
The Tracking and Data Relay Satellite 4 (TDRS-4) recently completed almost 23 years of operations support and successfully completed end-of-mission de-orbit and decommissioning activities. TDRS-4's operational life span was well beyond its original 10-year design.

Launched on March 13, 1989, from onboard Space Shuttle Discovery, TDRS-4 operated in geosynchronous (GEO) altitude at more than 22,000 miles above the Atlantic Ocean region. As part of the spacecraft's end-of-mission activities, its orbit was raised above the congested geosynchronous orbit. (5/15)

Refurbishment on Grand Scale for Iconic VAB (Source: Space Daily)
The Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida has been a landmark to the technological advancements of sending men to the moon and astronauts into space for more than 45 years. But the VAB, as it is best known, is due for major renovations to continue processing launch vehicles and support the subsequent launching of a new generation of astronauts into orbit and deeper into space than ever before.

"This is home improvement, VAB style," said Jose Lopez, who is managing the effort to refurbish a structure that was once the biggest in the world. "We're going for more flexibility and reliability with modern equipment. That building has many systems that haven't been touched up since it was built (in 1965)." Although the work is massive simply because of the scale of the VAB, Lopez said now is the time to do it and take advantage of the pause in rocket processing that is to end in a couple years.

"When the shuttle program was in place, you couldn't take down the cranes for a long period of time, or take on heavy infrastructure projects," Lopez said. The effort will touch most areas of the architectural behemoth in one way or other. For instance, High Bay 3 will see the seven work platforms designed for the Apollo/Saturn V removed. In their place will be a series of 10 platforms that can be relocated and fitted with inserts designed for processing different kinds of rockets. (5/15)

Building a Heavenly Palace in Outer Space (Source: Space Daily)
China's permanent space station, the Heavenly Palace, is to be launched into orbit within a decade. According to Chinese media reports, the 60-ton craft will include a central module and two laboratories, for a crew of three. So, it's really more like a country cottage than a palace. This all-Chinese project was unveiled earlier this week in the capital, Beijing. To the public at home, the announcement is no big news. In the West, by contrast, it has created a strong, largely negative, response. Let's try to find out why. Click here. (5/15)

Launch Preps Begin for Next Chinese Human Spaceflight (Source:
The Long March rocket and Shenzhou spacecraft for China's next manned space mission are being readied for blastoff as soon as June from the country's Jiuquan launching base. Three astronauts will fly into space on the Shenzhou 9 mission, which will be China's fourth human spaceflight. Shenzhou 9 could carry China's first female space flier, according to state media. One official Chinese website indicated the mission would include a woman. (5/15)

Air Force to Pay ULA $398 Million for Two Satellite Launches (Source: Denver Business Journal)
The U.S. Air Force plans to pay United Launch Alliance $398 million for two satellite launches scheduled to take place by late 2014. The Centennial-based rocket company is contracted to put an Air Force Mobile User Objective System-4 satellite in orbit aboard an Atlas V rocket, and to launch a global positioning system satellite aboard a Delta IV rocket. The contract, announced by the Air Force on Monday, was awarded to ULA’s subsidiary, United Launch Services LLC. The work on the rockets will be done in Decatur, Ala., where ULA employs 700 people at its assembly plant. (5/15)

Virgin Spaceflight for British Talent Show Winner No Longer Possible (Source: Daily Star)
Despite losing out to Ashleigh Butler and her dancing dog Pudsey, Jonathan was set for a dream consolation. One of the prizes on offer to the winner was a seat aboard 61-year-old Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic rocket. But champion Ashleigh, 17, turned it down, saying: “Let Jonathan ride in the rocket if he wants to.” Keen sci-fi fan Jonathan, 17, who loves Star Trek, was all set to accept.

But yesterday his dream of becoming a space traveller like Captain Kirk fell to earth after Britain’s Got Talent chiefs announced the space plan is now “on hold’’. A spokesman said that the rocket trip for one of the Britain’s Got Talent stars is not going to be possible. (5/15)

Black Eyed Peas Star's Song to Debut on NASA Mission (Source: The Sun)
NASA have approached the Black Eyed Peas star about producing an exclusive track to be played during a future Mars mission. In what would be a world first, its debut play will be broadcast back to mission control. The old guys working there might need to bring some earplugs. A source said: “Will has a natural affiliation with NASA and even namechecked them on his single T.H.E. (The Hardest Ever). He’s always keen to get involved in their projects and this was an opportunity he couldn’t turn down. (5/15)

Five Ways to Be an Astronaut (Source: SkyScanner)
Space travel has come a long way since the days of Soviet cosmonauts and American astronauts. With several companies now offering space flights to the general public, you no longer have to rely on NASA to join the space race. We are now poised to enter an era of space tourism, where getting a flight into orbit is as easy (though a darn site more expensive!) as getting a flight to New Zealand. So, get ready for lift-off and become a starship trooper! Click here. (5/15)

LinkAcaba Flies Smokey the Bear on Soyuz (Source: CollectSpace)
Flying — and floating — above the crewmates' heads was a small toy doll, continuing a Russian custom for the crew to select a talisman and "zero-g indicator" to hang from the spacecraft's control panel. The toy began to float once they reached orbit, providing a visual clue that they were weightless and safely in space.

Traditionally, the spacecraft commander provides the doll, often chosen by a child, but for this flight, the honor was turned over to the American aboard. "Gennady's been very gracious and offered us new fliers the opportunity to fly the talisman," Acaba said. A veteran of a 2009 space shuttle mission to the space station, this was Acaba's first launch on a Russian rocket and his first time serving as a station flight engineer.

Acaba's choice of mascot — Smokey (the) Bear — drew questions in Russia but was very recognizable back in the United States. "It was a gift that was given to me by a friend of mine who works for the U.S. Forest Service," Acaba said during a pre-flight press conference. An avid outdoorsman, Acaba holds degrees in geology and served as an environmental education awareness promoter while in the Peace Corps. (5/15)

Transneft to Use GLONAS for Monitoring (Source: Space Daily)
The "Transneft" company and the Navigational Information Systems company have begun to create a system of transport monitoring with the help of GLONAS. The Russian GLONAS and the American GPS are now being used in Russia in different transport systems. All public government transport in Russia is to be fitted with GLONAS starting from this year. The "Transneft" company wants to establish more than 20 thousand terminals- from the Far East to the Baltic Sea within a few years for transport monitoring. (5/15)

Mojave Makers Open for Memberships (Source: SpaceRef)
Mojave Makers is happy to announce that we are now accepting members! We are running our Mojave Makers Months from the 15th to the 15th of each month for the purposes of billing and memberships, so we are currently accepting payments for the Month from May 15th to June 15th. We currently have two levels of membership available: Associate Membership - $40/month - access to the Space whenever a Full Member is present. Full Membership - $80/month - RFID token (key) and 24/7 access to the space. (5/15)

Russia Launches New Crew to Space Station (Source: Russia Today)
A Soyuz spacecraft has successfully launched from Baikonur Space Center, and is taking a Russian-American crew to the International Space Station. The spacecraft lifted off at 3:01am GMT on Tuesday from the launch site in the steppes of Kazakhstan. The new crew includes Russia’s Roscosmos cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin, and NASA astronaut Joe Acaba. They are expected to dock to the ISS on Thursday morning, joining Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, the European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers, and NASA astronaut Donald Pettit, who arrived at the station last December. (5/15)

In Chapter 11, Phil Bets All (Source: New York Post)
Hedge-fund honcho Phil Falcone — known for high-stakes bets — took one of his biggest gambles yesterday when he put troubled wireless startup LightSquared into bankruptcy. After weeks of failed negotiations between Falcone and LightSquared’s creditors, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in Manhattan, listing $4.48 billion in assets and $2.29 billion in liabilities.

As LightSquared’s biggest backer, Falcone said the move would allow the company “the additional runway it needs” to finish building a new nationwide network to compete with Verizon and AT&T — which the company estimated could take up to two years. Falcone’s ambitious plans for the wireless venture were thwarted in February when the Federal Communications Commission decided to yank the company’s initial approval, citing at the time concerns about interference with GPS devices. (5/15)

‘Stepping Stone to the Cosmos’ May be in Colorado (Source: Westsider News)
Front Range Airport in Adams County is working with spaceport consultants on an application to become an aerospace center. The designation could mean the airport would have horizontal takeoffs and landings of space vehicles, and manufacture and test unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, commonly referred to as drones). Former NASA Space Shuttle Capt. Jeff Ashby spoke to area business leaders May 1 during the Adams County Economic Development awards banquet about the county’s effort to gain a spaceport designation.

“(The application for designation) is positioning Colorado to benefit from a potentially very large economic industry,” said Ashby, who works as an aerospace consultant. The Adams County commissioners are members of the Front Range Airport Authority Board. Ruth Kedzior, assistant county administrator, said it will take about six months to prepare the application and then the Federal Aviation Administration Office of Commercial Space Transportation will have up to six months to review it.

Ashby said the aerospace industry includes both UAVs and space transportation, such as getting to Paris from Denver in just 30 minutes. “What we want to try to do is make space flight affordable and safe,” he said. While aerospace business is beginning to thrive, Ashby said, it is not possible to predict when space travel will be possible. He acknowledged the naysayers who don’t believe this type of travel will ever be possible. “Every real visionary leader has opponents and skeptics,” he said. (5/15)

Loral Provides High-Capacity Broadband Satellite for Kourou Launch (Source: Loral)
Loral announced that the EchoStar XVII satellite, designed and built for Hughes Network Systems, LLC (Hughes), a wholly owned subsidiary of EchoStar Corp., has arrived at the European Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, where it will be launched aboard an Ariane 5 launch vehicle by Arianespace. One of the highest capacity satellites ever built, EchoStar XVII will be used to provide HughesNet Gen4 high-speed Internet service in North America. (5/15)

JPL Ships OCO-2 for Launch Vehicle Integration (Source: La Canada Valley Sun)
A scientific instrument designed to take the most meaningful snapshot yet of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere is on its way to space, via a lengthy testing detour in Arizona. On May 9 Jet Propulsion Laboratory workers sent the instrument, part of NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, to Gilbert, Ariz., where it will be tested and integrated with the satellite that will house it. NASA plans to launch the OCO-2 from Vandenberg Air Force Base by the summer of 2014. In 2009 NASA launched its first effort to capture this information, but the Orbiting Carbon Observatory failed to reach orbit. (5/15)

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