June 23, 2012

FireFly Controller Board Simplifies Rocket Science (Source: WIRED)
The crew at the non-profit Kentucky Space have been trying to fix an annoying microsatellite problem. (Yes, people really do get together to solve annoying problems with their satellites!) They wanted a standard “mission command” board that could serve as the basis for the brains, power and voice for different space applications without having to make it from scratch every time. They liked their solution so much, they decided to share!

FireFly is solar rechargeable, provides self-powered command and data handling system, onboard storage and wireless communications and is Arduino Compatible. Although Mike and the Kentucky Space team mostly work with entrepreneurial space professionals and the DIY space community, the lightweight board also a great platform that parents, students, and teachers can use for a variety of projects. Editor's Note: Kentucky Space now has a presence at Space Florida's Space Life Sciences Lab at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, alongside CASIS and other companies. (6/22)

60 Minutes Clarifies Neil Armstrong’s Position on SpaceX (Source: Houston Chronicle)
There was a bit of controversy after a 60 Minutes segment when host Scott Pelley asked Elon Musk: “There are American heroes who don’t like this idea. Neil Armstrong, Gene Cernan have both testified against commercial spaceflight and the way that you’re developing it, and I wonder what you think of that?” After the segment I received a letter from spaceflight pioneer Chris Kraft saying the 60 Minutes piece distorted the views of Armstrong, Cernan and himself.

Later, I received a letter from Pelley, which included the following: “We should have made it explicit in our story that, while Armstrong was “not confident” that the newcomers could achieve safety and cost goals in the near term, he did want to “encourage” them. We also should have spelled out more clearly that his concerns were directed toward the “newcomers” in general and not SpaceX in particular.” (6/23)

NASA Extends USA Contract for Mission, Crew Operations Support (Source: NASA)
NASA has awarded a contract extension to United Space Alliance to provide mission and flight crew operations support for the International Space Station and future human space exploration. The $17.4 million extension of the Integrated Mission Operations Contract covers ground-based human spaceflight operations capability development and execution.

This contract includes support for mission planning and preparation, crew and flight controller training, and real-time mission execution. The initial period of extension runs from Oct. 1, 2012, through Sept. 30, 2013. There is a $17.8 million option to extend the contract for another year effective from Oct. 1, 2013, through Sept. 30, 2014. The total potential value of the cost-plus-award-fee contract would be $35 million, if the option is exercised. (6/22)

Seven Minutes of Terror: a Mars Thriller (Source: MSNBC)
"The Dark Knight Rises"? Bah! If you measure the heft of a movie trailer by dramatic impact, "Seven Minutes of Terror" is the one to watch. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory released the five-minute trailer today to tout the upcoming entry, descent and landing of its $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft, starring the Curiosity rover. That price tag amounts to 10 times the estimated production budget for "The Dark Knight Rises."

The Batman movie is likely to meet with wild success when it opens July 20. The Mars mission could bomb utterly when it lands Aug. 5. The wildest part of the probe's seven-minute ride through the atmosphere will come when a hovering "sky crane" is due to lower the car-sized rover to the ground within Gale Crater, then blast itself away before it falls on top of the darned thing.

Even JPL's engineers admit they sometimes think the concept is crazy. But to get a true sense of exactly how crazy, you have to watch the video. "If any one thing doesn't work just right, it's game over," engineer Tom Rivellini says. Click here. (6/23)

Editorial: Opening Up Space (Source: Baltimore Sun)
Is there anything that the U.S. technology community, with an assist from the federal government, can do that would simultaneously achieve the following: a) help hone our economic edge to help us prosper a bit more over a long term; b) maintain and improve upon the technological advantage we have with the rest of the world in space and aeronautics; c) help us on the military side; and d) maintain, retain and sharpen the technological minds of some of our smartest citizens?

Such a thing does exist, but a case for it has not been made — because it was not possible to make it until now. Earlier this month, SpaceX successfully launched a mission to the ISS and returned successfully to Earth with an intent and hope of commercializing orbital access. Harvard Business Review published earlier this year "A List of Audacious Ideas for Solving the World's Problems," an article suggesting NASA find ways to reduce the cost of access to space.

Such a scenario can be realized if NASA expends its immense talents to develop the technologies required for fully reusable, quick-turnaround rockets and hypersonic vehicles. This is the missing link. It may do for space transportation what jet engines did for air transportation 60 years ago, when people never imagined that more than 500 million passengers would travel by airplane every year and that the cost could be reduced to current levels, all because of passenger volume and reliable reusability. That is, if we can design such vehicles and rockets to last, safely, for at least 200 flights. (6/24)

O3b Networks Setting Sail with Cruise Ship Contract (Source: Space News)
Startup satellite broadband provider O3b Networks will deliver 500 megabits per second of Ka-band broadband connectivity to the world’s largest cruise ship under a contract expected to be announced June 23. In the latest demonstration of the growing appeal of the maritime sector for satellite fleet operators whose core business is elsewhere, O3b is signing a five-year contract with Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. to provide bandwidth to the Oasis of the Seas starting in mid-2013. The ship, whose itinerary is limited to the Caribbean, has capacity for 8,000 crew and passengers.

O3b, based in Britain’s Channel Islands, is building a unique satellite infrastructure that features satellites in 8,100-kilometer equatorial orbits that provide Ka-band bandwidth to telecommunications operators and other corporate customers located between 45 degrees north and 45 degrees south of the equator. Backed by SES of Luxembourg, a major fixed satellite services fleet operator, O3b has 12 satellites under construction by Thales Alenia Space of Cannes, France. (6/22)

Orion High-altitude Abort Test Faces Budget-Driven Delay (Source: Space News)
A high-altitude test of the Orion deep-space capsule’s launch abort system could be delayed two years to accommodate the tighter program budgets anticipated by NASA and Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin. NASA has yet to set a firm date for the high-altitude test, which is intended to demonstrate that Orion’s launch abort system — which performed well in a 2010 pad abort simulation at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico — can propel the capsule to safety if its Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket fails midflight.

NASA's Jose Ortiz said the high-altitude abort test “may move to fiscal year 2018” as “part of a budget proposal that is still being worked.” Editor's Note: This abort-system test flight is supposed to be launched atop a Peacekeeper-derived rocket from Space Florida's Launch Complex 46. The launch was supposed to happen in 2014. (6/23)

NASA Asteroid Analog Mission Tackles Surface Mobility (Source: Aviation Week)
NASA’s undersea analog missions — elaborate dress rehearsals that unite astronauts, scientists and engineers on the ocean floor to test hardware and mission operations strategies — are playing a crucial role in preparations for the next wave of human deep-space exploration, according to Steve Squyres of Cornell University, principal investigator for the Mars Exploration Rover mission and the current chair of the NASA Advisory Council.

Squyres is scheduled to surface June 22 at the Aquarius Reef Base off Key Largo, Florida, an undersea habitat chosen by NASA’s Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) to simulate a 12-day mission to a small asteroid. “I feel what we are doing is extremely valuable,” Squyres said. “The problem we face is how do you do field work in microgravity. Asteroids are effectively a zero-g environment... Hit a rock with a hammer and you will go flying. So we need completely new techniques for getting around and stabilizing yourself at a worksite.” (6/22)

ISS to Build Up Meteorite Defenses (Source: RIA Novosti)
Russian cosmonauts will conduct a space walk in August during which they will install additional anti-meteorite panels on the International Space Station (ISS), cosmonaut Yury Malanchenko said on Friday. Malanchenko, his U.S. and Japanese colleagues, Sunita Williams and Hoshide Akihiko, are scheduled to depart for a space mission on July 15. (6/22)

AsiaSat Hedges Bet on SpaceX Launch (Source: Space News)
Satellite fleet operator AsiaSat on June 22 said it had booked a launch aboard an International Launch Services (ILS) Proton rocket in a $107 million contract that protects AsiaSat against possible delays at launch-services provider SpaceX. Under the ILS contract, AsiaSat will make a down payment of $10.3 million by July 5 to preserve the right to a March-to-May 2014 slot aboard an ILS Proton for either the AsiaSat 6 or AsiaSat 8 satellite. Both are under construction by Loral in California.

The total price for the launch of either satellite is $107 million, AsiaSat said. AsiaSat in February signed with SpaceX for the launch of the two satellites on separate Falcon 9 rockets. Under that contract, AsiaSat agreed to pay $52.2 million per satellite — half the ILS price. But the SpaceX contract stipulated that the AsiaSat 6 contract will be canceled, and all advance payments refunded, if the launch does not occur by March 31, 2014. For AsiaSat 8, the launch deadline is May 31, 2014. (6/22)

NGA Casts Uncertainty Over EnhancedView Payments to GeoEye (Source: Space News)
The U.S. government on June 22 told commercial Earth observation imagery provider GeoEye that it will be canceling key elements of a 10-year, $3.8 billion contract with the company because of expected budget cuts. The exact size of the funding gap between what GeoEye expected and what it will receive remains unclear. It depends in part on whether GeoEye meets new performance milestones, and in part on whether the U.S. Congress agrees to the apparent policy shift reducing the role of commercial suppliers in meeting U.S. government satellite-imagery demand. (6/23)

Japan Passes Law Permitting Military Space Development (Source: Defense News)
The Upper House of Japan’s Diet June 20 passed legislation that shifts control of the nation’s space policy and budget, and opens the door to military space development programs with an emphasis on space-based missile early warning. The raft of legislation, based on the Bill to Amend the Law of Establishment of the Cabinet Office that was sent to the Diet on Feb. 14, enables the Prime Minister’s Cabinet Office to take control of the planning and budgeting of Japan’s government space program.

It also removes an article in a prior law governing the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the nation’s equivalent to NASA, which had restricted JAXA’s ability to pursue military space programs. Prior to the legislation, JAXA had been de facto controlled by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), and was overseen by a MEXT committee called the Space Activities Commission (SAC), leading to criticisms of regulatory capture. (6/22)

ISU Welcomes Space Journalists for Media Panel at Florida Tech (Source: Brevard Times)
The International Space University (ISU) Space and Media Panel, June 26, from 8 to 10 p.m. at Florida Institute of Technology, will address space news reporting, including civility issues within the space community and the impact of such issues on public and space policy makers. Panelists will also review the overall state of space and related news reporting from within the space community and in the general media. The public is welcome to attend.

Joining in the panel discussion are experienced space journalists involved in print, television, multimedia and documentary film making. The panel includes: Leonard David, Bobby Block, Jim Lewis, David Livingston, and Irene Klotz. The Space and Media panel is co-jointly organized with Florida Institute of Technology and NASA Kennedy Space Center. It will be held at Gleason Performing Arts Center, 150 W. University Blvd., Melbourne. (6/23)

Astronauts-For-Hire and Vital Space Test Biomedical Monitoring System (Source: A4H)
On our recent NASA-funded parabolic flights with partner Vital Space, A4H helped evaluate Sotera Wireless's new FDA-approved biomedical monitoring system in the microgravity environment in order to advance the safety of spaceflight for everyone. The principal investigators of the study talked about the project's goals to better understand and monitor the human body's response to spaceflight. Their interview on KUSI includes some footage of A4H flight-testing the Sotera device in microgravity. Click here. (6/23)

Rep. Chu: Bringing Mars Exploration From Science Fiction to Fact (Source: Pasadena Sun)
Earlier this year, thousands of tourists and government workers in Washington, D.C., captured a historic moment on their camera phones when the retired space shuttle Discovery circled over the capital on the back of a 747. Few probably knew this camera technology came from space research. Every time we take pictures on our phones to send to friends or post on Facebook, we can thank Caltech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Technology created at JPL made possible “cameras-on-a-chip.” They are so popular that 1 million of these are shipped every day, and almost every phone in the country uses them. JPL's work in space exploration has led to a wide variety of products, including in medical technologies and robotics. This has not only improved the everyday life of Americans, it has created thousands of jobs outside the space industry.

However, there is still more vital, cutting-edge work to be done right here in the San Gabriel Valley as we strive to improve life on Earth while exploring the planets around us. It's up to us to make sure this ground-breaking technological advancement, in space and on the ground, continues. NASA's Mars Exploration program has the potential today to be what the Shuttle program was a generation ago. Click here. (6/22)

The Space Race for Tourists (Source: The Week)
After years of delays, the long-awaited dream of commercial flights to space may soon become reality. Pan Am optimistically started offering commercial passenger flights to the moon in 1968 — the morning after Apollo 8 became the first manned spacecraft to orbit the moon. Juan Trippe, the airline's founder, established a "First Moon Flights Club," whose members could reserve seats onboard a commercial moon shuttle that he predicted would launch in the year 2000 at a cost of $14,000 a head. Among the 93,000 people to sign up was then California Gov. Ronald Reagan.

Trippe's timing, at least, wasn't too far off the mark. In April 2001, American businessman Dennis Tito became the first space tourist when he paid $20 million to fly to the International Space Station on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Now, it finally looks as if larger-scale passenger flights into space will soon become a reality. The private company SpaceX last month sent the first commercial shuttle into orbit to rendezvous with the ISS — the most significant step yet in the private sector's race to the stars. Click here. (6/22)

How Feasible Is The £100m Ticket To The Moon? (Source: Huffington Post)
How feasible is Excalibur Almaz's plan really? And can the Russian tech do what EA say it can? To find out we asked James Oberg. Question: Can the hardware acquired by EA for the lunar mission do what it claims to - and what is its reputation in terms of reliability and safety? Oberg: The hardware was designed, built and tested in the 1980s to accomplish the mission now described. Verifying that 30 years of shelf storage hasn't led to hidden decay is a challenge, but probably can be done.

Question: If it were so easy to do, why haven't the Russians already done it themselves for their own prestige? Oberg: Perhaps it is merely an issue of budget priorities. And the prestige value may be low, or even negative, if one government repeats another nation's accomplishments half a century later at much lower quality -- no lunar landing, after all. Now -- doing it as 'an afterthought' with spare capabilities, for a paying customer, without even having to break a sweat -- that might well be worth bragging about. Click here. (6/22)

Secrets of a Super Social Spaceman (Source: MSNBC)
You might think it's cool enough that NASA astronaut Ron Garan has spent months aboard the International Space Station, but he’s become even better-known as a social-media maven. This month he passed the 2 million mark for Google+ circles, putting him at No. 21 on the Google+ Top 100. His Fragile Oasis postings are a highlight on the Web, Facebook and Twitter. His "Ask Me Anything" exchange with Reddit users went so well he's thinking of doing it again.

Garan says another stint on the space station is "always a possibility, down the road." But right now, he's focusing on NASA's Open Government Initiative, which aims to build stronger collaborative ties between government, industry and the general public. That means social engagement isn't just something he does in his spare time. It's part of his job. Click here. (6/23)

ISS Utilization Advancing After Stumbles (Source: Aviation Week)
Astronaut Don Pettit is a real Mr. Fixit, and that is just fine with the scientists who trust him to run their experiments on the International Space Station. In a recent working session with Paul Ferkul, a combustion engineer at Glenn Research Center, Pettit carefully bent a combustion sample's frame a little with a pair of pliers so it would touch the igniter, and then he held it up to a video camera for Ferkul—-and anyone else watching the webcast of the experiment session. “That looks fine,” said Ferkul in Ohio.

That kind of close work with an astronaut in orbit is a dream come true for scientists who want to see what happens when the gravity factor is removed, and for many experiments there is no other way to remove it. Drop towers and parabolic aircraft flights just do not offer enough time in microgravity, and experiment lockers on the space shuttle did not provide the continuity for the long-term laboratory work many experiments require.

The space station can solve that problem, and scientists, engineers and managers are starting to realize just what that might mean in terms of discoveries, applications and return on investment. After 10 years and at least $100 billion, NASA and its international partners are beginning to move beyond the transition from station assembly to station utilization and starting to do real work in space. (6/23)

NASA Encouraging Spaceflight to Go Commercial (Source: LA Times)
NASA led the way for Americans in space, but now the U.S. space agency is actively encouraging companies to take over primary responsibility for getting in and out of Earth's orbit. Last month, a capsule built and operated by SpaceX completed a nine-day cargo-hauling mission to the International Space Station, becoming the first private-sector spacecraft to make such a journey.

But it won't be the last. Ed Mango, manager of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, is charged with helping companies develop vehicles that could ferry astronauts — and eventually, perhaps, civilians — on routine trips to space. Mango visited The Times to discuss his efforts and how they could lead to a "spaceline" industry that resembles today's airlines. Click here. (6/23)

No comments: