June 8, 2012

Editorial: NASA's Future is a Future Worth Funding (Source: Houston Chronicle)
Call it giving hand-me-downs to a younger brother, or charity to the needy, but we're glad to see NASA get some help from the Department of Defense, which donated two unused space telescopes to the cash-strapped space agency. These telescopes are also a study in the expansion within the military budget. While NASA has suffered from budget woes over the last several years, the National Reconnaissance Office has two space satellites it doesn't need. Something is wrong with the way Congress is funding projects, and it doesn't take an infrared telescope to see it.

This isn't the only military expansion worth some study. For example, the House of Representatives has approved an extra $100 million funding for a missile defense program on the East Coast that the Pentagon has said is unnecessary. The military budget all too often seems to be driven not by what our armed forces actually need, but by senators and representatives trying to win elections or push their agendas. And when the GAO tried to audit the military budget in 2010, the result was that "serious financial management problems at the Department of Defense" made its budget unauditable.

While the military seems to be force-fed funds that it cannot track, NASA relies on Russia to transport astronauts to the International Space Station and our plans to go to the moon or Mars have generally stalled. NASA's acting deputy director for astrophysics, Michael Moore, sums up the problem succinctly: "We have no money." The universe is teeming with questions begging to be answered, and NASA, which has long launched humanity's forays into the unknown, has to rely on the military's leftovers. (6/7)

Is Dream Chaser the New Space Shuttle? (Source: CNN)
Have you been listening to all the kvetching and tooth-gnashing about America paying Russia $65-to-$70 million for each astronaut to ride to the space station? Why, oh, why, aer space workers moan, did Washington end the shuttle program before building a replacement? How fast can the U.S. develop a new machine to deliver Americans into orbit so they can make scientific and technological breakthroughs?

How fast? Last month, less than a year after the final space shuttle mission, a SpaceX unmanned Dragon became the first private spacecraft to reach the orbiting space station. But you probably knew that. Here's what you may have missed: A few days after SpaceX's triumph, a winged "Dream Chaser" mini-space shuttle took to the air in its first flight test. Dream Chaser is just one of several systems being developed by private firms in hopes of winning additional NASA funding. (6/7)

KSC Visitors Getting Rare Access Inside NASA's Launch Control Center (Source: KSCVC)
For the first time in more than 30 years, NASA is allowing Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex guests inside the Launch Control Center – where NASA directors and engineers supervised all of the 152 launches for the space shuttle and Apollo programs. The KSC Up-Close: Launch Control Center (LCC) Tour, the second in Kennedy Space Center's special 50th anniversary series of rare-access tours, takes visitors inside Firing Room 4, one of the LCC's four firing rooms and the one from which all 21 space shuttle launches since 2006 were controlled.

Inside Firing Room 4, visitors will pass by the computer consoles at which engineers monitored the computerized launch control system's thousands of system checks every minute leading up to launch. They'll see the main launch countdown clock and many large video monitors on the walls, and enter the "bubble room," with its wall of interior windows through which the Kennedy Space Center management team viewed all of the proceedings below. (6/7)

Einstein Was Right, Faster-Than-Light Neutrino Researchers Admit (Source: Cosmos)
A team of scientists who last year suggested neutrinos could travel faster than light have conceded that Einstein was right and the sub-atomic particles are - like everything else - bound by the universe's speed limit. Researchers working at CERN caused a storm when they published experimental results showing the particles could out-pace light by some six kilometers (3.7 miles) per second.

The findings threatened to upend modern physics and smash a hole in Albert Einstein's 1905 theory of special relativity, which described the velocity of light as the maximum speed in the cosmos. But on Friday the researchers told the International Conference on Neutrino Physics and Astrophysics, being held in Japan's ancient capital of Kyoto, that the earlier results were wrong and faulty kit was to blame. (6/7)

XCOR Lynx to Begin Space Tourist Launches in 2014 (Source: Space.com)
Thrill seekers looking for the ultimate rocket ride may soon turn that dream into a reality aboard a new suborbital spaceship, a winged rocket plane slated to start launching space tourists from California and a tiny Caribbean island by 2014. XCOR Aerospace is developing the suborbital Lynx space plane to carry paying passengers to the upper reaches of the atmosphere, to altitudes up to and exceeding 62 miles (100 kilometers).

XCOR is aiming to begin operational Lynx flights from California's Mojave Spaceport in 2013 and from the Dutch-controlled island of Curacao in the Caribbean a year later, said Andrew Nelson. XCOR officials unveiled their launch targets Thursday (June 7) during a news briefing here to announce a new partnership with Space Expedition Corporation (SXC, formerly Space Expedition Curacao), a Netherlands-based space tourism firm that will now act as the sales agent for future Lynx flights.

Editor's Note: XCOR has been in talks with Space Florida and other groups in Florida to pave the way for Lynx operations in the Sunshine State. I guess it is premature for XCOR to announce any such plans at this time. (6/7)

Virgin Galactic to Launch Passengers on Private Spaceship in 2013 (Source: Space.com)
Virgin Galactic’s bid to start launching ticket-carrying passengers to the edge of space is aiming for a first liftoff by the end of next year, but the plan depends heavily on the success of a series critical rocket-powered test flights. Last month, the FAA granted to Mojave-based Scaled Composites an experimental launch permit. That approval set the stage for a series of upcoming test flights of the vehicle using its large hybrid rocket motor.

SpaceShipTwo is the first rocket-powered vehicle designed to fly humans on board to receive such an FAA permit. Commercial operations of the six-passenger, two-pilot vessel will eventually be carried out at New Mexico’s Spaceport America. The price per SpaceShipTwo space traveler: $200,000. (6/7)

Can’t Afford a Space Trip? Here’s a Less Pricey Alternative (Source: USA Today)
Say you're a space-cadet wannabe who can't scrape together the $200,000 for a seat on Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic suborbital flights that will someday take off from the New Mexico desert. Here's an alternative: training with Russian cosmonauts in a one-time-only chance Oct. 9-18. MIR Corp., a Seattle-based tour operator, has spots for 20 travelers on a jaunt to Russia to view the manned launch of the Soyuz spacecraft en route to the International Space Station.

The trip isn't for everyone. Inside the Russian Space Program starts at $14,000, plus airfare. Included are access to VIP viewing areas and pre-launch briefing sessions, plus a chance to check out the MIR Space Station simulator and watch live from the Mission Control Center as the Soyuz docks with the space station. An extra $5,500 will get you into cosmonaut training sessions and zero-gravity flights. (6/7)

Russia May Join Europe's Mars Orbiter Project in November (Source: RIA Novosti)
Russian space agency Roscosmos and the European Space Agency (ESA) could sign a final agreement on Russia’s participation in a Mars research project in November, ESA spokesman Rene Pischel said on Friday. “The work is underway and we are finishing up the coordination,” Pischel told reporters. “The final agreement should be signed after the ESA ministerial conference in November.” ESA official added that Russia could contribute its experience in preparation for the launch of Mars probe Phobos-Grunt to the project. (6/7)

More Transponders per Satellite Trend a Boon for Canada's Com Dev (Source: Space News)
Canadian satellite electronics manufacturer Com Dev International on June 7 said the global telecommunications satellite market continues to be robust and that the average satellite is carrying more transponders than ever before. Com Dev’s financial health is directly tied to this market, which is mainly for commercial applications but also for civil and military government customers. Com Dev’s key metric is not the number of satellites being built, but the number of transponders they carry that would require Com Dev’s switches and multiplexers. (6/7)

Private Spaceflight's Rise Gives NASA a Boost (Source: Space.com)
Over the past several decades, NASA spent about $209 billion sending astronauts (along with some cargo) to low-Earth orbit and back. That's the rough cost of the agency's space shuttle program, which retired last July after 30 years of orbital service. In 2010, President Barack Obama instructed NASA to get astronauts to an asteroid by 2025, and then on to the vicinity of Mars by the mid-2030s. The agency is depending on private firms to take over the shuttle's orbital-taxi role while it puts its limited resources toward achieving these ambitious deep-space goals.

NASA has given money to four companies — SpaceX, Blue Origin, Boeing and Sierra Nevada — in the hopes that at least two of them can have crewed vehicles up and running by 2017. Until that happens, NASA astronauts will continue to hitch rides on Russian Soyuz spacecraft, at a cost of roughly $62 million per seat. So agency officials were elated with the success of Dragon's demonstration mission. (6/7)

SpaceX Deal Boosts Falcon 9′s Secondary Payload Manifest (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
SpaceX and Spaceflight Inc. have agreed to a Launch Services Agreement (LSA) framework that will allow for a multitude of secondary payloads to hitch a ride uphill with future Falcon 9 launches. Attached to the Spaceflight Secondary Payload System (SSPS), numerous small satellites will be lofted into space on the Falcon 9′s Upper Stage.

In what is a growing market, CubeSats, NanoSats and MicroSats are becoming all the rage, especially in the academic research, hardware qualification, biotechnology research and Earth observation arena. However, these small scale spacecraft are usually low budget and can’t afford to purchase a launch vehicle dedicated to lofting them into space, resulting in groups of these small satellites joining forces and jumping onboard a rocket that is primarily tasked with launching a major satellite. (6/7)

Mars Crater Shows Evidence for Climate Evolution (Source: ESA)
ESA’s Mars Express has provided images of a remarkable crater on Mars that may show evidence that the planet underwent significant periodic fluctuations in its climate due to changes in its rotation axis. On 19 June 2011, Mars Express pointed its high-resolution stereo camera at the Arabia Terra region of Mars, imaging the Danielson and Kalocsa craters. Click here. (6/7)

Elon Musk: The Man Who's Leading America's Charge Back to Space (Source: TIME)
If you're looking for a way to lose billions of dollars, blow up a lot of expensive hardware and possibly even kill people in the bargain, you couldn't pick a better field than rocketry. There's a reason only governments have space programs, and that's because they've got the cash to burn and the time to waste and nobody's asking them where the profits went. That, at least, is how things were — but it's surely not how they are anymore.

Elon Musk's SpaceX is the current best bet to get Americans back into space in a big way — first to orbit and then maybe beyond. Musk, 41, is a native South African and the inventor of what was once a little-known e-commerce service called PayPal. PayPal made him a rich man, and in 2002, he rolled part of that fortune into a new company designed to reinvent the rocketry field — building simpler, more streamlined boosters to provide for-profit satellite launching services, as well as an Apollo-like "Dragon" spacecraft that could accommodate up to seven people.

In the past decade, the fever-dream of having your own little space program has not been all that uncommon — at least if you're very, very rich. What buying a sports team once was to the .0001%, going to space — and charging to take other people here — has become for the likes of Paul Allen, Richard Branson and others. But Musk's plan was different. He wasn't interested in marketing suborbital joyrides. He wanted to build real real-live rockets and real-live spacecraft, for the purpose of doing long-term work in real-live space. And as it turned out, NASA actually needed the help. (6/7)

Nigeria's 2015 Space Day Dream (Source: Nigerian Tribune)
Nigeria's Minister of Science and Technology, Professor Ita Ewa, was recently reported as saying that Nigeria would launch three satellites and send astronauts into space by 2015. Speaking at a ministerial briefing to commemorate the 2012 Democracy Day and the one year anniversary of the Goodluck Jonathan administration, he told newsmen that the plan was part of efforts to boost the economy through space technology.

Ewa was further reported to have enumerated the country’s space program till 2028 when, according to him, a Made-in-Nigeria satellite would be launched into space. "we are going to build an Assembly Integration and Testing Center for Satellite technology,” he was quoted as saying. However, Nigeria has been rapidly de-industrialising as almost all its assembly plants have become history. The failure of successive governments to provide a business-friendly environment has not only been a disincentive to prospective investors but has also led to the collapse or relocation of many industries.

We earnestly urge Professor Ewa to focus his thoughts on modalities for the elevation of Nigeria’s institutions of higher learning to greater heights so that they can be sources of innovation and world-beaters in the various fields of intellectual enterprise. It is by so doing that he can leave behind a worthwhile legacy. If a mission into the cosmos was a momentary daydream, we hope he has woken up to the stark reality of the environment in which he lives. (6/7)

Virgin Galactic Brings Jobs, Tourists To Las Cruces (Source: KVIA)
Virgin Galactic officially opened the doors to its office in Las Cruces on Thursday. Company representatives said the office could bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars to the area. They told ABC-7 this is just the beginning of stimulating the local economy with jobs and tourism. "The attention of the world is going to be focused on those flights (into space) when we get going," George Whitesides, chief executive officer of Virgin Galactic, said.

Whitesides said in the next year, the company will launch its first commercial flight into space, and that will boost the tourism in the state. "My hope is that that has a lot of different benefits. It will drive tourism. It will drive education. People who want to go into aerospace sciences may come to (New Mexico State University) because it's right next door to the spaceport," Whitesides said. (6/7)

Orbital Sciences Gains After SpaceX Success (Source: Bloomberg)
Orbital Sciences Corp. shares rose for a second day amid speculation the company would follow SpaceX’s success in launching a capsule to the International Space Station. Shares of Virginia-based Orbital rose 45 cents, or 4 percent, to close at $11.78 in New York. They gained 59 cents, or 5.5 percent, yesterday. The two-day increase is the biggest since April 2009. “The company could be experiencing a bit of afterglow from the recent success of SpaceX,” said Chris Quilty, an analyst with Raymond James & Associates Inc. in St. Petersburg, Florida. He has an outperform rating on the stock.

“There’s no other defense company with better top-line and earnings potential than Orbital,” Patrick McCarthy, an analyst with Arlington, Virginia-based FBR Capital Markets & Co., said. All nine analysts monitored by Bloomberg who cover Orbital recommend the stock. The first flight of Antares, Orbital’s newest and biggest rocket, has been repeatedly postponed because of delays in construction of a launch pad at Wallops Island, Virginia. The liftoff was previously scheduled for 2011. (6/7)

Probe of IS-19 Solar Array Problem Focuses on Sea Launch Rocket (Source: Space News)
The investigation into why one of the two solar panels on Intelsat’s IS-19 telecommunications satellite failed to deploy following launch May 31 is focusing on what happened under the Sea Launch rocket’s fairing during liftoff and whether vibration there may have been the cause. In 2004, a Loral-built satellite named Estrela do Sol-1/Telstar 14 failed to deploy one of its solar arrays after a Sea Launch liftoff. An investigation into the cause was inconclusive. But Celli said U.S. Air Force images of the satellite in orbit showed massive damage to the affected array, confirming that an explosion — which was picked up by Sea Launch sensors — had occurred.

Sea Launch and Loral never agreed about what happened in that launch. In the June 7 interview, however, Celli said: “I do not believe in coincidences in this industry. We had a problem in 2004, and we have a problem now. My understanding is that Sea Launch’s telemetry ultimately will tell us what happened.” (6/7)

UCF Students Plan Bake Sale to Help NASA (Source: CFnews13)
What do cupcakes and missions in space have in common? The answer: A grass roots effort around the country to raise money for NASA in the most unusual way. University of Central Florida science students say they want to send a message to lawmakers. “Mostly to let Congress know people here really do support planetary exploration,” said UCF student Tracy Becker. Students at UCF, and some 20 like them across the country, are going grassroots to spread their message of sparing the program cuts, and future student and research job losses. They hope to do it with Milky Way cupcakes and other out of this world sweets at the first ever Planetary Exploration Car Wash and Bake Sale. (6/8)

China to Launch Spacecraft in Mid-June for Manned Space Docking (Source: Xinhua)
China will launch its Shenzhou-9 manned spacecraft sometime in mid-June to perform the country's first manned space docking mission with the orbiting Tiangong-1 space lab module. In the next few days, scientists will conduct functional tests on the spacecraft and the rocket, as well as joint tests on selected astronauts, spacecraft, rocket and ground systems, according to the spokesperson. The Shenzhou-9 will be launched into space to perform China's first manned space docking mission with the orbiting Tiangong-1 space lab module. (6/7)

SpaceX Worth Nearly $2.4 Billion (Source: PrivCo)
Given its launch service price points, a busy launch manifest, and a few pre-priced legacy contracts with pending launches (including ORBCOMM’s 18-satellite, approximately 6-launch $46.6 million Falcon 9 contract in 2009, and Iridium’s 8-launch $492 million Falcon 9 contract in 2010, and a 3-year $396 million NASA contract ending in 2012), PrivCo analysis forecasts rapidly increasing revenues for SpaceX, topping $1.331 billion by 2015.

Furthermore, SpaceX’s last valuation on secondary markets of $10/share or $1.2 billion is dated to April 2012 before its historic mission. PrivCo estimates that given the mission’s success, new contracts the company stands to gain, and its rapid growth, SpaceX’s share price has now doubled in value to a PrivCo-estimated $20/share with a valuation of $2.4 billion. In an additional valuation data point, PrivCo confirms a recent $18.50/share ask price from secondary markets, up 85% from its last trade in April. (6/7)

Aliens Calling: Send in the Robots (Source: MSNBC)
If we ever come across traces of an advanced alien civilization like the one featured in "Prometheus," the new semi-prequel to the "Alien" movie series, our first course of action should not be to send them a shipload of human meat. Instead, send in the robots. At least that's the prescription from Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the California-based SETI Institute. "Would you indeed load up a starship with alien fodder and send it out?" he asked me. "Of course you wouldn't, because we don't know how to do that." (6/7)

Some Newfound Planets are Something Else (Source: Science News)
When the Kepler spacecraft finds a giant planet closely orbiting a star, there’s a one in three chance that it’s not really a planet at all. At least, that’s the case according to a new study that put some of Kepler’s thousands of candidate planets to the test using a complementary method for discovering celestial objects in stellar orbits. The results suggest that 35 percent of candidate giants snuggled close to bright stars are impostors, known in the planet-hunting business as false-positives.

“Estimating the Kepler false-positive rate is one of the most burning questions in this field,” says astronomer Jean-Michel Désert of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who has performed similar calculations for smaller planets. Estimates by Désert and others place the false-positive rate at less than 10 percent, which isn’t necessarily contradictory given the different target populations of various research efforts. (6/7)

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