September 21, 2012

KSC Lab Supports R&D That Could Enable Asteroid/Lunar/Martian Mining (Source: NSSFL) 
The Granular Mechanics and Regolith Operations (GMRO) Lab at KSC focuses on developing technologies to work with the regolith on other bodies. We develop lunar/martian/asteroidal excavators, soil transport and conveyance, ice mining, site preparation, landing pad construction, using regolith as a building material (e.g., 3D printing), dust tolerant and self-cleaning connectors and umbilicals, and other related technologies. (For "other related", right now there are two teams in the lab working on (1) re-entry heat shields made out of regolith and (2) asteroid propulsion systems using the regolith as the propellant, both funded by NIAC.) 

Our main business is in excavation and mining, with increasing emphasis on ice mining. We develop technologies several ways: in-house, through contracts with businesses, and through fellowships with university faculty and students. We've also been hosting an annual university-level competition called the Lunabotics Mining Competition to help develop robotic lunar excavation technologies. Industry is very interested in what we are doing in the field of space mining. Our major sponsors for the Lunabotics competition have included Caterpillar and the Newmont Mining Corporation. (9/20)  

China Sets Out To Build Lightweight Electric Satellite (Source: Space News) 
China has begun development of a lighter-weight telecommunications satellite platform using electric propulsion and lithium-ion batteries to offer launches on smaller Chinese rockets in addition to continuing work on a much heavier vehicle, China’s space-hardware exporter said. Chinese officials are also broadening their export effort to include Earth observation satellites, having concluded that this market is growing more attractive with the demand by developing nations for their own space-based observation systems, the official said. (9/21)  

Lockheed Will Shrink Workforce Through Voluntary Severance (Source: Orlando Sentinel) 
Lockheed Martin is offering voluntary severance to workers in an effort that will cut payroll in its global training and logistics and missiles and fire-control divisions by 1.5%. The company says that if not enough workers opt to leave, it may have to start involuntary layoffs. (9/21)  

Musk: Mars is a 'Fixer-Upper' Planet (Source: CBS) 
Elon Musk, 41, joined "CBS This Morning" to talk about the future of private space exploration, including his long-term goal for SpaceX to "develop the technology necessary to transport large numbers of people and cargo to Mars, ultimately with the goal of establishing a self-sustaining civilization on Mars." "I know it's possible," he said before adding the caveat, "I know it's within the realm of possible." 

The seemingly self-assured Musk admitted that he wasn't quite so sure until more recently. "I didn't know that until two years ago," he told Charlie Rose, saying only that at that point, "the calculations worked out." In terms of sustaining human life on Mars, Musk explained, "You need to live in a dome initially but over time you could terraform Mars to look like Earth and eventually walk around outside without anything on. ... So it's a fixer-upper of a planet." (9/21)  

Next SpaceX Launch Set for Oct 7 – This One Counts (Source: Orlando Sentinel) 
NASA and SpaceX announced Thursday that they have set Oct. 7 as the date of the first-ever, official private resupply mission to the International Space Station, featuring the Dragon capsule. The launch of the Falcon 9 rocket with a Dragon cargo spacecraft is set for 8:34 p.m that evening. 

It follows SpaceX’s successful first-ever space station private docking, of a Dragon capsule, in May. That flight actually delivered goods to the space station but was considered a “demonstration” mission. Delivering the goods was secondary to seeing of the flight and rendezvous could actually be accomplished. (9/20)

Vietnam Launches Construction of National Satellite Center (Source: Xinhua) 
A groundbreaking ceremony for construction of the Vietnam Satellite Center was held at Hoa Lac High-tech Park in Vietnam's capital Hanoi on Wednesday. The center, scheduled to be completed by 2020, is built in line with the country's strategy on research and application of satellite technology, and expected to become the most modern center of this kind in Southeast Asia. 

The center will provide basic facilities to carry out research, training, application and international cooperation in satellite technology between Vietnam and its foreign partners, addressed Prof. Dr. Chau Van Minh, president of the Vietnam Academy for Science and Technology (VAST), which is entrusted by the Vietnamese government to chair and coordinate with relevant agencies to implement the strategy, including construction of the satellite center. (9/20) 

SpaceX Prepares for Grasshopper Flight Tests (Source: Spaceports Blog) 
The innovations being brought to the market place by SpaceX are jolting the space launch sector worldwide, including reusable launch vehicle technology now under development in Texas. The 'Grasshopper' is designed to radically change the cost per pound to low earth orbit. 

Flight tests will occur in three phases, at maximum flight altitudes of 670 to 11,500 feet, for durations of 45 to 160 seconds. Testing is expected to take up to three years and a 2011 FAA permit allows up to 70 suborbital launches per year. SpaceX has "constructed a half-acre concrete launch facility" to support the test flight program. (9/20) 

Six Victorians Pay $200,000 Each for Virgin Spaceflights (Source: Daily Telegraph) 
Six Victorians are among 23 Australians who are paying $4.6 million to buy space flight tickets with Virgin Galactic. The Aussies will be among the first into space, possibly as early as the end of next year, after Virgin tests flights later this year. "It's fantastic so many Aussies are heading to space, we'll have to catch up and have a beer," Melbourne entrepreneur Ruslan Kogan said. (9/21) 

Cernan Backs Bill to Depoliticize NASA Administration (Source: Sunshine State News) 
Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon, gave his support to the Space Leadership Act as it was unveiled Thursday by U.S. Reps. Bill Posey, R-FL, John Culberson, R-TX, Frank Wolf, R-VA, Pete Olson, R-TX, Lamar Smith, R-TX and James Sensenbrenner, R-WI. “America’s Space Program is just that -- America's Space Program,” Cernan, the commander of Apollo 17 in December 1972, stated in a release. 

“It has been a bipartisan commitment in the Congress since the days of JFK’s challenge to go to the moon. But, it has lacked long-term stability and focus because of the constantly changing political whims of the executive branch of government. This legislation is critical to providing the much-needed continuity for the future of NASA’s far-reaching goals in space.” Editor's Note: I wouldn't solely blame the executive branch for NASA's politics-driven shifts. (9/21) 

Congress’ Misleading Human Spaceflight Development Chart (Source: Parabolic Arc) 
The Congressmen who are calling for a radical reorganization of NASA released a chart showing canceled human spaceflight development programs over the past two decades that they say have wasted more than $20 billion. The chart, and the politics behind the proposed reforms, deserve some closer scrutiny. 

I share Congress’ frustrations that these projects weren’t completed, but I’m not sure the proposed reforms would necessarily prevent future cancellations resulting from mismanagement, cost overruns, limited NASA funding, and the need to fund other more important priorities (e.g., space station construction, deep space vehicles and heavy-lift rockets). Click here. (9/21) 

The Non-Leadership Act (Source: Behind the Black) 
Six Congressmen have introduced a bill that would have the NASA administrator serve a ten year term, and put the running of the space agency in the hands of an unelected board of directors. They call this the Space Leadership Act. I instead call it the “Non-Leadership Act.” All this would essentially do is take power away from both the Congress and President, which in turn would rob the voting public of any influence on what NASA does. 

What is it with these elected officials? Why are they so often eager to give up their power? Are they so afraid of responsibility that they can’t handle it and are willing to hand it to someone they appoint and whom they won’t be able to remove for years? The real consequence of this law is that, if passed, it would essentially eliminate the ability of Congress to shift gears if it found its plans for NASA were not working. 

Instead, we all would have to beg an audience with this unelected board, praying that they might listen to us. Moreover, the existence of such a board, with enormous power and control over large sums of money but unaccountable to anyone, would be a wonderful opportunity for corruption and back-door deals. Maybe the worst aspect of this proposal is how it illustrates in microcosm the overall irresponsible state of our government and society. And the public goes along, unwilling to face reality. (9/21) 

Posey's Power Grab (Source: SpaceKSC) 
No President can cancel unilaterally a program already approved by Congress. The truth is that Constellation was cancelled by Congress after the President recommended a new course. Bipartisan leadership in Congress then directed the President and NASA to begin work on the Space Launch System, supposedly another "flagship class mission" that has no missions or destinations — but according to those who ordered NASA to do it, SLS saves jobs in their districts and states. 

The legislation, introduced late in this year's session, has virtually no chance of passing. It's possible the authors hope it might be grafted onto any emergency legislation passed this fall to avoid sequestration; on it own, no President would vote to give authority over NASA to Congress. In my opinion, this is just another attempt at a power grab by Congress to solve a problem they have created themselves. (9/21)  

Race to Save Space History (Source: Wall Street Journal) 
The space shuttle Endeavour is set for a glitzy welcome in Los Angeles Friday as it heads to final retirement at a local museum. But less than 20 miles away, its birthplace is being demolished without ceremony. From the 1960s to the end of the Cold War, a sprawling industrial campus in this suburb east of Los Angeles served as the crucible for U.S.-manned space efforts. Nearly 30,000 engineers and technicians built the Apollo modules that eventually helped astronauts land on the moon. (9/21) 

New, Compact Body Scanner Ready for Space Station (Source: 
Handheld "tricorders" from "Star Trek" remain just a science fiction fantasy for astronauts who need advanced medical care in space. But a new version of full-body scanning technology has the right size and power requirements to possibly fit aboard the International Space Station. The smaller, cheaper version of a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine could provide "slice" images of astronauts' bodies to improve studies of human health in space — issues such as bone and muscle loss in low-gravity environments or the effects of deep-space radiation. (9/20) 

MDA Clears Hurdle in its Bid to Acquire Loral (Source: SpaceRef) 
MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA) has cleared one hurdle in its effort to acquire U.S. based Space Systems/Loral Inc. (SS/L). Both MDA and SS/L were notified yesterday that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States has cleared the deal. While this is a good news for the two companies who are trying to finalize the US$875 million deal, the most important hurdle still remains. MDA and SS/L must have approval from U.S. anti-trust regulators. (9/21) 

Harris Wins $219M FAA NextGen Air Traffic Comm System Contract (Source: Orlando Business Journal) 
Harris Corporation was awarded a 15-year, $291 million contract to provide the the FAA’s new national air traffic control communications system. The system will provide secure, digital communications for pilots, controllers and ground personnel and is a key element of the FAA’s NextGen transformation to meet increasing air traffic needs and future requirements. (8/28)

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