September 22, 2012

Back to the Future with Shiloh (Source: SPACErePORT)
Back in 1988, a feasibility study was completed for Spaceport Florida, identifying sites around the state that could accommodate the nation's first commercial spaceport. The study identified the "Shiloh" site near the northern boundary of Kennedy Space Center (land managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service as a National Wildlife Refuge) as one of the two most attractive orbital launch locations...the other being the unused launch pads at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Environmental groups were quick to demand that Shiloh be removed from consideration, causing a race between then Republican Governor Bob Martinez and Democratic House Speaker Tom Gustafson to be the first to officially strike Shiloh from the list (see this archived 1989 article). One Space Coast representative declared that this didn't mean Shiloh would never be developed as a launch site, as the area was always intended by NASA to be available for future space needs. And despite Florida Today's description of the site as "undeveloped", it is actually a former town surrounded by fallow orange groves. I walked the site back in 1989, exploring the concrete house foundations that might one day become a launch complex.

Space Florida believes the site makes sense for SpaceX's commercial launches. SpaceX simply can't meet all the demand for their Falcon-9 and Falcon-Heavy launches at LC-40, so they'll keep LC-40 for government missions and develop a second East Coast site (in Texas, Georgia, Puerto Rico, or Florida) for commercial launches. Shiloh could accommodate Falcon-Heavy (and Grasshopper-style stage returns) more safely than other existing launch pads, while allowing SpaceX to more efficiently use its Florida-based workforce. The environmental challenges at Shiloh seem no more daunting than those at Texas and Georgia sites, which are either within wildlife protection areas or near enough to raise concerns. (9/22)

Florida Makes Play for Launch Pad (Source: Florida Today) 

The state wants to develop a commercial launch complex at Kennedy Space Center, a move that could persuade SpaceX not to pursue a similar site elsewhere in the country. In this letter sent Thursday to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll requested 150 undeveloped acres at the northern end of the space center, near the former citrus community of Shiloh. 

With Federal Aviation Administration approval, the site would operate outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. Air Force’s Eastern Range, which provides safety and tracking for launches from KSC and Cape Canaveral. “The State proposes to develop and operate this site as a commercial launch complex independent of the neighboring federal range and spaceports,” Carroll wrote. 

In addition to the launch site property bordering Brevard and Volusia counties, the state requested facilities and land at KSC’s shuttle runway, which NASA has said it intends to turn over to an outside operator. The letter was sent a week after Space Florida’s board, chaired by Carroll, unanimously passed a resolution to acquire KSC property to support commercial space operations and to spend up to $2.3 million for environmental and other studies. Click here. (9/22)

Development Lags Near Spaceport America (Source: Santa Fe News)
New Mexico Tourism Secretary Monique Jacobson says it will be New Mexico’s Sydney Opera House. Virgin Galactic Chairman Richard Branson has hinted it will host the first of his new brand of lifestyle hotels. And the eclectic hot springs town of Truth or Consequences has been anxiously awaiting all the economic development the nearly quarter-of-a-billion-dollar project is supposed to bring to this largely rural part of Southern New Mexico.

But as phase one of Spaceport America, the world’s first commercial port built specifically for sending tourists and payloads into space, is nearing completion, the only new hotel project that has been finalized is a Holiday Inn Express here in Truth or Consequences, about 25 miles away. And three key companies with millions of dollars in payroll have passed on developing operations in the state.

The lagging development, along with competition from heavy hitters like Florida and Texas, is raising new questions about the viability of the $209 billion taxpayer-funded project — as well as the rush by so many states to grab a piece of the commercial spaceport pie. To date, nine spaceports are planned around the United States, mostly at existing airports, and another 10 have been proposed, according to a recent report from the New Mexico Spaceport Authority. Click here. (9/22)

Florida Projects Among 26 Selected for Heavy-Lift Rocket R&D (Source: NASA)
NASA has selected 26 proposals from academia and industry for advanced development activities for the nation’s next heavy lift rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS). The projects offer solutions to evolve the launch vehicle from its initial configuration to its full lift capacity capable of sending humans farther into deep space than ever before. NASA sought proposals in a variety of areas, including concept development, trades and analyses, propulsion, structures, materials, manufacturing, avionics and software.

“Engaging with academia and industry gives us the opportunity to take advantage of the ingenuity and expertise beyond NASA,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “It will help us optimize affordability while integrating mature technical upgrades into future vehicles.” NASA has partnered with the U.S. Air Force on this research program in support of common national rocket propulsion goals.

Among the projects are four from Florida companies and universities, including University of Florida projects involving liquid rocket injectors and cryogenic fluid transport systems, one from Streamline Numerics in Gainesville focused on unsteady flow physics for space propulsion, and one from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne focused on upper stage engine design. Click here. (9/22)

Designing a Sustainable Interstellar Worldship (Source: Discovery)
Project Persephone is designing the living interior of a "worldship" to behave as an ecology, rather than applying the mechanical approach that underpins the way our modern cities are built. Moreover, the collaboration between international designers, engineers and architects serves an innovation platform to develop prototypes that may address some of our greatest current challenges in our proliferating megacities -- vast urban expanses that house more than ten million people such as Beijing, New York and Sao Paolo -- by re-thinking the way we inhabit space, make buildings and use our terrestrial resources. Click here. (9/22)

NASA Successfully Tests New Launch Vehicle From Wallops (Source: SpaceRef)
NASA successfully tested a new suborbital sounding rocket today from the agency's launch range at the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Launched at 7:00 a.m. EDT, the Talos-Terrier-Oriole flew to an altitude of 167.4 miles and then reentered in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Wallops Island. The payload was not planned to be recovered. This was the first flight of the 65-foot tall Talos-Terrier-Oriole that is being developed to support high-altitude space science research. (9/22)

5 Things We Learned at the Air Force Convention (Source: Popular Mechanics)
(1) Russia has a long-term plan for the human exploration of space that it is showing off around the world. (2) The Pentagon will consider private space companies to launch its satellites. (3) The most advanced military hardware will debut in the Pacific. (4) America may not dominate satellite launches to orbit, but American entrepreneurs dominate the suborbital ambitions. (5) Not everyone loves the idea of refueling satellites in space. Click here. (9/22)

Future of Space Program Not Stalled with End of Shuttle Program (Source: KXTV)
"I feel rather enthusiastic that this Space Shuttle and the others have left us with the technology to build a new vehicle," Granda said. "So, for us, the engineers, the challenge is to send the astronauts into space and bring them back safely. That's our mission." There has been talk of a manned mission to Mars. Such a mission, however, would be extremely expensive and very complicated.

"You could have said the same thing in 1960; going to the moon would be very complex, but I am fairly optimistic because the technology is already there," Granda said. "In 2005, I was able to see the first prototypes of planes that would possibly land on Mars." Despite Pres. Barack Obama's change of direction for the space program, Granda also believes a return to the moon could be in the cards. (9/22)

China Spacesat gets $18 Million in Government Support (Source: Xinhua)
China Spacesat Co., Ltd., the nation's key developer of small satellites, said on Saturday that it will obtain 116 million yuan ($18.3 million) in government financial support. Four projects, run by the company or its subsidiaries, have been declared as support targets of a national fund developed to foster the country's strategic emerging industries, according to a statement filed by China Spacesat to the Shanghai Stock Exchange.

One project, the establishment of a logistics transport intelligent sensing and positioning system based on the country's Beidou satellite navigation system, will receive nearly half of the 116-million-yuan sum. The fund will help increase the company's research and development capabilities in satellite applications and boost its competitiveness and profitability, the statement said. (9/22)

Claim Against Manx Space Firm in Texas (Source: IOM Today)
Lawyers acting for ManSat boss Chris Stott and island-based space exploration company Excalibur Almaz say they will be mounting a ‘rigorous’ defence against ‘completely unfounded’ claims made against them in a US civil court. In a civil suit filed in Texas, Donna Beck is suing Houston patent attorney Art Dula, his companies Excalibur Exploration Limited, Excalibur Limited, Excalibur Almaz Limited and Excalibur Almaz USA Inc, and Excalibur directors J. Buckner Hightower and Christopher Stott.

She alleges Mr Dula defrauded her and her late husband out of $300,000 by claiming his company had a ‘special rocket engine’ to ‘travel in space to a distant asteroid and mine precious metals’. In her claim, she alleges she and her husband were induced to advance $300,000, and later purchase an investment in Excalibur Exploration Limited, with the ‘fundamental false representation’ that the company had the technical expertise and associations to develop a business to fly the first commercial prospecting space flight to an asteroid.

‘In fact, the entire operation was a sham and never accomplished anything of substance,’ she alleges. Mrs Beck seeks damages for negligence, fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, Texas Securities Act violations and breach of contract. The claimant claims that she and her husband met Mr Dula, Mr Hightower and Mr Stott in May 2006 during a commercial space flight convention on a cruise ship. She alleges the three men won the couple over by hosting them at a dinner honoring science fiction writer Robert Heinlein, which many former NASA astronauts and officials attended. (9/22)

Romney Adopts Obama Space Policy (Source: NASA Watch)
From the policy document: "Mitt Romney recognizes the exciting opportunity that the commercial space industry offers for technological innovation and commerce. He will establish a clear framework that ensures NASA serves as a constructive partner for private sector initiatives. NASA will set the goals and lead the way in human space exploration, working from a clear roadmap in partnership with our allies, research institutions, and the private sector.

"NASA will look whenever possible to the private sector to provide repeatable space-based services like human and cargo transport to and from low Earth orbit. It will provide clear and timely guidance as to expected needs so the private sector can plan and invest accordingly. The private sector will handle commercially viable activities -- from satellite launches to space tourism to new businesses and industries that U.S. entrepreneurs will no doubt create if provided a friendly environment for doing so."

There is, of course, the required bashing of Romney's opponent and the prerequisite call for (yet another blue ribbon) panel to fix whatever it is that is broken. Otherwise, in addition to its stated commercial policy, the Romney team also mirrors the Obama policy i.e. no clear locations are specified, no time frame is offered, and no budget pledges are made. The space policy advisers listed on the position paper are: Scott Pace (Chair), Mark Albrecht, Eric Anderson, Gene Cernan, Bob Crippen, Michael Griffin, Peter Marquez, and William Martel. Click here. (9/22) 

California Governor Signs the Spaceflight Liability and Immunity Act (Source: CSF) 
California Governor Jerry Brown announced today that he has signed into law the Spaceflight Liability and Immunity Act, AB 2243. This law provides the necessary liability protections for compliant companies in the state, should any spaceflight participant who has acknowledged the risks sustain any bodily injury during spaceflight activities. Currently, Florida, Virginia, and Texas also provide spaceflight companies liability protection. 

The CSF President Michael Lopez-Alegria stated, “Commercial companies will soon begin to open up access to space for the public and preserve America’s leadership in spaceflight. This bill will provide the required liability protections needed for the companies in this developing sector to operate in an efficient and effective manner, while acknowledging that spaceflight is not a risk-free activity. I applaud the hard work put into getting this legislation on the Governor’s desk from Assemblyman Steve Knight and the commercial spaceflight companies in California.” (9/21)  

Newfound Alien Planet a Top Contender to Host Life (Source: 
A newly discovered alien planet may be one of the top contenders to support life beyond Earth, researchers say. The newfound world, a "super Earth" called Gliese 163c, lies at the edge of its star's habitable zone — that just-right range of distances where liquid water could exist. "There are a wide range of structures and compositions that allow Gliese 163c to be a habitable planet," Xavier Bonfils and an international team of astronomers studied nearly 400 red dwarf stars with the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS), a spectograph on the 3.6-meter telescope at the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Observatory in Chile. (9/21)

No comments: