September 26, 2012

Air Force Shelves Fly-Back Booster Development (Source:
The Air Force Research Laboratory has studied a reusable rocket concept under its Reusable Booster System (RBS) Pathfinder program. The "rocket-back" concept would involve the rocket firing its engines to reverse its climb and glide back down to an aircraft-style landing. Rocket-back designs from Andews Space, Boeing and Lockheed Martin came out of the Phase I contracts that wrapped up this month. The next step would have involved a $55-75 million contract to build it, not including launch costs — but the Air Force has decided to discontinue funding and shelve the project.

The private space industry may end up paving the way during a time of less government spending — especially with companies like SpaceX working to drive down launch concepts through its conventional Falcon rockets and its more experimental Grasshopper concept. Future space plane projects would do well to learn from the SpaceX example, Air Force researchers said. "We need to reconcile why Elon was able to do what he did with the money spent, on an order of magnitude lower cost than what models would have predicted," Jess Sponable said. (9/26)

US Military Wants Space Planes, Reusable Rockets (Source:
The U.S. government spent tens of millions of dollars on space plane programs in past decades — not to mention the $3 billion National Aero-Space Plane project — but most never got off the ground before cancellation. Such half steps need to change if the U.S. hopes to create a launch vehicle that can truly revolutionize launch costs, Air Force researchers said. "The reality is that if you're going to learn, you have to go out there and fly hardware," said Jess Sponable, a program manager at the Air Force Research Laboratory.

The dream of space planes has often raced ahead of reality — original arguments for NASA's space shuttles envisioned flights once per week at a cost of just $20 million. But the space shuttle program ended up flying just several times per year at a cost of about $1.6 billion per flight. "We've got to learn how to build and fly this class of system," Sponable said. "It's some strange, in-between hybrid that's not an aircraft and not a rocket." (9/26)

Craig Technologies Relocates to Former Shuttle Logistics Depot (Source: Craig)
Craig Technologies is consolidating their corporate headquarters and manufacturing division to occupy the former NASA Shuttle Logistics Depot (NSLD) building in Cape Canaveral, effective October 1. The 161,000 SF facility will house the company’s administrative offices and over 2,000 pieces of specialized avionics manufacturing and test equipment, some once used to process orbiters and payloads during NASA’s Shuttle Program.

The move follows the June 28 signing of a Space Act Agreement with Kennedy Space Center and recent negotiations with vacating tenant United Space Alliance and the building’s owner, Cape Canaveral Joint Ventures, a locally-owned business. Craig purchased capital equipment and assets from United Space Alliance and will re-open the building as the Craig Technologies Aerospace & Defense Manufacturing Center (ADMC) January 1, 2013. The company will sublease a portion of office and manufacturing space to United Space Alliance through the end of 2012. (9/26)

Debris Avoidance Maneuver Will Further Delay ATV-3 Departure From Space Station (Source: ESA)
After the original undocking was postponed on 26 September due to a technical glitch in Station configuration just minutes before the planned 00:35 departure, a new departure time had been set for 23:00 CEST, 27 September. However, this, too, will be delayed. Instead, ATV-3 will perform a short-notice debris avoidance maneuver (DAM) in order to safely boost the Station away from a possible conjunction with a piece of the defunct Indian PSLV rocket. (9/26)

ATK and NASA to Showcase Cost-Saving Solid Rocket Booster Upgrades for Heavy-Lift (Source: ATK)
Dan Dumbacher, NASA Deputy Associate Administrator, Exploration System Development Division for Human Exploration and Operations at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington D.C., will be at ATK as part of an event to announce cost-saving initiatives that have been implemented by Alliant Techsystems to support NASA’s new Space Launch System solid rocket motors and to show appreciation to the workforce for these efforts.

Editor's Note: ATK's plans for Liberty may hinge on the company's success in keeping its solid rocket motors in the architecture for NASA's heavy-lift Space Launch System. Also, recent media reports have suggested that ATK's focus for Liberty has shifted from serving NASA's human spaceflight market, toward lauching government and commercial satellites. Whatever their intent, they must demonstrate substantial cost reductions from their days as the provider of Space Shuttle SRBs. (9/26)

Aerospace States Ask Congress to Act Against Sequestration (Source: SpaceRef)
As Congress reconvenes this month, the Aerospace States Association (ASA), led by Chairman Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell (AK), called on the congressional leadership to replace pending, indiscriminate funding cuts with an approach that would protect industry and security sectors. "We understand that there are different views about the best approach to replace sequestration, but the process of compromise and negotiation must begin today," Treadwell said in a letter signed by lieutenant governors of both parties.

ASA encouraged federal leaders to work together on a solution that begins to address the nation's deficit, protects the vital work of the defense sector, NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration, and ensures that non-defense sector cuts are avoided, as well. Other signatories included Lt. Governors Timothy Murray (MA), Kim Reynolds (IA), Brad Owen (WA), Ken Bennett (AZ), Todd Lamb (OK) and Kay Ivey (AL). Editor's Note: Not Florida? (9/26)

Who Will Succeed Ralph Hall as Science Committee Chair? (Source: Space Policy Online)
House rules limit committee chairs to serving six years in that position, but they are being interpreted to include service as ranking member as well. That means Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) would not continue as chair of the House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) Committee in the 113th Congress if Republicans retain control of the House.  The question then is who would replace him.

Under a strict interpretation of that House rule, Hall could remain as chair since he has served in that position for only one Congress. However, when Democrats controlled the House in the 110th and 111th Congresses, he was the ranking member on the committee. Ranking member is the top leadership position on a committee for the party that is not in control. That totals six consecutive years as the top Republican on HSS&T. Politico reports that Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) is mostly likely to take the chair position, though Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) is also a contender. (Both are sponsors (with Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL)) of the bill that would change NASA's management structure.)

Editor's Note: The same rule applies to Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica, who's new district (if he is re-elected) could include the new "Shiloh" commercial launch complex proposed by Space Florida. Shiloh straddles the Volusia and Brevard County lines, and Mica's new district includes the Volusia property. If he loses his chairmanship, perhaps he has enough seniority and gravitas to be assigned to the Appropriations Committee, where he could have a hand in space-related transportation funding. (9/26)

Did NASA Really Waste $20 Billion in Cancelled Human Space Flight Programs? (Source: Space Policy Online)
When Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) and several other House members introduced the Space Leadership Act on Thursday, a graphic was used to illustrate a 20-year history of $20 billion worth of NASA human space flight development programs that were cancelled. That graphic must be used with caution, however. There is a declarative statement in a box at the bottom saying "in the last 20 years NASA has spent more than $20B on cancelled development programs."

The title of the graphic is "Human Space Flight Development Programs" so one can infer that the box is totalling up only human space flight development programs that have been cancelled. Unquestionably, NASA has cancelled a large number of human space flight development programs over the years, but at least one shown on this graphic was not cancelled -- Orion, and at least one is not a human space flight program -- Prometheus/JIMO, the nuclear-powered Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter project initiated by former NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe and cancelled shortly after his departure.

The NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) also was not specifically related to the human space flight program and was not a development program. It was a grant-based program to fund studies of advanced concepts for NASA as a whole, and although it was terminated in 2007, it was reinstated in a modified manner in FY2011 as part of the Office of Chief Technologist. Click here. (9/22)

U.S., Europe Won’t Go It Alone in Mars Exploration (Source: Space News)
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on Sep. 26 urged NASA’s international partners not to read too much into an advisory panel’s report on the U.S. agency’s near-term Mars exploration options, saying “NASA does not plan to do anything alone” when it comes to Mars exploration. Bolden said the report should be seen only as offering hope that, despite its budget constraints, NASA will be able to send an astronaut to Mars by around 2030 as President Barack Obama has requested. (9/26)

What Next for NASA (Source: BBC)
Justin Webb visits NASA's base in central Florida for a look at the future of the country's space exploration program. "Space could hold the key... to better protein structures" for treatment of diseases such as cancer, hopes CASIS's Bobby Block. But not everyone agrees. "I think there is no place for commercial space flight," believes Chris Milner, a former NASA employee, one of many Americans concerned about the country's national security. Click here. (9/26)

Shuttle Landing Facility Could Host Next X-37B Return From Space (Source: WIRED)
For its upcoming mission, the Air Force is considering a shift of the X-37B’s landing site from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California — where the two previous X-37B flights touched down — to Kennedy Space Center. KSC’s Shuttle Landing Facility was used for most of the old shuttle landings, which would be a way to use leftover infrastructure and save money by leveraging “previous space shuttle investments,” said Bunko.

Trying to find a way to reduce costs is crucial if the X-37B is to survive, and promoting the X-37B as an affordable replacement for the shuttle has figured prominently in statements from Boeing. There have been recurring questions as to why the Air Force needs a new reusable orbiter when contrasted with existing — and cheaper — conventional satellites. The plane is designed to stay up for nine months, but “actual duration will depend on test objectives, on-orbit vehicle performance, and conditions at the landing site.”

“The focus of the program –- and of this upcoming mission —- remains on testing vehicle capabilities and proving the utility and cost effectiveness of a reusable spacecraft,” McIntyre said. McIntyre added that the Air Force is evaluating the feasability of landing at the Kennedy Space Center, which “has the potential to save program costs.” But for now, the Air Force is still planning to land the plane at Vandenberg, per usual. Editor's Note: A KSC landing makes sense, as one (perhaps two) of KSC's Orbiter Processing Facilities is also being considered as a site for X-27B pre- and post-mission processing. (9/26)

Romney's Space Plan 'Lacks Specifics' Says Local Space Expert (Source: CFLnews13)
Mitt Romney has announced what he plans to do to NASA if he's elected the next president of the United States. But a local space industry expert said he is worried about the lack of specifics in Romney's space policy proposal. Romney's policy paper lays out plans to work with commercial and international partners, use the space industry to strengthen national security, and rebuild NASA by forming a group of stakeholders to develop a clear mission for the space agency.

"He wants to form a committee, study the issue and then change course in a year or two," said Dale Ketcham, director of the Spaceport Research and Technology Institute at the University of Central Florida. "That's disastrous for the Space Coast, because the last thing we need is a major change in program." Ketcham's goal is to get both candidates to commit to more funding for Florida's space industry. He said Romney's plan lacks specifics, including whether he would scrap President Barack Obama's plan to send astronauts to asteroids and Mars in the next two decades. (9/26)

Packing for an Interstellar Space Voyage: What to Bring? (Source:
Contemplating the idea of a manned voyage to another star raises many confounding questions, including one that has been around since the days of the first travelers: What to pack? To build a closed environment that can sustain astronauts and perhaps their descendants during the long mission is going to require many kinds of technological innovations, some of them needed just to clothe the interstellar travelers, said Karl Aspelund, a professor of textiles, fashion merchandising and design at the University of Rhode Island. Click here. (9/26)

Earthrise Space Plans Oct. 12 Open House in Orlando (Source: ESI)
Come out and meet the Florida team that is working toward the future of space exploration and competing in the Google Lunar X PRIZE! Earthrise Space will be opening its doors to the press and general public on October 12 to show the progress toward our big goal: to land our student-designed rover on the moon. For early registration and your chance to win a great prize, visit or click the registration tab on the ESI Facebook page. (9/26)

New Mexico Expects First Operational SpaceShipTwo Flights in February 2014 (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Officials at Spaceport America estimate that Virgin Galactic will make its first operational SpaceShipTwo flights from the New Mexico facility in February 2014. That estimate is included in a PowerPoint presentation given by New Mexico Spaceport Authority Executive Director Christine Anderson on Monday to the NMSA board. Sir Richard Branson and his family will be on the first operational flight of the eight-person suborbital space plane. Virgin Galactic expects to fly thousands of space tourists from the custom-built facility in the New Mexico desert.

Those first operational flights are expected to bring in $1.3 million in revenues to NMSA, according to budget assumptions. Facilities lease and ground rent payments from Virgin Galactic will bring in an additional $1 million during the FY 2014 fiscal year. Tourists visiting the spaceport will be in additional funds. Click here for a chart showing Spaceport America's revenue/expense assumptions through 2014. (9/26)

NASA Transitions ISS National Lab Social Media to CASIS (Source: CASIS)
The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), the nonprofit organization now managing research on the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory, is assuming management responsibility for the Facebook and Twitter social media accounts previously operated by NASA. On Facebook, the “ISS National Laboratory Office” group page will be decommissioned on October 1, 2012 and current group members will be urged to follow National Lab activities on the CASIS group page.

On Twitter, the @ISS_NatLab legacy account has a significant following and will remain active. As of November 1, 2012, the @ISS_NatLab account will be renamed @ISS_CASIS and the original @ISSCASIS handle will be decommissioned two weeks later, on November 15, 2012.  Followers of the old CASIS account will be encouraged to follow @ISS_CASIS in repetitive messaging before the @ISSCASIS handle is decommissioned. (9/26)

L-2 Outpost: Better Than The Moon? (Source: AmericaSpace)
Why would NASA would opt to exclude the Moon over an L2 station? The Moon is rich in “in situ” resources such as water (for drinking, hygiene and rocket fuel) as well as assorted minerals and metals. Anything sent to L2 would have to be hefted out of Earth’s full gravity. If the Moon were established first, as part of a foundation for an infrastructure that progresses outward into the solar system then anything delivered to L2, the other Legrange points or destinations beyond – would have only one-sixth of Earth’s gravity to contend with.

“It sounds suspiciously like a program in search of a mission — and that type of approach rarely sells with Congress, the White House or OMB,” said two-time shuttle veteran Robert Springer who worked for Boeing. “Additionally, as others have noted, there is a large body of work, including some basic research that needs to be accomplished before this is feasible. The concept of having a “way point” as a refueling site has never passed the test of feasibility — you still have to carry fuel into space, so there is no net savings by having a fuel depot at the space station or at a Lagrange point.” (9/26)

European Cargo Carrier Fails to Undock From Space Station (Source: AP)
The European Space Agency says the undocking of its cargo craft from the International Space Station has been postponed after a communication malfunction during planned separation late Tuesday. The agency said on its website that both the space station and the ATV-3 craft are safe and that a new undocking date will be announced. ATV-3 is attached to the Russian service module and had been loaded with waste and rubbish for disposal. It was due to be jettisoned into an unpopulated area of the South Pacific later this week. (9/26)

New Mexico Spaceport Authority Awards Contracts (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
The New Mexico Spaceport Authority Board of Directors has approved the award of two new contracts, moving the spaceport closer to its grand opening in December 2013. The board approved the award of the runway modification contract to A.S Horner, an Albuquerque-based company. The NMSA board also approved a contract award to Ashbaugh Construction for its proposed site of the Sierra County Welcome Center. The existing runway is 10,000 feet, and the new contract will extend the runway to 12,000 feet by July 2013. (9/26)

Astronauts, Robots May Team Up to Reach Mars Goal (Source: Florida Today)
NASA could send spacecraft to Mars to collect rock and soil samples and then launch American astronauts on a mission to bring them back by the 2030s, an expert panel said Tuesday. Despite severe budget cuts, the group said NASA still could achieve the National Research Council’s top goal for planetary science — returning rock and soil samples from the red planet. In doing so, NASA also could marry its robotic and human spaceflight efforts to meet President Barack Obama’s challenge to send astronauts to the vicinity of Mars by the mid-2030s. (9/25)

The Shrinking Cost of Space Tourism (Source: Canadian Business)
More than half a century ago, U.S. President John F. Kennedy called the race to space “a great new American enterprise.” Today, private companies are flying reusable vehicles into the atmosphere and beyond. Competing at the forefront of this space race is Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Elon Musk’s SpaceX—both hope to send paying passengers to the near edge of space by 2013.

The Federal Aviation Administration and Space Florida, the state agency tasked with promoting interstellar tourism, predict suborbital flights alone could generate up to $1.6 billion in revenue during their first 10 years of operation. And fear not frugal adventurers: the cost to book your own space odyssey, depending on which option you choose, is slowly descending to the earth’s atmosphere. Click here. (9/26)

Cameron County to Consider Revising Beach Access Plan (Source: Brownsville Herald)
Cameron County is now proposing space exploration development within its beach access plan. This is a component of its revised erosion protection, public beach access, coastal construction, and dune protection and beach management plan. The Texas General Land Office requires communities along the coast to file a plan to protect and promote public access to beaches.

Commissioners Court recently approved the revised plan, but will meet with legal counsel to review this matter at its regular meeting Thursday, starting at 8:30 a.m. at the Oscar C. Dancy Courthouse, 1100 E. Monroe St. The item on the agenda states that Commissioners Court and legal counsel will discuss the Texas General Land Office’s request that the space launch rules be approved separately from the rest of the revised plan.

The revised county plan notes that space exploration development is a public purpose and that Boca Chica Beach, a relatively un-developed 8-mile-long stretch of beach between the Brazos Santiago Pass and the Rio Grande, is uniquely situated for space exploration launch and support facilities. (9/26)

FAA Approves $200,000 Grant for Spaceport Colorado (Source: Denver Post)
Spaceport Colorado reached a crucial milestone on Tuesday when Colorado U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall announced the Federal Aviation Administration's approval of a $200,000 grant to fund the site's feasibility study. "This is what we've called the domino that needs to fall," said Dennis Heap, executive director of aviation at Front Range Airport, the proposed site for the spaceport facility. Colorado, along with California and Hawaii, received funding from the FAA's new Space Transportation Infrastructure Matching Grants, which totaled $500,000.

The feasibility study is the first step in the licensing process. It will determine all of the logistics for operating a commercial spaceport, such as the requirements for the operating vehicles, storage, launching and landing, and other operational details. There are eight licensed spaceports around the U.S., but the proposed Spaceport Colorado would be the first to offer horizontal launch. Proponents say the spaceport could offer space tourism, unmanned spacecraft facilities, and global point-to-point travel. (9/25)

FAA Awards Nearly $500,000 for Spaceport Projects (Source: FAA)
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced nearly $500,000 in new Space Transportation Infrastructure matching grants to three projects located in California, Colorado and Hawaii that will help develop and expand commercial space transportation infrastructure. "These investments will help us continue to develop a safe and robust commercial space industry in the United States,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

The matching grants are $250,000 to the Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism; $200,000 to Colorado’s Front Range Airport Authority, and $23,750 to the East Kern Airport District at California’s Mojave Spaceport. The Hawaii and Colorado grants both will be used to conduct environmental and other feasibility analyses for a potential FAA Commercial Launch Site Operator’s License. The Mojave grant will be used for acquisition of a “pyrolance,” a dual firefighting piercing system to aid in rapid response to rescue emergencies and to fires involving launch vehicles. (9/25)

The Broken Beyond: How Space Turned Into an Office Park (Source: The Atlantic)
All the exciting parts of exploring the solar system have been leeched out. What's left is the drudgery of the everyday and the dreams of the rich. It's not so much that the space program is broken in the sense of inoperative. Space is alive and well, for the wealthy at least, where it's become like the air and the land and the sea: a substrate for commerce, for generating even more wealth. Instead, the space program is broken in the sense of tamed, domesticated, housebroken. It happens to all frontiers: they get settled. Click here. (9/25)

ULA Interested in Launching Atlas V or Delta IV From Shuttle Pad (Source:
As United Launch Alliance (ULA) looks forward to a potential surge in activity later this decade, the question of requiring additional launch infrastructure to cater for demand has led to discussions with NASA about launching from a former Shuttle launch pad. “We still have a lot of untapped capacity in both the production and launch infrastructure. So we can increase rate by increasing staffing,” said ULA's George Sowers. “At some point depending on where the demand was coming from, we would have to increase launch infrastructure."

This could mean an additional MLP (Mobile Launch Platform) for Delta or a VIF (Vehicle Integration Facility) for Atlas. Taking another pad in the area – namely at Complex 39 at KSC – was also classed as an option by Dr Sowers, citing the studies and discussions that have taken place with the famous spaceport. Moving forward with such a plan would depend on the viability of such an agreement. “Technically it’s feasible. The biggest hurdle right now is devising a business model that works.”

Previous comments that Liberty would require a second Ares-style ML no longer apply for the short to medium term, with source information noting ATK are now planning to concentrate on unmanned payload missions, as opposed to crewed flights. Editor's Note: LC-41 was planned to have two VIFs, and and LC-37 was planned to have two pads, but only one Atlas VIF and one Delta pad were built due to budget constraints. Space Florida financed much of the infrastructure on both complexes, and could conceivably finance their expansion. (9/25)

Mars Planning Group Endorses Sample Return (Source: Space News)
A blue-ribbon panel chartered to help NASA reboot its robotic Mars Exploration Program outlined several approaches Sep. 25 for returning samples of the red planet to Earth but did not endorse any one plan. NASA called for the reboot in February after withdrawing from the European Space Agency’s ExoMars sample-collection campaign, citing budget constraints.

Former NASA Mars czar Orlando Figueroa was selected to lead the Mars Program Planning Group, which was assigned to come up with options for a $700 million to $800 million mission that could be launched as soon as 2018. Figueroa and his team started their work in March and publicly released their preliminary report Sep. 25. The preliminary report includes concepts and cost estimates for four rovers and four orbiters that could be sent to Mars between 2018 and 2024. Favorable Mars launch opportunities occur only about every two years.

John Grunsfeld, NASA’s associate administrator for science, said during a media teleconference following the report’s release that the agency will announce its plans for the so-called Mars Next Decade effort in February with the release of the White House’s 2014 budget request. Grunsfeld said that NASA is free to consider spacecraft and mission architectures other than those outlined in the Figueroa group’s report. Click here. (9/25)

Funding Medical Products for Use on Earth and in Space (Source: NSBRI)
Do you know of a small company developing a medical product that could be adapted to solve a health or human performance challenge in space? Have you developed a biomedical product for the space program that could also improve health on Earth? The National Space Biomedical Research Institute's Industry Forum is soliciting applications for the Space Medicine and Related Technologies Commercialization Assistance Program (SMARTCAP) award that provides support in moving a selected product toward commercialization. The 2013 SMARTCAP award will be for a maximum of $250,000 for a one-year period.

NSBRI seeks to increase the impact of its support for SMARTCAP by requiring awardees to secure a 100-percent match in funding. Not only does this leverage resources, but it fosters active academic-industry collaborations and partnerships. ACell, Inc., of Columbia, Md., and Enterade USA LLC of Newberry, Fla., each received SMARTCAP awards in 2012. ACell and Enterade are using the awards to develop their products to address wound healing and the effects of space radiation exposure on the gut, respectively. Click here. (9/26)

Baumgartner’s Red Bull Stratos Jump Planned for Oct. 8 (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The final countdown for Felix Baumgartner’s history making jump from the edge of space began on Monday after the Red Bull Stratos Technical Project Director Art Thompson declared the repaired space capsule is fit and all systems are go. The tentative launch date for Baumgartner’s attempt to jump from an altitude of 36,576 meters has now been set for Oct. 8, ending a period of uncertainty for the team and, for Baumgartner, the agony of waiting.

The Austrian extreme sport athlete had to endure delays due to the repairs but is now delighted that the countdown is on for his attempt to become the first person to break the sound barrier in freefall and set four other world records in the process. Aviation pioneer Baumgartner and the Red Bull Stratos team have been preparing for years to break the record for highest-altitude jump, eclipsing a mark set more than 52 years ago. (9/25)

Marshall and Stennis Have New Directors (Source: Huntsville Times)
Patrick Scheuermann, currently director of NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, has been named director of Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden announced today. Also today, former Marshall director Robert Lightfoot's position as NASA associate administrator was made permanent. Scheuermann's successor as the Stennis director is Dr. Richard J. Gilbrech, currently deputy director. All three management changes are effective immediately. (9/25)

California Space Law Boosts Business, Not Safety (Source: New Scientist)
Private cargo-carrying spacecraft? No problem, but put people on commercial flights and things get messy. Just as NASA set the date for SpaceX's first official trip to the International Space Station, the firm's home state of California passed a law lightening company responsibility for the safety of future passengers. No private space firm yet sends crewed flights to space, but that is the plan.

The new law treats spaceflight rather like sky-diving, requiring future travelers to give "informed consent". They agree not to sue the company they fly with if they're injured or killed in the process. California is the last of the states hosting major contenders in the commercial space race to pass such a law, trailing Virginia, New Mexico, and Texas, which have already done so.

The laws may make a state more attractive to space businesses, says Diane Howard, a professor of space law at McGill University in Canada, but without statistics on the safety of commercial flights, travellers sign away their right to sue blindly, she says. "What exactly are you informing them of? You don't know how dangerous it is." Having these laws on the books in the industry's infancy won't keep private spaceflight from eventually becoming as routine as plane travel. If spaceflights really take off, the regulatory system will evolve with it, Shaefer says. (9/25)

‘Forbidden Planet’ Will Screen on Space Station and at KSC on Oct. 13 (Source: New York Times)
The Turner Classic Movies cable channel is joining with NASA to give an out-of-this-world opening to a series of film screenings. “Forbidden Planet,” the 1956 science fiction film that introduced Robby the Robot, will be the first movie in the next Road to Hollywood screening series sponsored by TCM, part of the Turner Broadcasting System unit of Time Warner.

The film is scheduled to be shown Oct. 13 at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, and also transmitted to the International Space Station for viewing by the astronauts on board; movies are part of what NASA calls psych support, or psychological support, for astronauts aboard the space station. One of those astronauts, the American Sunita Williams, is to introduce “Forbidden Planet” from space to the attendees at the Kennedy Space Center screening. (9/25)

Outage Forces GOES-14 Satellite into Service (Source: Space News)
NOAA on Sept. 24 said it has moved a spare geostationary weather satellite, GOES-14, into position to replace the GOES-13 satellite that suffered an unexplained outage Sept. 23 that engineers have been unable to fix. "GOES-14 will remain the primary GOES satellite over the Atlantic basin and Continental U.S. until the imager and sounder data issues on GOES-13 can be fully diagnosed and hopefully fixed," NOAA said in a statement. (9/25)

ESA States on Different Pages as Policy Conclave Looms (Source: Space News)
Senior officials from the German, French, Italian and British space agencies outlined the positions they will defend at what may be a rough conference in November to set Europe’s space policy direction for the next several years. These officials occasionally reminded their counterparts that, for European Space Agency members, supporting the neighbors is often the best way of supporting yourself.

The session opened with Germany’s de facto space minister, Peter Hintze, issuing a strong endorsement of the 20-nation European Space Agency (ESA) as Europe’s sole space agency, a status that Hintze said Germany wants to be maintained. In strongly endorsing ESA, Hintze was sending a message to the commission of the 27-nation European Union, which has its own ambitions in space. ESA and the commission have yet to set the borders of each other’s responsibilities. (9/25)

NASA Auditor Backs Modification of Mobile Launch Tower at KSC (Source: Florida Today)
NASA’s decision to spend at least $54 million to repurpose a launch tower built for a cancelled rocket was appropriate, the agency’s internal watchdog concludes in a report released today. But the agency must ensure that the modified “mobile launcher” can support not only the first version of the Space Launch System rocket but larger planned versions, says the 30-page audit by NASA’s Office of Inspector General. (9/25)

Basing of First U.S. Space Fence Facility Announced (Source: AFNS)
The Air Force will base a Space Fence radar site on Kwajalein Island in the Republic of the Marshall Islands with initial operations capability planned for fiscal 2017. The Fence will provide a critical Space Surveillance Network capability needed to give warfighters the ability to maintain a full and accurate orbital catalog, ensure orbital safety and perform conjunction assessments.

Air Force Space Command will award a contract to build the radar, which will be capable of detecting, tracking, identifying and characterizing space objects in low and medium earth orbits. Construction is expected to begin September 2013 and is planned to take 48 months to complete construction and testing. (9/25)

Super-Comet or Super-Dud? We'll See (Source: NBC)
A new comet superstar named C/2012 S1 (ISON) is heading for the spotlight starting in November 2013 — but will it perform as some hope it will, or will it be a dud of cosmic proportions? "This is one to watch, definitely," said Karl Battams, a scientist at the Naval Research Laboratory who monitors comets for the NASA-supported Sungrazer Comet Project. "But the astronomy community in general tries not to overhype these things. Potentially it will be amazing. Potentially it will be a huge dud." (9/25)

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