September 17, 2012

Texas Space Advocates Want "Space Texas" (Source: Parabolic Arc) 
The Texas Space Alliance is pushing for the state's legislature to create a "Space Texas" that would be modeled and funded like Space Florida. They seek a distinct Executive Branch agency under the Office of the Governor, responsible for fostering the growth and development of space industries in Texas. Space Texas would act as a facilitator, an initiator, a clearinghouse, and an organizer for the state's space industry development. An initial budget of $10 million is sought, allowing the new agency to use lessons learned from the previous Texas Aerospace Commission and Space Florida. 

The Alliance also hopes the state will establish "Space Business & Technology Development Zones" to attract companies and help them develop facilities, including with tax exemptions and the creation of a tax-revenue funded "Texas Spaceport Trust Fund". Click here. (9/17)  

Managers Postpone Ferry Flight to Wednesday (Source: NASA) 
NASA managers have postponed the ferry flight of space shuttle Endeavour to Wednesday, Sept. 19. The decision was made to ensure a safe flight for Endeavour and the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. A low pressure front in the northern Gulf of Mexico is generating thunderstorms along the predicted flight path. Managers will hold another weather briefing at 11 a.m. Tuesday. (9/17)  

NASA Seeks Small Business Proposals for High Tech R&D (Source: NASA) 
NASA is seeking proposals for its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs that will create the new technologies needed to enable the agency's future missions while benefiting America. The SBIR and STTR Programs are designed to provide small businesses and nonprofit research institutions with opportunities to compete for federal research and development awards and to stimulate the commercialization of the resulting technology. Click here. (9/17) 

Russia Reveals Existence of Huge Diamond Cache Beneath Asteroid Crater (Source: CS Monitor) 
Russia has just declassified news that will shake world gem markets to their core: the discovery of a vast new diamond field containing "trillions of carats," enough to supply global markets for another 3,000 years. The Soviets discovered the bonanza back in the 1970s beneath a 35-million-year-old, 62-mile diameter asteroid crater in eastern Siberia known as Popigai Astroblem. 

They decided to keep it secret, and not to exploit it, apparently because the USSR's huge diamond operations at Mirny, in Yakutia, were already producing immense profits in what was then a tightly controlled world market. The veil of secrecy was finally lifted over the weekend, and Moscow permitted scientists from the nearby Novosibirsk Institute of Geology and Mineralogy to talk about it with Russian journalists. 

The diamonds at Popigai are "twice as hard" as the usual gemstones, making them ideal for industrial and scientific uses. The institute's director, Nikolai Pokhilenko, told the agency that news of what's in the new field could be enough to "overturn" global diamond markets. (9/17)  

Testing Rockets with Rosa Obregon (Source: NBC) 
As a young girl growing up in Corpus Christi, Texas, Rosa Obregon would sit in the back seat of her parents’ car as they took long drives to visit family across the border in Monterrey, Mexico. With her head perched on the window, she’d gaze up at the nighttime sky…and wonder. “I’d look at the skies and see all the stars,” Obregon, now 30, recalls. “And it really piqued my interest.” Her dreamy curiosity wasn’t lost on her father, who soon bought Obregon a telescope so she could look more closely at all that twinkled in the sky. It was, to say the least, a prophetic purchase. 

Today Obregon, the lead mechanical engineer at NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, the nation’s largest rocket engine test facility, is the only Latina at the site with clearance to test rocket engines. Translation: she’s a real life rocket scientist. Specifically, Obregon tests engines and components for commercial space flights. As in flights that might one day allow us mere mortals to fly to space. Click here. (9/17)   

How Curiosity's Robotic Arm is Blazing a Trail on Mars ... and Earth (Source: NBC) 
The robotic arm on NASA's Curiosity rover should set a new standard for robotic operations on Mars — and it could revolutionize robotics on Earth as well. At least that's what Ashítey Trebi-Ollennu, one of the four robotic-arm system engineers on the Mars Science Laboratory team, is looking forward to. He expects the features developed for Curiosity's 7-foot-long (2.1-meter-long) robotic arm to show up on a planet near you in the form of NASA-enabled technologies, or NETs. 

The fact that robotic operations can be conducted so smoothly from so far away is a good sign for telerobotics on Earth, Trebi-Ollennu said. He foresees a day when a "factory in a can" could be delivered to a remote location — say, a nuclear cleanup site in Japan or an oil spill in the depths of the Gulf of Mexico — and go about its business as if humans were on the scene. Click here. (9/17)   

European Weather Satellite Launched after Four-Month Delay (Source: Space News) 
Europe’s second polar-orbiting meteorological satellite, Metop-B, was successfully placed into orbit Sept. 17 by a Soyuz rocket operating from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Officials at the European Space Agency’s Esoc space operations center here, which has responsibility for Metop-B’s postlaunch operations phase, confirmed that ground stations had received a signal that the satellite was healthy in orbit. (9/17)  

Picketing KSC Security Guards Demand Better Pay, Health Care (Source: CFnews13) 
Security guards are picketing outside Kennedy Space Center this week, demanding better pay and health care coverage. Members of the union representing security guards said they’re upset with Chenega Security. The Alaska-based company was contracted in December by NASA to provide security services. Guards held an “informational picket” Monday to get the attention of NASA workers. They said negotiations over a new contract with Chenega have gone nowhere, and their hours, health insurance and 401K are being cut. (9/17)  

Virginia Spaceport Authority Inks New Agreement With Orbital Sciences (Source: VCSFA) 
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell announced that the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority (VCSFA) and Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp. have reached a new agreement to govern their working relationship and allocation of assets at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS). A 2008 agreement included development of a liquid-fuel-capable launch facility at MARS in order to accommodate launches of Orbital’s Antares rocket. These improvements are expected to be completed later this month. 

Among the terms of the new agreement, Orbital will launch 10 Antares missions from MARS, including one test flight, one demonstration flight, and eight resupply missions to the International Space Station. Virginia will fund completion of the improvements at MARS to support the Antares missions and future customers, and the VCSFA will own and operate all non-Antares-specific assets that can be used by future additional customers. It also addresses use of MARS by other customers during the term of Orbital’s resupply missions. 

"A recent economic analysis of Virginia’s space industry noted that it contributes $7.6 billion in economic output and supports 28,110 jobs," said Gov. McDonnell. "VCSFA’s successful completion of the MARS spaceport development project and the impending commencement of on-pad operations, positions Virginia – with its business-friendly climate, tremendous institutions of higher education and diverse workforce – for continued growth in this vibrant high-tech market.” (9/17)  

Texas Space Alliance Prepares 2013 State Legislative Agenda (Source: Parabolic Arc) 
The Texas Space Alliance (TXA) is proud to announce our 2013 Texas Legislative Agenda. The TXA began last year with a legislative victory, assisting Blue Origin with a Space Flight Limited Liability Law, and is now ready to help Texas ‘up the ante’ to help achieve goals in space worthy of our Great State. The Limited Liability Law, similar to one passed in Virginia, was a starting point to remake Texas into the undisputed leader in the development of space enterprises at the State level. 

Bob Lancaster, TXA President commented: “Texas already leads the nation in attracting all sectors of businesses from outside our state with its current palette of low taxes, reasonable regulatory environment, and business friendly mindset. But when it comes to the emerging commercial space industry, the state has only just recently begun to add the necessary tools to the toolkit; and that’s what this 2013 legislative agenda aims to do.” 

Texas business leaders in all space arenas are now beginning to fully recognize the breadth of potential that Texas represents, and act on that potential. “We have a very ambitious agenda for the next legislature, and it contains very timely items that will both enable necessary actions and develop new functions, along with sending a clear signal that Texas is ‘Open for Space business.’ ...Though there remains much work to be done, we we have had a tremendous beginning. We look forward to a very successful Texas legislative session in 2013.” (9/17)  

Roscosmos Sees Numbers as the Key to Success (Source: Russia Beyond the Headlines) 
A systemic crisis of the Russian space industry can be prevented by implementing Soviet methods of quality control and making Roscosmos (the Russian Space Agency) financially liable for failures, according to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Roscosmos believes the problem can be solved by increasing the number of “space managers” on its staff. 

Head of Roscosmos Vladimir Popovkin noted that his agency had a staff of only 200, which is not enough to run the industry. Medvedev responded by asking whether or not doubling the staff would help to eliminate quality-control issues: Popovkin assured him that it would. In fact, it was the head of Roscosmos who had stressed earlier that the agency was short of qualified managers. 

One of the space industry’s main problems is financing (here's a chart comparing with NASA's budget). A third of the industry’s enterprises are practically bankrupt. Compared to developed countries, Russia invests ten times less in research and development in the industry, and five times less in basic assets and personnel training. “More than 70 percent of technologies that meet production needs are worn out and outdated. More than half of the machine tools are past their service lifespan. The average age of employees is 50, and at defense industry research institutes it is almost 60,” said retired Major General Vladimir Dvorkin. (9/14) 

The Case for Investing in NewSpace (Source: NewSpace Watch) 
From its earliest history and through today, humanity has evolved through various "Ages" as it organized its economic activity around its technical capacities. This can be seen in the definitions that have been given to these stages of development (or society): hunter-gatherer, agricultural, industrial, and information. A distinguishing factor of each Age is the permeation of technology across the economy as it directly or indirectly infiltrates multiple industries. 

For example, consider the development of the automobile and overall transportation in the Industrial Age. Automobile manufacturing is not only an industry in its own right, but as a form of transportation it is an enabler of non-transportation industries. The same is obvious for air- and sea-based forms of transportation. Imagine a world without efficient, safe, and profitable commercial transportation. The NewSpace Age will be the next wave in this historical economic trend. 

One constant throughout humanity’s economic development. It does not matter if the form of transportation is two feet (shoes not required), a horse, a Segway, a helicopter, a bulk ore ship, or a SpaceX Falcon 9; it is all about getting people and cargo from point A to point B. Without transportation there is no buying and selling of goods and services, and without modern transportation this cannot occur profitably over great distances. Click here. (9/17) 

While Health Spending Spins Out of Control, NASA Dwindles Into Insignificance (Source: Baltimore Sun) 
As a child in India I was amazed and awestruck that NASA and the U.S. could send a craft hundreds of thousands of miles and still have it come back and land in a pre-designated, three-mile-radius area — and do that safely. Our respect for what the U.S. could do, which was already fairly high, increased immensely. NASA was amazing, and it symbolized the U.S. for many around the world. What a country, this America! What incredible people! It was hard to control the desire to come here, study aerospace, get a PhD, become a rocket scientist and work in this field. 

What happened to that excitement, that spark? For an answer, one need only look at the relative valuation our society makes on different creative strains to see how our competitiveness has been and will be affected. In 1970, total national spending (public and private) on health care was about 19 times larger than NASA's budget ($73 billion vs. $3.6 billion). Four years earlier, during the heyday of the Apollo program, the ratio of health care spending to NASA spending was about 6 to 1. Today's ratio? Almost 165 to 1 ($3 trillion to $18.1 billion, give or take a few billions). 

Since 2002, health care spending has gone up by 87 percent, compared to cumulative inflation, which is 19 percent in that time. In no other industry would one see such egregious overspending. Imagine if increases in health spending had been held the inflation rate for the same time period. With those savings, we could have doubled funding for NASA, renewable energy R&D, etc. Click here. (9/17) 

NASA Tool Reduces Aviation Flight Time, Benefits Pilots, Passengers, Environment (Source: NASA) 
Heinz Erzberger never thought the sky was falling, but he knew it could benefit from enhanced traffic control. For years, Erzberger led a team at NASA to develop technology that could improve the situation in the skies. One of the tools, a traffic management advisor, was adopted by the FAA and implemented across the United States. Another tool—-Direct-To-—has followed a slightly different path. 

The idea behind Direct-To, explains Erzberger, a senior scientist at NASA, was that airlines could save fuel and money by shortening the routes between take-off and landing. Erzberger came up with the idea of a software algorithm to automatically examine air traffic in real-time, check to see if a shortcut was available, and then ensure the shortcut created no conflicts. His idea went from theory to practice when NASA demonstrated Direct-To in the airspace of Dallas-Ft. Worth in 2001. Estimates found the technology could save the aircraft flying in the test area 900 flying minutes per day. (9/17)  

Boeing Chosen for US Government's COMSATCOM Services Acquisition Program (Source: SpaceRef) 
Boeing has been approved as a service provider for the Future COMSATCOM Services Acquisition program. With this approval by the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) and General Services Administration (GSA), Boeing is authorized to provide U.S. government customers satellite communications services through a variety of fixed and mobile transponded and subscription services. Military-unique services such as UHF and Yahsat's military Ka-band, commercial services in the Ku and Ka bands, and Inmarsat L-band and Thuraya L-band are examples of service offerings Boeing may provide through subscription agreements. (9/17)  

Double Whammy? NASA Faces Deep Budget Cuts Under Sequestration, Romney (Source: Parabolic Arc) 
NASA’s budget is facing deep cuts in January from two sources: sequestration and Mitt Romney. If President Obama and Congress cannot work out a deal, sequestration will cut NASA’s budget by 8 percent or $1.458 billion in early January. Meanwhile, Romney has promised if elected to send a bill to Congress on his first day in office, Jan. 20, that would slash non-security discretionary spending across the board. If the measure approved, it would result in a reduction of nearly $900 million from the space agency’s budget. 

It is not clear if Romney would go ahead with the 5 percent reduction on top of sequestration cuts. Romney also has promised to cap non-discretionary spending below 2008 budget levels. Under either scenario, NASA’s spending would be below the $17.318 billion the space agency spent in 2008. It is impossible to know how NASA’s various programs would fare under Romney planned cuts. To date, the Republican Presidential candidate has not given any specifics about what he would do with NASA’s budget. [He has indicated NASA should be better-focused, not better-funded.] 

Under sequestration, NASA's current $17.7 billion budget would fall to $16.3 billion. Under Romney's budget (sans sequestration), it would fall to $16.8 billion. Combining both cuts would put NASA's budget at only $15.4 billion. Click here. (9/17)   

NASA Calls for Ceasefire in Human-Robot Space Budget Wars (Source: 
On the morning of the public memorial service for Neil Armstrong, NASA officials called for a new era of cooperation between human and robotic space explorers in an era of tighter budgets. They spoke of a future where astronauts and robots would work together to explore the scientific mysteries of other planets and to expand humanity's foothold in space. Their words could bring about a truce of sorts, after years of historic budgetary battles between NASA's human exploration program and its robotic science efforts. 

"Let's stop pitting science against exploration," said Colleen Hartman of Goddard Space Flight Center. "The battle between humans and robots is a false one and a waste of time." About half of NASA's proposed $17.7 billion budget for 2013 is slated to go toward human exploration — a trend unchanged for the past decade — with almost $5 billion reserved for the robotic science and exploration program. But the time is right to find new areas for human-robot cooperation and even redefine the old meanings of exploration and science, said Lt. Gen. Eugene Tattini. (9/17)  

Warp Drive May Be More Feasible Than Thought, Scientists Say (Source: 
A warp drive to achieve faster-than-light travel — a concept popularized in television's Star Trek — may not be as unrealistic as once thought, scientists say. A warp drive would manipulate space-time itself to move a starship, taking advantage of a loophole in the laws of physics that prevent anything from moving faster than light. A concept for a real-life warp drive was suggested in 1994 by Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre, however subsequent calculations found that such a device would require prohibitive amounts of energy. 

Now physicists say that adjustments can be made to the proposed warp drive that would enable it to run on significantly less energy, potentially brining the idea back from the realm of science fiction into science. An Alcubierre warp drive would involve a football-shape spacecraft attached to a large ring encircling it. This ring, potentially made of exotic matter, would cause space-time to warp around the starship, creating a region of contracted space in front of it and expanded space behind. 

The only problem is, previous studies estimated the warp drive would require a minimum amount of energy about equal to the mass-energy of the planet Jupiter. But recently Harold White calculated what would happen if the shape of the ring encircling the spacecraft was adjusted into more of a rounded donut, as opposed to a flat ring. He found in that case, the warp drive could be powered by a mass about the size of a spacecraft like the Voyager 1 probe NASA launched in 1977. (9/17)  

Are We Alone in the Universe? We'll Know Soon (Source: Guardian) 
Is life a fluke unique to Earth or is it teeming across our galaxy? We may have the answer within a few decades. NASA's Curiosity, the rover now on Mars, may find evidence for creatures that lived early in Martian history; firm evidence for even the most primitive bugs would have huge import. There could be life in the ice-covered oceans of Jupiter's moon Europa. But what really fuels popular imagination is the prospect of advanced life – the "aliens" familiar from science fiction – and nobody expects a complex biosphere in those locations. 

Suppose, however, we widen our gaze beyond our solar system. Astronomers have learned that other stars have planets circling round them. NASA's Kepler spacecraft monitors about 150,000 stars, measuring their brightness sensitively enough to detect the very slight dimming (about one part in 10,000) that occurs when an Earth-like planet transits a sun-like star. The data already reveals thousands of planets. But we'd really like to see these planets directly – not just their shadows – and that's hard. 

To realize just how hard, suppose an alien astronomer with a powerful telescope was viewing Earth from, say, 50 light years away. Our planet would seem, in Carl Sagan's phrase, a "pale blue dot", very close to a star (our sun) that outshines it many billion times – a firefly next to a searchlight. But if the hypothetical aliens could detect Earth, they could learn quite a bit about it. The shade of blue would be slightly different depending on whether the Pacific Ocean or the Eurasian land mass was facing them. They could infer the length of the day, the seasons, the gross topography and the climate. Click here. (9/17)

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