October 20, 2012

Italy Assumes Licensing Responsibility for Commercial UHF Payload (Source: Space News)
The government of Italy has agreed to assume control of a UHF-band military payload on board the Intelsat IS-27 satellite scheduled for launch in early 2013 following Intelsat’s failure to enlist U.S. Defense Department interest. In a move that further illustrates the continued scattershot nature of Europe’s procurement of military satellite communications capabilities, Italy will be the licensing administration for IS-27, now scheduled to be launched in February into an Intelsat orbital slot at 55.5 degrees west longitude. (10/19)

NASA Seeks Student Experiments For 2013 High-Altitude Scientific Balloon Flight (Source: NASA)
NASA is accepting applications from graduate and undergraduate university students to fly experiments to the edge of space on a scientific balloon next year. The balloon competition is a joint project between NASA and the Louisiana Space Consortium (LaSPACE) in Baton Rouge. NASA is targeting fall 2013 for the next flight opportunity for the High Altitude Student Platform (HASP). HASP is a balloon-borne instrument stack that provides an annual near-space flight opportunity for 12 instruments built by students. (10/19)

Mack Supports Posey Plan for NASA Changes (Source: Florida Today)
U.S. Senate candidate Connie Mack (R-FL), currently serving in the U.S. House, said he supports legislation proposed by a group of Republican colleagues, including Space Coast U.S. Rep. Bill Posey, that would turn the NASA Administrator into a 10-year position and create a board of directors to oversee the appointment and agency budgets. He said more funding for NASA could be discussed but only in the context of current trillion-dollar deficits.

“We talked today about how even the space program can be more efficient in what it’s doing,” said Mack. “Even if the funding is less, but they know that they have a 10-year plan or a 20-year plan, it helps them in their planning and how to move their business and their ideas forward. That’s what we’re talking about doing.” Mack was the only member of the Florida congressional delegation to vote against the bipartisan 2010 NASA Authorization Act shaped by Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas. (10/19)

Departing ORS Director Leaving a Legacy (Source: USAF)
Like the phrase "it's a marathon, not a sprint," the five-year-old Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) Office has focused on the viability, applicability and achievability of rapid and responsive space in support of the warfighter today, tomorrow and in the future. Under the leadership of its second director, Dr. Peter Wegner, the Department of Defense organization has accomplished giant strides in expeditiously designing, developing and deploying a satellite for operational use.

Wegner has left ORS to become the director of advanced concepts for Space Dynamics Laboratory in Utah. "I am really excited about where the ORS Office is headed. There are two launches, ORS-3 and ORS-4, slated in summer 2013 that will lead to additional milestones in achieving rapid and responsive (within weeks to days) spaceflight. ORS is in a great position right now and I have no doubt that the office's future is very bright and assured," Wegner said. Editor's Note: As part of a spending reduction plan, the ORS office is among those proposed for closure in the White House budget request for FY-2013. (10/19)

Did the Solar System Start with an Extra Planet? (Source: Nature)
The Solar System may have formed with an extra planet that ultimately got the boot. The sacrificed planet, the size of Uranus or Neptune, could have served to stabilize the rest of the Solar System, including Earth and the other terrestrial planets.

That scenario was presented by two theorists who performed nearly 10,000 simulations of the evolution of the early solar system. They began their simulations with the assumption that the Solar System was initially much more compact than it is now. That view of the youthful Solar System, known as the Nice model, can account for much of the present-day architecture of the outer Solar System.

But it’s not a perfect model. When the researchers started out with only four giant planets—the Solar System’s present-day allotment—things went terribly wrong. One of the four bodies would often get ejected, the terrestrial planets would sometimes collide with each other, or Jupiter’s orbit would not have the correct shape. Click here. (10/19)

Proposed Colorado Spaceport Could Be Suborbital Spaceflight Hub (Source: Space.com)
The proposed Spaceport Colorado is moving closer to reality, with its supporters seeing it as an ideal hub to support high-speed suborbital flights with intercontinental range. Front Range Airport, striving to be the home of Spaceport Colorado, signed a letter of intent last month with Rocket Crafters Inc. for horizontal launch, dual-propulsion, suborbital flight operations at the general aviation airport.

Rocket Crafters Inc. of Titusville, Florida, is focused on development, manufacturing and distribution of rocket propulsion and dual-propulsion (jet/rocket) suborbital flight vehicle products to the commercial markets in the space, space exploration and defense industries. The company plans to help promote and develop Spaceport Colorado as the preferred commercial spaceport in America’s heartland.

In a joint statement issued Sept. 25, U.S. senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall of Colorado applauded a recent FAA grant for Spaceport Colorado. “Having a spaceport in Denver will make Colorado a leader in space travel and solidify our reputation as a pioneer in the 21st century innovation economy,” Bennet said. “It will bring jobs to our state and fuel economic development and scientific research. This effort has been an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ approach and I’m proud to partner with leaders throughout the state to work on making this dream a reality.” (10/19)

Prospecting for Quasicrystals in Siberia (Source: Science News)
The rock came in a box labeled “khatyrkite.” It didn’t look like much, just a chunk less than a centimeter long with a whitish rind and studded with several dark metals. But when Paul Steinhardt got a good look inside, he saw something he’d been waiting years to see. The quasicrystals nestled within displayed a bizarre symmetry that had never been seen outside the lab, an interlocking structure with no repeats. Steinhardt had been captivated by these almost-crystals since the early 1980s, when they were still a hypothetical form of matter.

But now, there they were. Where had they come from? And how could Steinhardt get more of them? Those questions launched a three-year quest culminating in an expedition to one of the most remote parts of Siberia — and a scientific discovery that has yet to be fully revealed.

More than a hundred quasicrystals have been synthesized in labs. Researchers suspected that the quasicrystals could be useful in electronics. But making them required idiosyncratic conditions such as an argon atmosphere, a vacuum and precisely controlled temperatures. No one knew whether the crystals could grow outside the lab, how strong they would be or how long they would remain intact. It seemed unlikely that quasicrystals could exist in nature. Click here. (10/19)

NASA Deep-Space Program Gaining Focus (Source: Aviation Week)
In an election year, with a “fiscal cliff” looming that could whack NASA's budget by $1.7 billion, U.S. space officials are not eager to declare a new destination in space for human crews just yet. But once the post-election dust clears, and Congress decides how to handle the funding-sequestration box it created in lieu of making difficult deficit-reduction choices publicly, work underway here and in other space communities around the nation is likely to give some focus to NASA's next steps into the Solar System.

Engineers at Marshall Space Flight Center are using a medium-fidelity mockup cobbled together from scrap space hardware to run human-factors tests and equipment fit checks on one of the missing pieces in NASA's human-exploration planning—somewhere for deep-space crews to live. They are working with experts at JSC, under the leadership of astronaut Alvin Drew. “We're looking at volume studies—-are the crew quarters going to be the right size, the waste and hygiene compartment, the wardroom, the exercise area-—we're looking at all those for this extended stay,” says Paul Bookout, who manages the Marshall portion of the Habitat Systems Project.

Using engineering articles from the International Space Station, museum mockups and a 5-ft. aluminum-lithium cylinder left over from Marshall's shell-buckling knockdown factor recalculations, Bookout and his colleagues have built a notional ISS-derived deep-space habitat in the building where the Apollo Moon buggy was developed. Inside the full-size mockup experts can move walls and structural elements around to figure out the best internal configuration for a habitat that would support a crew of four from an Orion multipurpose crew vehicle for as long as 500 days. Click here. (10/22)

A New Future for NASA in Technology R&D? (Source: Houston Chronicle)
Over the past four years, the Obama administration has put together a plan to better link NASA and private industry and, with NASA’s support, several very ambitious companies have successfully launched privately financed spaceships, albeit not yet manned. But alongside the shuttle going into retirement and the cancellation of the Constellation program, Obama and Congress have put plans for federally-funded, manned space travel on hold due to overall budgetary restrictions.

A  new policy report from the Baker Institute describes how focused research and development (R&D) of new technologies — such as nanotechnology — could be the future of NASA. Nanotechnology has great potential for advancing many traditional NASA technologies beyond their current state. Most notably, nano-engineered materials are known for their strength, lightness and thermal robustness, making them ideal candidates for inclusion in future aircraft and space vehicles. Click here. (10/19)

Coming Soon: Traffic Reports on Space (Source: Ottawa Citizen)
Canada is getting a traffic-cam in space to watch for flying objects that can turn a multi-million-dollar satellite into scrap. The $65-million satellite called Sapphire will be launched “in a couple of months” on an Indian rocket. And its builder calls it a bargain. “If we talked to our allies about the price tag for this thing, they would probably add another zero,” said David Caddey, executive vice-president of MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates (MDA).

On Thursday, Defence Minister Peter MacKay unveiled Sapphire at the David Florida Lab, where the Canadian Space Agency tests satellites before launch. He said the danger is that traffic is becoming congested in space. In addition to rocks that drift through space, each year adds more satellites and more “space junk,” such as burnt-out rocket motors that haven’t fallen down. The military depends enormously on satellites “and we must safeguard them,” MacKay said. They carry signals from battlefields in Afghanistan, they provide images of shipping near our huge coasts, and they allow communications over Canada’s “massive, massive land and water space.” (10/18)

Logos in Space (Source: Wellington Times)
Sunday presented another opportunity to witness history in the making, with the Red Bull Stratos mission, streamed live on YouTube. Over 8 million people watched as Felix Baumgartner ascended 38 kilometres in a balloon capsule, unbuckled himself, and then leapt from the edge of space, becoming the first person to break the sound barrier in free-fall. Where scientific exploration was once a top government funding priority and source of national pride, we now accept, and perhaps expect, the commercialization of space travel. From Red Bull to Virgin Galactic, logos in space are the next frontier.

Barely an eye has batted over the fact that an energy drink company funded a five-year scientific mission collecting data on pressurized space suits that could help future space travellers and pilots survive a bailout. Just as no one bats an eye when Coca-Cola—perhaps the world’s top pusher of highfructose corn syrup—sponsors our foremost international competition of athletic excellence, the Olympics.

It’s generally agreed that the private sector is where the money’s at. So rather than lamenting the diminishing role of pure scientific inquiry in the public sphere, the pundits are gushing over Red Bull’s marketing coup. You can’t report on Baumgartner’s mission without saying “Red Bull.” That wouldn’t fly in 1969. Imagine the moon landing brought to you by Lucky Strike. Instead of a U.S. flag, they could have planted a glossy headshot of Buzz Aldrin with a pack of smokes: “An American original.” (Or perhaps their other slogan, if things had gone badly: “It’s toasted!”) (10/19)

Falcon-9 Anomaly Investigation Begins (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
A post-flight investigation board is carrying out a comprehensive examination and analysis of all Falcon-9 launch data, with the goal of understanding what happened and how to correct it prior to future flights. The board has dispositioned systems and components that data show were not part of the anomaly, typical for the early steps in a failure analysis. The next step will be to review the build records of the remaining components that could be suspect.

Meanwhile, parallel efforts are reviewing past test data of engines and stages at the McGregor Rocket Development Facility in Texas to look for similar data signatures to that observed during Falcon 9′s ascent. The extensive test history of Merlin engines, even where there was a problem during testing, lends an empirical base to the investigation. It is not clear if any specific details into the root cause of the failure will ever be revealed to the public, due to the proprietary nature of SpaceX’s hardware.

Editor's Note: With this investigation, SpaceX benefits from a thorough government-sponsored review of its systems and subsystems, allowing lessons learned to be incorporated into vehicle and engine design/processing upgrades. All this without having had to suffer a mission failure. Good deal for SpaceX! (10/19)

Nelson Efforts Helped Shape NASA Policy, For Better or Worse (Source: Florida Today)
Sen. Bill Nelson chairs the Senate subcommittee that oversees NASA policy, and with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas was the primary author of the 2010 authorization act that set NASA’s current direction, opposed by Mack. The legislation canceled the Constellation back-to-the-moon program that a White House panel had concluded was on an “unsustainable trajectory.”

Instead it supported development of commercial vehicles to fly astronauts to the International Space Station by 2017; extension of the station’s life to 2020; development of a heavy-lift rocket and a crew capsule for deep space exploration missions by 2025; and modernization of Kennedy Space Center infrastructure. The shuttle program was retired last year after the addition of two missions.

“Sen. Nelson always has been a firm believer in the U.S. being the leader in space exploration and his and Sen. Hutchison’s plan keeps the U.S. the leader in science and technology for defense and national security reasons,” Nelson spokesman Dan McLaughlin said. “On the other hand, Mack was the only member of the 27-member Florida delegation to vote against the plan.” Editor's Note: If reelected, with inevitable changes in the Senate's leadership, Sen. Nelson will gain seniority and could become more influential on space policy and funding issues. Rep. Mack, on the other hand, would have no seniority in what likely will be the minority party in the Senate. (10/19)

Is Space Tourism the Right Stuff? (Source: Las Cruces Bulletin)
The scaling back of government support for the traditional space program could be reversed if the new private space entrepreneurs are successful, said a keynote speaker on the first day of the two-day International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS). Robert Dickman, executive director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, said the space program has been going through a lot change since NASA made the decision to retire the space shuttle fleet eight years ago.

Since then, the purpose of NASA has also been revised to focus more on space exploration beyond Earth’s orbit, and servicing the orbiting International Space Station has been turned over to the private sector with the success of Elon Musk’s SpaceX rocket and capsule delivery system. How companies such Dynetics that supported the traditional space program will adapt or survive remains to be seen, Dickman said, but there is still potential for great space exploration. However, they will require new developments in space propulsion systems and more public interest.

The good part of retiring the shuttle fleet, Dickman said, is that this should spur development of future systems, but there is currently a lack of public interest and support. Unlike the space race with Russia during the Cold War, there isn’t public concern about current space exploration by other countries, he said. “The public doesn’t care about a space race with China or going back to the moon,” Dickman said. (10/19)

Mack: NASA Needs Stability, Focus on Building U.s. Human Launches (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
U.S. Senate candidate Connie Mack was non-committal about increasing or even sustaining funding for NASA during a discussion with Space Coast officials. He said that what the agency really needs is mission stability. Mack demonstrated a lapse in knowledge when he twice complained about NASA relying on Russia and China to ferry astronauts into space. "The idea that Russia and China are responsible for manned space launches for us is not right," he said.

Currently, NASA contracts with Russia to ferry U.S. astronauts to and from the International Space Station, but there are no deals with China. In three to five years, NASA intends to turn to American private rocket companies. Mack said his point is that NASA should be launching U.S. astronauts: "We just have to make it a priority." (10/19)

NSS Announces Partnership with New Mexico Museum of Space History (Source: NSS)
The National Space Society (NSS) and the New Mexico Museum of Space History (NMMSH) announced a new partnership on Wednesday for the establishment of a permanent home for historic records chronicling the development of the space activist community and the U.S. space industry.

This alliance is the result of four years of discussions and negotiations about the disposition of the Society's archives (which go back as far as the mid-1970's when Wernher von Braun founded the National Space Institute, a predecessor of the NSS) and will officially enable the Museum to begin accepting materials from the Society. (10/17)

Wealthy Adventurers Could Turn Space Travel Into A $1.6 Billion Industry (Source: Business Insider)
A new report predicts that under the right conditions, space tourism could become a boom industry, generating $1.6 billion in revenue over the next decade. The report, 'Suborbital Reusable Vehicles: A 10-Year Forecast of Market Demand,' was funded by the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation and Space Florida, and produced by The Tauri Group.

It breaks the suborbital reusable vehicle (SRV) industry into eight markets, among which commercial human spaceflight (aka space tourism) is dominant, accounting for 80 percent of predicted trips. That market is driven by extremely wealthy "space enthusiasts," 925 of whom already have made reservations to fly into space. In the growth scenario outlined in the report, that number could climb to 11,000 over the next ten years. Click here. (10/19)

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