October 5, 2012

Sierra Nevada Pushing Ahead With Dream Chaser (Source: Aviation Week)
Sierra Nevada Corp. drew the short straw in NASA's Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) competition, winning only about half as much of the federal seed money to advance its Dream Chaser lifting-body crew vehicle as its two competitors received for their capsule designs. At $212.5 million, the company's award is not exactly chump change, but the $460 million for Boeing and the $440 million for SpaceX would go a lot further in wringing out the questions that remain about Sierra Nevada's unique approach to flying humans to space.

In his source-selection document William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for human exploration and operations, says the Dream Chaser design—based on the old NASA HL-20 testbed—poses “significant risks because of design complexity.” As a result, the agency cut back on the milestones Sierra Nevada had proposed, commensurate with the lower funding level, and does not expect the company to pass critical design review under CCiCap. “We kept enough in that we think we'll get really good insight into how well they can handle those technical challenges,” Gerstenmaier says. (10/1)

Elon Musk on SpaceX Motives, and Dislike of Space Solar Power (Source: Popular Mechanics)
Elon Musk says SpaceX isn’t just in business just to make money on launch contracts. Ultimately, Musk envisions a self-sustaining civilization on Mars—thus his remark about becoming an interplanetary species. That way, in case the worst happens and Earth is obliterated or used up, "the light of consciousness is not extinguished." But his vision requires tens of thousands or even millions of people on the red planet. "We’d need really big rockets launching a lot," he says.

One thing we learned today: While Musk loves electric cars and spaceflight, there’s one thing he hates: space solar power. "You’d have to convert photon to electron to photon back to electron. What’s the conversion rate?" he says, getting riled up for the first time during his talk. "Stab that bloody thing in the heart!" (10/5)

Upgraded Canadarm Could Be Vital for Future Exploration (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
A next-generation robotic arm with finer dexterity and lighter materials will be required for planned exploration missions to deep space, asteroids and Mars, according to Canadian officials who unveiled new robotics concepts last week. Made of lightweight composite materials, the next-generation Canadarm will be able to fit inside a minivan, according to Canadian space officials. The Canadian Space Agency showed off prototypes of future robotic arms Sept. 27.

The concepts were developed over three years with $53 million in funding from a 2009 economic stimulus package passed by the Canadian government. MDA Corp. built a 49-foot prototype telescoping arm for use in human spaceflight and a smaller 8.4-foot arm with the ability to refuel satellites and repair components in space. (10/5)

Australia Unveils Powerful Radio Telescope (Source: BBC)
Australia has launched one of the world's fastest telescopes tasked with surveying outer space and probing the origins of stars and galaxies. The Australian Square Kilometer Array Pathfinder (Askap) in Western Australia's outback has 36 antennas with a diameter of 12m (40ft) each. The $155 million telescope is expected to capture radio images, starting from Friday. Askap forms part of the world's biggest radio telescope project. (10/5)

No Astronauts Were ‘Bumped’ in the Making of This Space Tourist (Source: FOX News)
The seats cost $51 million -- and we’re keeping them. An ABC News report by producer Gina Sunseri claimed opera singer Sarah Brightman outbid NASA for a seat aboard a Soyuz rocket -- and an astronaut was consequently bumped from the rocket ride. Nonsense, the space agency said. “Crews for International Space Station expeditions have been assigned through 2013,” NASA spokesman Joshua Buck told FoxNews.com. “None of those astronauts has been 'booted' from his or her respective mission.”

Brightman was widely reported to be the next customer of Space Adventures, which first started flying tourists into space on Soyuz rockets in 2001. The company’s first traveler, American investor Dennis Tito, flew in 2001 and paid just $20 million. The most recent space case was Canadian circus-founder Guy Laliberte, who paid $35 million in 2009, according to Space.com. (10/5)

Southwest Ohio is Poised for Growth in Aerospace Industry (Source: Dayton Business Journal)
Aerospace industry representatives delivered a talk at a forum Thursday in southwest Ohio, saying that aerospace industry leaders are ready to invest in further development in the region. The forum also offered guidance to small businesses for attracting larger aerospace companies. (10/4)

Innovation Researchers Choose Spaceport Sweden for Study (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Spaceport Sweden is a pioneering initiative to establish space tourism and commercial human spaceflight as a new industry in Sweden and has now been selected by innovation researchers as a live case study. VINNOVA, Sweden’s innovation agency, established CiiR as a center of excellence focusing on interorganizational research. Located at LuleĆ„ University of Technology, a leading technical university for attractive and sustainable innovation, the center will follow the development of Spaceport Sweden as an innovation system in the building.

The Center for Inter-organizational Innovation Research (CIIR) will contribute with new knowledge on distributed innovation systems involving actors in non-metropolitan areas and with a specific interest in the role of ICT and digital innovations. The new center will add value especially to policy and policy makers by developing a communicative platform and a centre for elaborating and debating influence and renewal of Swedish innovation systems through exploration and exploitation of ICT and digital innovations.

Further CiiR will provide insights on how new trends and changes can strengthen the position of the non-metropolitan parts of the Swedish innovation system, integrating expertise from multiple disciplines and developing new innovative modes for interaction between policy and academic research. (10/5)

Whose Space-Exploration Policy Is Better—Obama’s or Romney’s? (Source: Slate)
The 2012 Republican and Democratic platforms include two topics—-energy and space-—that I think demonstrate the parties’ fundamental differences in approach to science and technology issues. The parties actually agree on the basics, with both conceding that: 1) demands for energy will ultimately drive the world’s economies—-as well as geopolitical tensions in the upcoming decades, and 2) in the post-shuttle era, there is a great need to develop some kind of coherent policy regarding space exploration. These facts, however, lead the parties to very different policy approaches. Click here. (10/4)

Why a Clean Mars Rover is a Happy Mars Rover (Source: Christian Science Monitor)
Two months and a just over half a mile into its mission, NASA's Mars rover Curiosity is taking time out for tests of key tools for sampling the Martian soil – and, it turns out, for some badly needed scrubbing. Over the next two to three weeks, engineers will direct Curiosity to scoop sand from a stone-dotted mini-dune the team has dubbed Rocknest and to run it through sample-processing hardware dubbed CHIMRA.

It's a cleaning approach akin to a camper scouring the last meal's cookware with sand. After the scrubbing, NASA controllers plan to test CHIMRA's ability to feed samples collected by the scoop, and later Curiosity's drill, into two key instrument packages inside the rover’s chassis. (10/5)

Air Force Keeps ULA Waiting on Rocket Buy (Source: Denver Business Journal)
United Launch Alliance won’t know until spring, at the earliest, whether the U.S. Air Force wants its first bulk buy of rocket launches, a multibillion-dollar contract that’s been negotiated for more than a year. Until then, the Air Force has awarded ULA a $1.17 billion services contract, seen as a bridge until the much larger bulk-buy deal is reached. ULA, the Centennial-based rocket maker, is the primary supplier of rockets to take U.S. military and spy agency satellites into orbit. (10/5)

Spaceport Colorado Receives Green Light (Source: Northglenn News)
The Mile High City is one giant leap closer to reaching outer space after receiving an FAA grant to allow the Front Range Airport to continue working toward spaceflight operations. In all, the airport in Watkins received $200,000 to continue the groundwork made on an environmental impact and feasibility and marketing study to assess the possibility of operating a horizontal-launch spaceport on its 3,900-acre site.

Dennis Heap, the airport’s executive director, said the Front Range Airport Authority applied for the grant in May and was becoming anxious after the FAA did not respond by July 17. “It’s a domino that we’ve been waiting on to fall for a couple of months,” Heap said. “It’s very good news for us, because it gets the whole process started.” He said the nod from the FAA is particularly important because it demonstrates that Spaceport Colorado’s future is promising. (10/4)

Debating Military Matters (Source: TIME)
Dring their first debate, both President Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney focused narrowly on only one piece of the military-spending issue: Romney’s plan to dedicate 4% of the nation’s gross domestic product to the Pentagon. Obama mentioned it four times, although he didn’t cite the 4% formula. Instead, he shortened it to the increased funding some economists say it would send to the Pentagon over the coming decade. Romney didn’t argue with Obama’s broken record.

It’s worth noting that presidents get to pick their military leaders. That makes it unsurprising that Obama’s current crop of commanders hasn’t asked for more money. President Romney’s military brass would no doubt take a different approach based on the people he tapped for those slots. It’s also worth noting that Romney didn’t detail how he plans to spend a lot more money on the military without increasing the federal deficit.

Romney mentioned the military twice, both times suggesting that the 50% hike in U.S. military spending since 9/11 is untouchable and, in fact, needs to keep going up by about $200 billion a year. He didn’t cite numbers, but simply declared that America requires an ever-growing military budget. (10/5)

Party Platforms: Is one Sentence on Space Enough? (Source: Space Politics)
The Democratic Party's platform was releaseed one week after the Republican's platform. While space got a two-paragraph plank in the Republican platform, only one sentence in the Democratic one is devoted to space, under the “Out-Innovating the Rest of the World” subheading: “President Obama has charted a new mission for NASA to lead us to a future that builds on America’s legacy of innovation and exploration.” That’s it.

That limited reference to space has caused some grumbling in the space community, who clearly wanted more discussion about space in the platform. However, to put it into perspective, that one sentence is actually more than in the 2008 platform, when space had to share a sentence: “We will double federal funding for basic research, invest in a strong and inspirational vision for space exploration, and make the Research and Development Tax Credit permanent.”

In addition, while the Republican platform’s space section was longer, it didn’t necessarily say much more: it lacked specific policy prescriptions, whereas the one sentence in the Democratic platform references the administration’s record (for better or for worse) on space over the last four years. One thing that should be kept in mind is that platforms are not binding policy documents but instead general expressions of what party members like and don’t like on various issues. The only reason we’re paying that much attention to them is that there’s little other specific information out there about where the candidates stand on space issues. (10/5)

SpaceX Dragon Has Schedule Advantage (Source: Aviation Week)
NASA believes its previous and upcoming commercial cargo missions to the International Space Station give SpaceX the best chance of transporting a human crew to the space station first, but the brash startup is not a sure bet to win the commercial crew race. While company founder Elon Musk says he will fly a crew to the station before the end of 2015—earlier than any of his competitors—his main NASA customer is a little more cautious.

“There are some systems that are acceptable in cargo that may not be acceptable in crew,” says William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for human exploration and operations. “There's obviously a lot of stuff that needs to be added in terms of life support; there's some cooling that needs to be there, humidity control, atmosphere monitors. There are a lot of other little subtle things that have to be there. So they've got the good basic capsule design, but I think there's still a little bit of work for them to do in those other areas.”

Still, in his formal source-selection document, Gerstenmaier found that the SpaceX proposal for the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) program “provides the earliest crewed demonstration flight under a credible schedule at the lowest development cost.” On that basis, NASA awarded the Hawthorne, Calif., company $440 million in federal seed money. (10/1)

Why Can't You Go Space Diving Yet? (Source: Space.com)
An upcoming plunge from a balloon could break the world record for skydiving. But the world may have a long wait before the age of true "space jumps." The Red Bull Stratos "space jump" planned by Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner, 43, won't actually be from space. The Oct. 8 stunt takes aim at an altitude of almost 23 miles, or 120,000 feet (36 kilometers) — well short of the altitude where space begins, 62 miles, or 327,000 feet (100 km), above Earth. Higher jumps probably would require expensive rockets and specialized space-diving suits — not to mention a thriving commercial spaceflight industry with paying customers — to become a reality. (10/4)

Record-Breaking Skydiving Stunt Will Help the Space Tourism Industry (Source: Slate)
On Monday, Felix Baumgartner is planning to jump from a helium-filled balloon 120,000 feet above New Mexico. This is just shy of 23 miles above the surface of the Earth, one-third of the way to space, and will be high enough for him to see the Earth curve. Baumgartner has been preparing for this jump for the past five years, under the sponsorship of the energy-drink company Red Bull. Even if thrill was undeniably, then as now, the fundamental motivation, genuine scientific and technological value has come from exploits like Baumgartner’s.

Many would make a distinction between adventure and science. But the line is murkier than many scientists would like to admit: Sometimes only daredevils like Baumgartner will advance the bounds of human achievement, and thus knowledge. There is some circularity in Red Bull’s scientific aspirations: The company hopes to use information from Baumgartner's feat to build better space suits and parachutes and “aid development of protocols for exposure to high altitude/high acceleration”—i.e., to make it possible for others to follow in Baumgartner’s steps. Future space tourists might one day have their lives saved by a descendant of Baumgartner's parachute. (10/5)

Sirius XM Needs To Install 600 New Ground Repeaters (Source: Space News)
Sirius XM Radio will need to install more than 600 new ground terminals around North America as it prepares for the retirement of three satellites in highly elliptical orbit and their replacement by two satellites in conventional geostationary orbit, the man who designed the elliptical-orbit system said. The highly elliptical satellites offer a better look angle over North America, particularly the northern latitudes, than do satellites operating from geostationary orbit 36,000 kilometers over the equator. That is the reason for the unusual orbit selected in the first place. (10/4)

How to Escape from a Black Hole (Source: TIME)
Black holes have a bit of an image problem. That’s to be expected from an immense remnant of a stellar explosion with billions of times the mass of the sun and a gravitational pull so powerful, not even light can escape. Anything that ventures too close gets swallowed whole, never to be seen again. Or so the popular thinking goes. But there’s a dramatic exception to that ironclad rule: all over the cosmos, galaxies with black holes at their center produce powerful energy jets, or blasts of superheated gas and dust that erupt from the very matter swirling down into the hole and travel outward for hundreds of thousands of light-years.

Astronomers have cataloged thousands of such energy jets over the decades, but what they’ve never been able to figure out is what powers them. How can material that effectively circles the galactic drain suddenly wrest itself free, and with such titanic force? Now, thanks to a study by an international team of astrophysicists that was published in the journal Science, there appears to be an answer — one that helps explain not only how the galactic pyrotechnics are produced but also how galaxies themselves grow and expand. Click here. (10/5)

Russian Scientists Intend to Repeat Phobos-Grunt Mission to Mars (Source: Itar-Tass)
Russian scientists are planning to repeat the Phobos-Grunt mission after a thorough analysis of the mistakes made during the previous mission, Director of the Russian Institute of Space Research Leo Zelyony told journalists on Thursday on the occasion of Day of Space Science held at Institute. The Phobos-Grunt mission will be repeated because it has no foreign analogues, he said.

Before launching a new space apparatus to the Red planet we should analyze the mistakes made during the previous mission. For that purpose it is necessary to practice the methodic of landing, he said. Russian experts will have a chance to do that in 2015 and 2018 during space missions to the Moon, Zelyony said. We should learn to make the right landing and learn to fly to reach Mars, he said. (10/4)

NASA Releases Interactive Space Communications Mobile Game App (Source: NASA)
Just in time for World Space Week, NASA has released a new mobile application that challenges gamers to take on the role of a space communications network manager and puts them in charge of building a communications network to support scientific missions. The educational application, "Space Communications and Navigation: NetworKing," was developed at NASA's Ames Research Center for the iPad and iPhone. NetworKing provides an interactive, 3-D experience with an insider's perspective into how mission controllers and scientists communicate with spacecraft and satellites using the space, deep space and near Earth networks. (10/4)

How Dangerous is Space Debris? (Source: Guardian)
This week, the International Space Station (ISS) made its latest move in a long-running game of cat and mouse with pieces of space debris. For years now, the ISS has been dodging collisions. Some of the latest maneuvers took place in April 2011 and January 2012. What may not be so obvious is that many of its "near-misses" are due to fragments from a single event in 2009 that shocked the aerospace community.

On 10 February that year, the defunct Russian military communications satellite Kosmos 2251 struck the solar panel of Iridium 33, a commercial American communications satellite. The panel shattered and Iridium 33 tumbled out of control. Kosmos 2251 disintegrated. The catastrophe created more than 2,000 pieces of space debris with sizes greater than 10 centimeters, and potentially hundreds of thousands of smaller fragments that cannot currently be tracked from Earth.

To put the trackable debris into perspective, about 10% of all known space debris accumulated over the past 55 years comes from the 2009 Kosmos-Iridium collision. Fragments as small as a single centimeter have the potential to destroy whole satellites because of the speed at which they are travelling. This is because the energy of a collision is overwhelmingly determined by the speed at which things strike each other. (10/5)

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