November 17, 2012

Golden Spike Company to Lay Private Tracks for Human Moon Missions (Source: Parabolic Arc)
A new private effort focused on getting humans back to the moon by 2020 appears to be led by a Colorado start-up called Golden Spike Company. Alan Stern, the former NASA science chief who now works for the Southwest Research Institute, is the registered agent for the company, which is identified as a foreign corporation in Colorado state records. The Internet domain is registered to Doug Griffin, a Los Angeles-based attorney specializing in space and aviation law who is an advocate for commercial human spaceflight.

The plan apparently has been circulating for some time among advocates of private exploration and commercial exploitation of the moon. A brief mention of the plan was included in a description of a conference held in Hawaii in May titled, “Independent Human Moon Mission: Prospects Emerging From Rising Tide of 21st Century Exploration.” (11/17)

The Unannounced Commercial Lunar “Game-Changer” (Source:
The official NASA exploration plan does not include a return to the surface of the Moon, distancing itself from the cancelled Constellation program. NASA managers have since created an option for a return, listed as a Lunar Surface Sortie (LSS) mission by the Exploration Systems Development Division (ESD). LSS becomes a Design Reference Mission (DRM) alternative, potentially at the expense of an asteroid mission in the early to mid 2020s.

While this option remains on the cards, a “game-changing” announcement as early as December may reveal a new commercial space company intends to send commercial astronauts to the moon by 2020. The effort is led by a group of high profile aerospace individuals, backed by some big money and foreign investors. The company intends to use “existing or soon to be existing launch vehicles, spacecraft, upper stages, and technologies” to start their commercial manned lunar campaign.

The details point to the specific use of US vehicles, with a basic architecture to utilize multiple launches to assemble spacecraft in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), with propellant depots and fuel transfer technology. Additional notes include a plan to park elements in lunar orbit, staging a small lunar lander that would transport two commercial astronauts to the surface for short stays. The architecture would then grow into the company’s long-term ambitions to establish a man-tended outpost using inflatable modules. (11/17)

Lunar Project Rumored to be Coming to Cape (Source: SPACErePORT)
The rumored "Golden Spike" commercial lunar project would feature launches (and probably other support activities) at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. A formal announcement is expected in early December. I've learned that the enterprise includes Saudi Arabian support, a near-term Lunar Lander contract, and testing that could start as early as 2018. Given other reports of "inflatable" lunar habitats, it may be safe to assume that Bigelow Aerospace is also involved, as that company is known to have devised plans for such habitats. (11/15)

Spaceport Could Land in South Georgia (Source: Tribune-Georgian)
With Bayer CropScience ceasing operations at its more than 4,000-acre Union Carbide site, opportunity is knocking, and the county's Joint Development Authority is answering the door. The authority voted unanimously to explore developing an aero-spaceport facility at the site and begin due diligence. St. Marys' airport could also be relocated to the property, David Keating said. "The site has gone fallow," he said. "There are no current operations there anymore. The property is primed for re-development."

"Launching off out over marsh and then to ocean-based airspace, that's what's so special about this property, quick access to ocean-based airspace," Keating said. "And because of these unique features, the property has been generating significant attention for amongst aerospace and commercial-space companies." Launch companies want access to air over the ocean because vessels can be launched and returned in a safe manner without the factors of people and land, Keating said.

Construction could start by 2014 and operations could follow by later that year or early 2015. "We've got to work with the state and partner with a lot of people to try to get some tenants for this project because we cannot do this project ourselves," authority chairman John McDill said. Authority members also decided to increase its legal budget by $20,000, begin an environmental assessment study for $5,600 and have Keating work with the county to initiate an environmental impact statement. Click here. (11/15)

Air Force Decision on Disaggregation Not Expected Until 2015
(Source: Space News)
The U.S. Air Force expects to decide in 2015 whether to redesign some of its key space missions by dispersing payload sets currently flown aboard large satellite platforms to larger numbers of smaller craft, a senior service official said. The disaggregation concept is being considered for two key space missions in particular: secure communications, including nuclear command and control; and weather forecasting. (11/16)

Hosted Military Telecom Payloads Pose Big Compatibility Challenges (Source: Space News)
Military telecom payloads are not ideal candidates for placement aboard commercial satellites in the near term, according to a senior U.S. Air Force official, an assessment that appears to put a damper on at least one opportunity that satellite operators had set their sights upon.

At the same time, however, Lt. Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, commander of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) in Los Angeles, said there are realistic near-term hosted payload opportunities in at least three other applications: space situational awareness, space-environment monitoring and wide-field infrared surveillance. The Air Force is on the verge of soliciting industry bids for a contracting vehicle that could be used to execute on some of those programs, she said. (11/16)

ITU Rules for Avanti in Frequency Dispute with SES (Source: Space News)
International regulators voted in favor of Avanti Communications, and against SES, in a dispute over rights to Ka-band frequencies at 31 degrees and 31.5 east longitude in geostationary orbit. (11/16)

No Antares Flight Until 2013, Orbital, NASA Say (Source: Space News)
Orbital Sciences Corp. likely will wait until after the new year to launch its Antares rocket for the first time, a NASA official said Nov. 15. Antares’ maiden flight, which will carry a ballast payload instead of Orbital’s Cygnus space station cargo carrier, is “very tentatively scheduled for December [but] I think it’s more likely that will slip into early 2013,” said Phil McAlister. (11/16)

Elon Musk And The Space Race (Source: Jimmy Fallon)
Elon Musk appeared on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon last week, and Jimmy asked Musk about the transition from founding PayPal to making cutting edge cars and space exploration. Click here to see the clips. (11/14)

Falcon 9's Commercial Promise to be Tested in 2013 (Source:
Three international and commercial customers slated to fly satellites on Falcon 9 rockets next year are standing by SpaceX as the company probes a mysterious engine problem and prepares to debut an upgraded launcher. Pending the conclusion of an ongoing Merlin engine anomaly investigation, SpaceX and NASA plan to launch the next Falcon 9 rocket in March on another space station logistics mission. That mission will be the final launch of a Falcon 9 rocket in its current configuration.

Three commercial launches are next on SpaceX's manifest. The customers - the Canadian Space Agency, SES of Luxembourg and Orbcomm Inc. of New Jersey - all plan separate launches on three Falcon 9 rockets before the middle of 2013. Each flight will employ a new version of the Falcon 9 launcher with more powerful Merlin 1D engines, stretched fuel tanks, a payload fairing, and a new first stage engine configuration. (11/17)

Exoplanet Hunter Nears its End (Source: Nature)
A pioneering European space telescope that discovered the first rocky extrasolar planet is on its last legs, Nature has learned. According to the French space agency CNES,  the Convection, Rotation and Planetary Transits (CoRoT) satellite suffered a computer failure on 2 November. While the spacecraft is still functioning, it can no longer retrieve data from its 30-centimetre telescope, which spots exoplanets by looking for transits — a dimming in brightness as the planet crosses its host star.

“To be frank, I think the problem is serious,” says Fabienne Casoli, the director of space science and exploration at CNES headquarters in Paris. Launched in 2006, CoRoT set about monitoring thousands of stars. The mission survived its first computer failure in 2009 by relying completely on a second, redundant unit. Casoli says the team has tried several times to reboot the second computer to no avail. (11/16)

Iran Plans Fourth Satellite Launch on Solid-Fueled Missile (Source: Satellite Today)
The Iranian government announced plans to launch a GEO satellite on a solid-fueled missile developed by the late senior Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) commander Hassan Tehrani Moqaddam. Officials added that young scientists have joined the corps to push through Tehrani Moqaddam's projects since his death last year after an explosion during the rocket's test.

This would be the country's fourth satellite. In 2009, Iran launched its first satellite, Omid, then in 2011, the 33.7-pounds Rasad orbiter which provided images of the earth. The last satellite launched by the Iranian government was Navid earlier this year. Additionally, in 2010 the country sent its first biocapsule with living creatures into space and it plans its first manned mission for 2019. Officials have hinted that this fourth satellite would be the first that weights more than 200 pounds. A launch date has not been announced. (11/11)

Isle of Man Search for Modern-Day Christopher Columbus (Source: BBC)
The Isle of Man's space industry has brought millions to the Manx economy and helped generate a wealth of international interest, but could the best be yet to come? The sector is thought to be on the cusp of making history by becoming the first nation to push the boundaries of space travel by about 60,000 miles. Its success depends on attracting the right individual from an international pool of only 29 potentials.

This, according to industry research, is the number of people wealthy enough to travel into space within the next 10 years. To fit the bill this person needs an appetite for adventure and an enormous bank account- the price tag for the dream trip is £100m. The space company selling the dream is Excalibur Almaz and the chairman, Art Dula, said the firm was hoping to attract all 29 individuals eventually. Click here. (11/17)

Mars Radiation Levels Tolerable to Humans (Source: CNN)
The Mars rover Curiosity has revealed that the radiation levels on Mars are not, according to initial measurements, lethal to humans. “Absolutely, astronauts can live in this environment,” said Don Hassler, Principal Investigator for the rover’s Radiation Assessment Detector. But don’t plan on booking a trip yet. You still have to add up the total radiation that you would soak up during the eight to nine months that it takes to get to Mars, and the eight to nine months back, not to mention the actual time on the surface. (11/17)

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