December 6, 2012

Golden Spike Wants to Fly You to the Moon...for $1.4 Billion (Source: NBC)
A group of space veterans and big-name backers today took the wraps off the Golden Spike Company, a commercial space venture that aims to send paying passengers to the moon and back at an estimated price of $1.4 billion or more for two. The venture would rely on private funding, and it's not clear when the first lunar flight would be launched — but the idea reportedly has clearance from NASA, which abandoned its own back-to-the-moon plan three and a half years ago.

Board members include new-space entrepreneur Esther Dyson and Taber McCallum, co-founder and CEO of Paragon Space Development Corp. The lineup of advisers tap into a who's who of space figures, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, NASA shuttle program manager Wayne Hale, former NASA engineer Homer Hickam and Bill Richardson, who has served as U.N. ambassador, energy secretary and the governor of New Mexico. The venture also numbers United Launch Alliance, Armadillo Aerospace, Masten Space Systems and several other space-industry players on its team for the lunar lander system.

"We’re not just about America going back to the moon; we’re about American industry and American entrepreneurial spirit leading the rest of the world to an exciting era of human lunar exploration," Stern said. "It’s the 21st century, we’re here to help countries, companies, and individuals extend their reach in space, and we think we’ll see an enthusiastic customer manifest developing.” Click here. (12/6)

Space-Minded Legislators Get Committee Assignments in Tallahassee (Source: SPACErePORT)
Space Coast state Senator Thad Altman (R), who also leads the Astronauts Memorial Foundation at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, has been assigned the chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Military Affairs, Space, and Domestic Security. The committee's vice chair will be Sen. Audrey Gibson (D), whose district includes the Cecil Spaceport in Jacksonville.

Also serving on the committee will be Space Coast Sen. Andy Gardiner (R), whose district includes the spaceport. Gardiner, meanwhile, will serve as chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development, a key subcommittee for aerospace economic development and infrastructure funding. On the House side, Space Coast Rep. Steve Crisafulli (R), whose district includes the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, will serve as vice chair of the full Appropriations Committee and is next in line to serve as the House Speaker. (12/6)

Hutchison, Nelson File Standalone Space Bill (Source: Space News)
Having missed perhaps their best shot at renewing a commercial launch liability shield that expires this month and extending NASA’s authority to pay Russia for Soyuz rides to the international space station, Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) introduced a standalone space bill Dec. 5 that stands little chance of being enacted in the closing days of the 112th Congress.

Hutchison and Nelson filed their nine-page bill, the Space Exploration Sustainability Act (S. 3661), the day after the Senate approved the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (S. 3254) without considering amendments Hutchison and Nelson had offered separately to address launch liability and longstanding restrictions on NASA’s ability to buy space station-related goods and services from Russia.

A former congressional aide said the bill has little chance of being enacted before the 112th Congress adjourns. Any pending legislation not enacted before the 113th Congress convenes Jan. 3 would have to be reintroduced. The bill would permanently exempt Soyuz and Progress flights from the INKSNA restrictions by rewording the law so that it only bars NASA from paying Russia for space station-related goods and services that Russia had pledged to provide at its own expense. (12/6)

Stern, Griffin Flashback: U.S. Needs Near-Term Results in Human Space Exploration (Source: Space News)
Next January will see the eighth anniversary of President George W. Bush’s announcement of the Vision for Space Exploration (VSE), which set the nation on a renewed course to send Americans to explore beyond Earth orbit. Eight years — that’s about how long it took from John Kennedy’s lunar landing challenge in 1961 to the accomplishment of that goal in 1969.

Yet, eight years after the 2004 VSE announcement by another, we are hardly closer to venturing beyond low Earth orbit (LEO) with humans than we were when these goals were first announced. The reasons for the lack of quicker progress are many, as are those who share the blame. But identifying either those reasons or their culprits isn’t what is most important.

What is important, in our estimation, is to avoid the missteps of the recent past and to accelerate progress in order to capture public and political imaginations. More specifically, we believe it is necessary to find a way for human exploration beyond LEO to begin in this very decade. Unfortunately, the just-announced Space Launch System (SLS)’s first crew flight date goal is 2021, still fully 10 years from now. And that’s the best case. Click here. (12/6)

Colorado Space Roundup Corrals Industry and Government Leaders (Source: Denver Post)
The Colorado space community feels about as overlooked as its product and service acronyms are misunderstood. This theme was repeatedly addressed at the ninth annual Colorado Space Roundup on Wednesday as something industry leaders hope to change soon. The event was organized by Colorado Space Business Roundtable and the Colorado Space Coalition in an attempt to connect the often-disparate sectors involved in space technology within the state.

"We, as a state, collaborate to bring the opportunities here so that we can then have a chance to compete among one another," said David White, chief business development officer of Colorado Regional Business Alliance. Colorado boasts the second-largest aerospace economy in the nation, but perhaps it does not boast loud enough. Click here. (12/6)

Panel Suggests NASA Look at Downsizing Centers (Source: Florida Today)
A new report examining ways to improve NASA's efficiency offers a simple but politically volatile suggestion: Think about downsizing the agency's 10 field centers, including Kennedy Space Center. The report, requested by Congress and released Wednesday by the National Research Council, acknowledges the benefits of spreading facilities around the country, "where they can tap into localized talent."

But that decentralized system also makes it harder for NASA to redeploy workers and missions where they make the most sense, the report says. In addition, civil service protections and other constraints complicate broad workforce reductions and disposal of excess property. As a result, NASA has underutilized facilities, significant deferred maintenance and modernization costs, and workforce skill-maintenance issues. (12/5)

Germany's Space Chief Says “Nein” on EU Takeover of ESA
(Source: Parabolic Arc)
DLR Chairman Johann-Dietrich W├Ârner has dismissed the idea that European Space Agency (ESA) needs to be brought under the wing of the European Union (EU) in order to improve cooperation between the two organizations. The European Commission, the EU’s top body, has recommended several options that would bring the independent space agency under the control of the union. (12/6)

Many Newly Approved ESA Programs Await Funding Commitments (Source: Space News)
European Space Agency (ESA) governments meet Dec. 12-13 to get a clear look at their total program outline for the next few years now that the dust has settled from a Nov. 20-21 ministerial conference that raised as many issues as it resolved.

In a document dated Nov. 30 that was sent to the agency’s 20 nations in preparation for the Dec. 12-13 meeting of ESA’s ruling council, the agency reduces to hard numbers the program commitments made by its member states. The document, “Status of confirmed subscriptions to optional programmes,” shows that many programs approved in Naples are actually still far short of the subscription commitments needed to fund them. (12/6)

Golden Spike Announces Phase A for Commercial Lunar Missions (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
The Golden Spike Company team has revealed their initial work to create commercial lunar expeditions to the surface of the Moon. Led by a heavyweight board of directors, the company is currently in Phase A of their evaluations into the hardware that will enable crewed landings on the Moon as early as 2020. The company, formed in 2010, has an impressive board of directors, led by Board Chair Gerry Griffin – a former Director of Johnson Space Center and Apollo Flight Director – and President/CEO Alan Stern.

By early 2010, Mr Stern had set up a study group, to evaluate a commercial approach to sending people to the moon, with the findings portraying that it was “clearly possible” that the private sector could enable crewed lunar missions. By the fall of 2010, Mr Stern and Mr Griffin – along with members of the study group and others – formed the Golden Spike Company to push their ambitions forward. For the last two years, the company has been building a business model and conducting technical studies into the lunar architecture they are currently pursuing.

Realizing their goal – to the point they successfully carry out their first crewed lunar surface mission – will cost between $7-8 billion. As far as the vehicles that will be used to transport paying crewmembers to the Moon, the company has not yet selected a rocket of preference. Golden Spike has, however, conducted feasibility studies into several launch vehicle and capsule options, fostering multiple options and numerous technical solutions. It is understood that the main options include SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy and United Space Alliance’s Atlas V. Click here. (12/6)

Political Peril Follows NASA Downsizing Talk (Source: Florida Today)
A new report examining ways to improve NASA’s efficiency offers a simple but politically volatile suggestion: Think about downsizing the agency's 10 field centers, including Kennedy Space Center. The report, requested by Congress and released Wednesday by the National Research Council, acknowledges the benefits of spreading facilities around the country, “where they can tap into localized talent.”

But that decentralized system also makes it harder for NASA to redeploy workers and missions where they make the most sense, the report says. In addition, civil service protections and other constraints complicate broad workforce reductions and disposal of excess property. As a result, NASA has underutilized facilities, significant deferred maintenance and modernization costs, and workforce skill-maintenance issues.

Albert Carnesale, who chaired the commission that authored the report, told reporters the panel is not recommending that centers be closed or downsized. “But we do know if you’re tight on resources, that you’ve got to look at everything,” he said. Carnesale noted that NASA spends only about 3 percent of its budget on the aeronautics program yet the four centers established for aeronautics projects employ nearly 25 percent of the agency’s workforce. Click here. (12/6)

America's Spaceport (Source: SpaceKSC)
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex documents the history of Kennedy Space Center, but the tourist attraction has its own rich and unique history. That history was documented by Spaceport News, a publication begun in late 1962 by the center's Public Information Office. Most, but not all, of the editions have been converted to PDF. 1996 and later are available online. 1962 through 1982 are available upon submission of a Freedom of Information Act request, which is how I obtained copies. 1983 through 1995 await funding for conversion.

The earliest reference I could find to any space center tour was the December 12, 1963 edition. Drive-through tours of KSC began on January 3, 1965. Similar in format to the self-guided tours at Cape Kennedy, guests followed a clearly marked tour route. They were not allowed to exit their vehicles, but they could take photographs from inside their cars. According to the January 7, 1965 Spaceport News, more than 1,900 people toured KSC that first day in 575 cars, 144 from outside Florida. Click here. (12/5)

The 2020 Rover In Context (Source: Planetary Society)
A new MSL-like rover is now proposed to land on Mars in 2020. This rover will save money by using the same general design as Curiosity, even going so far as to incorporate spare parts left behind by the current Mars rover. On first blush this sounds like win for the planetary science community and fans of space exploration - and in many ways, it is. But a closer examination of the facts reveals that this announcement does not in any way alter the reduced funding levels for planetary science.

Today's announcement brought out a lot of frustration from parts of the scientific community that feel like NASA gives too much attention to Mars at the expense of other targets (like Venus, Uranus, Titan, Enceladus, or Europa). It also caused consternation among some Mars scientists because it was not labeled as a "caching mission," the first step in a multi-mission campaign to return samples from Mars to the Earth and the highest-priority mission in the Decadal survey. (12/5)

Gravity Maps of Moon Reveal Deeply Fractured Crust (Source: Reuters)
Asteroids and comets colliding with the moon not only pitted its surface but also severely fractured its crust, researchers with NASA said, in a finding that could help crack a Martian puzzle. On Mars, similar fracturing would have given water on the surface a way to penetrate deep in the ground, where it may remain today, they said. "Mars might have had an ancient ocean and we're all wondering where it went. Well, that ocean could well be underground," said planetary scientist Maria Zuber.

The discovery that the moon's crust is deeply fractured came from a pair of small probes that comprise NASA's Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory, or GRAIL, mission. The identical spacecraft have been following each other around the moon for nearly a year. Scientists have been monitoring the distance between the two, which changes slightly as they fly over denser regions of the moon. The gravitational pull of the additional lunar mass causes first the leading probe and then the other one to speed up, altering the gap between them. (12/5)

How Asteroid Mining Will Work (Source: Physics.org)
Right now, one of the biggest problems with the idea of a moon colony is the question of building supplies. There is no Home Depot on the moon, so the building supplies have to come from somewhere. The only place to get the supplies right now is the Earth, with the space shuttle acting as a truck. Using the space shuttle in this way is something like using FedEx to get all of the materials for building a house to a construction site -- It's incredibly expensive and not very efficient!

Asteroids may be a much better place to get the supplies. Early evidence suggests that there are trillions of dollars' worth of minerals and metals buried in asteroids that come close to the Earth. Asteroids are so close that many scientists think an asteroid mining mission is easily feasible. Several international organizations are developing plans for going up to get these natural space resources. Click here. (12/6)

Aerodynamic Deorbit System for Cubesats (Source: Space Safety)
AEOLDOS is a lightweight, foldable ‘aerobrake’ for CubeSats and small satellites. Once the spacecraft has reached the end of its operational life, the lightweight aerobrake, made from a thin membrane supported by tape measure-like struts, springs open to generate aerodynamic drag against the extremely thin upper atmosphere that still exists in near-Earth space. As the satellite falls out of orbit the aerodynamic effects increase, causing the satellite to harmlessly burn up during its descent. Click here. (11/29)

Russia's Mighty N-1: 30 Engines to Reach the Moon (Source: Space Safety)
While the Soviet Union may not have reached the Moon back at the height of the Cold War, they were certainly working on it. Here, meet the N-1, the brainchild of engineer Sergey Korolyov. The rocket and its four failed launches remained a state secret for decades. Clickc here. (12/3)

U.S. Aerospace Industry Sees 10th straight Growth Year (Source: Reuters)
U.S. aerospace and arms companies are poised for 2.8 percent overall sales growth next year to about $224 billion, which would mark their 10th straight year of growth, barring steep Pentagon budget cuts, the industry's chief trade group said. Aerospace and arms companies, one of the economy's perennial bright spots, continued to lead the United States in the net export of manufactured goods, buoyed by strong civil aircraft sales, the Aerospace Industries Association said in its annual year-end review and forecast.

Exports rose 12 percent to an estimated $95.5 billion this year from $85.3 billion last year and are likely to grow during "at least the next several years" based on order backlogs, the AIA said. Order books for civil aircraft makers such as Boeing Co (BA), the world's largest maker of commercial jetliners and military aircraft combined, now contain a six- to seven-year backlog, the report said. (12/6)

Going Beyond Life On Mars, What About Living There (Source: US News)
It's worth paying close attention to Elon Musk, one of the true visionaries we have in our midst who is clearly willing and able to successfully bet his own fortune on his dreams. And his latest -- a plan to take up to 80,000 people a year to Mars in the near future to create a very large base there -- is clearly out of the box. But it isn't crazy, not by any means.

Musk, whose Tesla Model S electric car is the nearly unanimous choice as everyone's car of the year in 2013, is a soft-spoken entrepreneur who is willing to think big and bet big. His other company, SpaceX, almost ran out of money before finally proving, on its fourth try, that it could create a private rocket capable of doing NASA's heavy lifting in space.

And SpaceX is clearly now headed in the same direction as Tesla Motors – toward unparalleled success at a time when big powers like NASA and the federal government seem dream-impaired and nearly incapable of delivering on even modest ambitions. Click here. (12/5)

What Trends Will Take Upper Hand in Space Exploration? (Source: Voice of Russia)
Space exploration in the future is linked to the creation of habitable bases on the moon. This opinion was expressed by head of Russia’s leading research institute of the country’s space agency Gennady Raikunov. According to him, the potential of the International Space station has almost exhausted itself, and it’s high time to look “further and higher”.

At present, large amounts of equipment are installed on board the ISS with great difficulty. The station is experiencing a power shortage. After 2020, its use has to be gradually reduced, and we must shift to the moon that has unlimited space. Radars and large equipment can be installed on the moon. Lunar bases would help people acquire experience to live on another planet. After melting ice, water can be reduced to oxygen and hydrogen that can be used as fuel for rocket engines, the scientist says.

The U.S. planned to return to the moon but during the Obama Administration, these plans were abandoned. The American President has called a visit to an asteroid by the middle of 2020s as a priority. Concerning the choice of asteroid NASA official John Charles has this to say in an interview with the Voice of Russia. Click here. (12/5)

Local Players Scrambling to Launch Small Satellites (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Silicon Valley is gearing up for a new type of space race: the quest to launch relatively inexpensive satellites to open up space exploration to the masses. Bay Area-based companies are embarking on projects to launch nanosatellites—often cube-shaped and some as small as 10 centimeters on one side—for a few hundred thousand dollars. Traditional satellites put up by government and communications companies are much larger and can cost hundreds of millions.

Many of the local companies are relying on research from Stanford University and elsewhere that dates back more than a decade. They are hoping to use the satellites for such things as gathering weather data and capturing images from space. Some are experimenting with gimmicks like allowing people to broadcast a Tweet from space or peer into a location on Earth in real time. Many of the satellites can be operated via smartphones after downloading a certain app.

Two San Francisco startups are preparing to launch their first satellites next year. NanoSatisfi Inc. plans to provide data such as weather and shipping information to businesses through imagery gleaned from a constellation of small satellites. Southern Stars Group plans a satellite called SkyCube, scheduled for launch in April. For contributions as small as a dollar, users bought the right to send a Tweet from space or get an aerial photo of a location as granular as a city block. (12/5)

Rovers are Awesome, But Where's the Science? (Source: Planetary Society)
The Planetary Society has looked at NASA's new Mars rover plans and, as far as the budget is concerned, there's no change to policy here: NASA has merely given a name and shape to a line that already existed. There's no impact to other programs -- at least no more impact than is already being suffered from the $309 million cut that we have been fighting to reverse.

Another Curiosity, sent to a different location (my money right now is on Mawrth Vallis), could be a tremendous addition to and extension of our Mars program, so I'm excited about that. But I have some big concerns about this announcement, which boil down to this: it doesn't seem to me that science was any part of this decision, and I'm afraid of the consequences of a science-free mission selection. (12/5)

San Quentin Prisoners Team Up With NASA (Source: NBC)
Tucked deep back in the tightly guarded machine shop of California’s oldest prison, well away from the muscle flexing inmates in “the yard," a select group of convicted felons has their eyes on space.  They fabricate metal housing for miniature satellites designed to explore the heavens. That’s right.  San Quentin inmates serving time for horrible crimes are given easy access to some of the sharpest metal humans can make.

They are, most likely, the only prisoners on Earth helping to develop products for space exploration. Ariel Wainzinger, a man with ten months left on his sentence, said: “You come to prison and you think it’s gonna be all gloom and doom and you find yourself with a lot of different opportunities and you take advantage of it.”

Working under the strict guidance of NASA, Ariel and a handful of other skilled inmate machinists are making something most people have never heard of:  P-PODs, Poly Picosatellite Orbital Deployers, essentially, aluminum boxes designed to hold tiny satellites known as CubeSats, which ride “piggyback”  into space as secondary payloads.  The devices are part of a new generation of low-cost, miniature launch vehicles developed for research used by more than 150 universities worldwide. (12/5)

Launch Escape System Installed on Soyuz TMA-02M (Source: Space Safety)
Ever wonder what the Soyuz launch escape system looks like? Here’s your chance to find out. Watch as the system that would jettison the crew capsule in event of a launch emergency is installed on the stabilization panels of the nasal fairing on Soyuz TMA-02M before its trip to the International Space Station in 2011. Click here. (11/30)

NASA Lost in Space Without National Agreement on its Mission (Source: Huntsville Times)
Like an astronaut trainee in one of those weightless airplanes, NASA is floating aimlessly until it bumps up against a demand created by its political masters or its creaking infrastructure, a new report from the National Academy of Sciences says. It isn't NASA's fault, the report says, but rather the fault of Congress, the president and even the nation for not giving the space agency a clear and consistent mission.

"There is no national consensus on strategic goals and objectives for NASA," said the report released Wednesday. Without a consensus, it said NASA can't be expected to implement a strategic plan. The report, commissioned in 2011 by the NASA Office of the Inspector General after a congressional directive, is drawing national media interest. Reporters have seized upon a variety of metaphors -- adrift, lost in space -- to describe the agency. (12/5)

Russia Selects Second Female Cosmonaut Trainee (Source: Space Safety)
Russia’s cosmonaut recruitment drive has selected eight new cosmonaut trainees, including one female prospect. Anna Kikina, 28, a native of Novosibirskin in western Siberia, is now the second active female candidate in Russia, joining Yelena Serova. She is the only recruit of the eight for whom going into space was not a childhood dream and one of three women who managed to make it into the final stage of selection. (12/3)

The Russian Pioneers of Space Safety (Source: Space Safety)
Omsk, a large city in eastern Siberia, is perhaps one of the most significant places in the world to talk about sustainability and space debris. In 1969 the Omsk Polyot manufacturing site started the mass production of the Cosmos 3M, building  about 420 rockets before production stopped in 2006. Cosmos 3M is well known among space debris experts because its upper stage represents one of the major threats to the sun synchronous low Earth orbit with more than 300 debris objects still orbiting around Earth at different altitudes.

Meanwhile, for Proton, Russian scientists developed a revolutionary system for reducing the environmental impact of rockets: the gasification of the residual propellant. The system consisted of the insertion of an inert hot gas in the tank of the rocket to gasify the remnant propellant. The option was not implemented in the end, and nowadays the Proton 1st stage dumps its residual propellant in the air after the burn out and before falling to the ground. (12/5)

USAF Space Plane to Launch From Florida on Tuesday (Source: Florida Today)
A secret military space plane will attempt to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Tuesday afternoon, the 45th Space Wing confirmed this morning. The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle is scheduled to lift off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket between 1:03 p.m. and 6:03 p.m. The launch comes about two months after ULA's launch of a GPS satellite from the Cape on a Delta IV rocket, a mission that experienced a loss of thrust in the rocket's upper stage engine, which is similar to the one used by the Atlas V. (12/6)

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