January 10, 2013

Space Florida Official to Serve on State Commission (Source: Florida Today)
Gov. Rick Scott appointed the chief operating officer of Space Florida, James M. Kuzma of Cocoa Beach, to the state emergency response commission. He will serve with two others. The purpose of the commission is to implement federal emergency planning laws in Florida and serve as advisers for hazardous materials programs, according to the Florida Division of Emergency Management website. The commission conducts quarterly meetings throughout the state.

Kuzma, 51, served more than 20 years in the Navy and retired as the commanding officer of the Naval Ordnance Test Unit in Cape Canaveral. He has also served as a division chief for the U.S. Strategic Command (Joint Functional Component Command for Intelligence, Reconnaissance and Surveillance) in Washington and as deputy director of operations for submarine forces out of Norfolk, Va. (1/9)

Astronomers Discover a Planet Almost Identical to Earth (Source: The Atlantic)
Just over a week after astronomers boldly announced that they would discover an Earth twin elsewhere in the universe within the year, NASA's Kepler telescope spotted a pretty good candidate. Unglamorously named KOI 172.02 this planet is the most Earth-like planet astronomers have discovered yet. The differences are slight. It's roughly 50 percent larger than Earth and orbits a star that closely resembles our own sun at a distance that would make the surface of the planet habitable. (The size makes it a "super Earth" rather than an "Earth twin.")

With an 242-day long year, it's slightly closer to its star than the Earth is to the Sun but otherwise enjoys all of the same ideal conditions as we do, as far as astronomers can tell. "This was very exciting because it's our fist habitable-zone super Earth around a sun-type star," said Natalia Batalha, a Kepler co-investigator at NASA's Ames Research Center in California. "It's orbiting a star that's very much like our sun. Previously the ones we saw were orbiting other types of stars." (1/9)

Inadequate Commercial Crew Funding Risking Unacceptable Safety Compromises (Source: Parabolic Arc)
On the same day that NASA and its commercial partners held a press conference to highlight progress in the Commercial Crew Program (CCP), the space agency’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) released a report spotlighting worries about chronic Congressional underfunding of the program will lead to decisions that diminish safety standards for the new spacecraft.

“The ASAP is concerned that some will champion an approach that is a current option contained in the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) agreement. There is risk this optional, orbital flight-test demonstration with a non-NASA crew could yield two standards of safety—one reflecting NASA requirements, and one with a higher risk set of commercial requirements. It also raises questions of who acts as certification authority and what differentiates public from private accountability,” wrote ASAP Chairman Joseph W. Dyer. (1/10)

Embry-Riddle Joins Florida Space Day as Sponsor (Source: SPACErePORT)
Embry-Riddle has joined companies like Boeing, Harris Corp., Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and others as a sponsor of Florida Space Day 2013. Space Day is an annual event held in Tallahassee during the state's annual Legislative Session. Participants engage with elected officials and legislative staffers to promote policies aimed at improving the competitiveness of the state's space industry. Click here. (1/10)

NASA and ESA to Announce New Collaboration for Human Spaceflight Beyond Earth Orbit (Source: ESA)
NASA and ESA will announce on Jan. 16 the details for ESA to provide a service module for the first Orion spacecraft mission in 2017. Orion will be the most advanced spacecraft ever designed and carry astronauts farther into space than ever before. ESA’s service module will be based on the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV). Sitting directly below Orion’s crew capsule, it will provide propulsion, power, thermal control, as well as supplying water and atmosphere for the astronauts in the habitable module. (1/10)

James Webb Space Telescope Squeezing Astrophysics Budget (Source: LA Times)
Astronomers may have to brace for a much humbler astrophysics mission following the planned launch of the James Webb Space Telescope in 2018, a NASA official said. Under current budget constraints and with future funding uncertain, such a mission might have to be small enough to cost $1 billion or less, NASA astrophysics division director Paul Hertz told astronomers gathered for a meeting at the American Astronomical Society.

The talk comes as James Webb’s $8.8-billion price tag – up by $3.1 billion – has squeezed the astrophysics division’s budget, taking up more than expected by the priority-setting 2010 decadal survey of astronomy and astrophysics. Though NASA's overall astrophysics budget is predicted to rise slightly in the coming years, the James Webb telescope is set to take up roughly half it by fiscal year 2014. (1/8)

U.S. Spaceship Ventures Plan to Launch Test Pilots as Early as 2015 (Source: NBC)
Americans could be flying into orbit on U.S.-built spaceships again as early as 2015 — but the first fliers won't be NASA astronauts or millionaire space tourists. Instead, they'll be commercial test pilots, employed by the Boeing Co., Sierra Nevada Corp., SpaceX or maybe even a dark-horse company like Blue Origin, the venture funded by Amazon.com billionaire Jeff Bezos.

Those four companies provided updates on their efforts to build new spaceships capable of carrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station during a news briefing at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. One of the companies, Blue Origin, is wrapping up its work for NASA and is no longer receiving money through the Commercial Crew Program, or CCP (although it intends to continue its collaboration with NASA in an unfunded capacity). But SpaceX, Boeing and Sierra Nevada are splitting more than $1 billion that's to be paid out through 2014. (1/9)

Weather Channel Takes a Galactic Leap (Source: New York Times)
We are forced to ask: Will the Weather Channel now start naming storms on other planets? We are forced to ask this because of “Deadliest Space Weather,” a series that begins Thursday night. It’s a moderately interesting look at the climate on other planets, but coming at this particular moment it seems like a possible next step in the channel’s campaign to rule the weather universe.

Recently the Weather Channel caused a stir when it announced that beginning this season it would name significant winter storms, similar to the way the World Meteorological Organization names tropical ones. The channel hasn’t yet announced plans to name storms elsewhere in the universe, but “Deadliest Space Weather” makes clear that there are plenty of opportunities to do so. “Ours is just one kind of weather,” a narrator with a bad case of overwrought-itis intones in the opening episode. “On other planets there are storms beyond the imagination.” (1/9)

Florida Hopes to Benefit as Feds Ease Rules on Satellite Industry (Source: Florida Today)
Congress has relaxed regulations that classified satellites as weapons and put U.S. companies at a disadvantage in the lucrative international space exploration and communication sector. The change might help Brevard County companies find new markets for space technology, said Dale Ketcham, a Brevard space industry consultant. Before the International Trade in Arms Regulations, known as ITAR, were enacted in 1998, U.S. companies claimed more than 73 percent of the global military and commercial satellite market, a figure that fell to 25 percent by 2005.

ITAR has hurt Harris Corp. in negotiations with international customers, some of whom avoided doing business with U.S. firms, said Bill Gattle, vice president of aerospace systems at Harris Corp. “When they would ask a detailed question about the technology, we couldn’t answer it,” Gattle said. “They made it clear they were not going to deal with the ITAR regulations.”

Some 20 satellites, which cost an average of $300 million each, are sold internationally each year. Harris and other U.S. space firms are making plans to claim a larger share of that multi-billion dollar market. Now satellite and related space technologies will fall under the regulation of the Department of Commerce, which can quickly approve deals. Harris executives plan to bring new and existing products to the international market. “There are items we wouldn’t even try to sell before,” Gattle said. (1/10)

Life on Mars? Dutch Company to Offer One-Way Trips to Red Planet (Source: LA Times)
In 1990′s “Total Recall,” Arnold Schwarzenegger had a simple directive to himself: “Get your ass to Mars.” Now a nonprofit Dutch company is promising to help real-world tourists do just that. Mars One has announced plans to establish a colony on Mars by 2023 and they’re about to begin looking for prospective Martian pioneers.

While the requirements for NASA’s astronaut program are demanding, assuring only the finest and fittest of humans will ever make it into space, Mars One is casting a wide net. Their requirements are resiliency, adaptability, curiosity, ability to trust, creativity and resourcefulness. What about the ability to fly a spaceship or solve unforeseen, unimaginable problems being one of the first humans on an alien planet? Those, evidently, are skills that one picks up with time.

Mars One only asks that applicants be at least 18 years of age (they will be 28 by the time they land on Mars), speak English and don’t have any pressing business on Earth — ever. This is a one-way kind of deal. The Dutch crew aren’t the only private entrepreneurs with their eye on Mars, though. Space X founder Elon Musk has also discussed his plans to establish a Mars colony in the next few decades. (1/10)

The 4 Spaceships Vying to Send Crews to the ISS (Source: Popular Mechanics)
NASA and four private companies briefed the press on their progress in developing private vehicles to send crews to the International Space Station. To date, NASA has spent $1.5 billion fostering the development of the new vehicles, and plans to up the ante in the next couple of years. Click here for a summary of each company's plans. (1/9)

Dark Energy Alternatives to Einstein Are Running Out of Room (Source: UA News)
Research by University of Arizona astronomy professor Rodger Thompson finds that a popular alternative to Albert Einstein’s theory for the acceleration of the expansion of the universe does not fit newly obtained data on a fundamental constant, the proton to electron mass ratio. Thompson's findings impact our understanding of the universe and point to a new direction for the further study of its accelerating expansion. (1/9)

Asteroid Apophis 20% Bigger Than Thought (Source: Cosmos)
An asteroid believed to pose a remote risk of colliding with Earth in 2036 is 20% bigger than previously thought, the European Space Agency (ESA) said. In a press release, ESA said its Herschel deep-space telescope had scanned a space rock called 99942 Apophis last weekend as it headed towards its closest flyby with our planet in years. Previous estimates bracketed the asteroid's average diameter at 270 metres (877 feet) give or take 60m (195 feet), representing a mass that would equal the energy release of a 506-megatonne bomb, according to NASA figures. (1/10)

NASA Praises Commercial Space Partners as Federal Budget Battles Near (Source: Huntsville Times)
NASA and the four companies it calls "the leading edge" of the quest to put American astronauts back into space aboard American rockets delivered progress reports and spelled out future mission milestones Wednesday. But the conversation sputtered when the questions turned to money in the tight federal budget environment. NASA commercial crew program managers appeared on a panel at Kennedy Space Center Wednesday with representatives of Blue Origin, Boeing, Sierra Nevada and SpaceX.

All four companies have received commercial crew development funding from NASA in recent years, but Blue Origin was not one of the three funded in the latest round in August 2012. It is continuing to develop commercial rockets, however. NASA commercial crew program manager Ed Mango said NASA will release requests for company proposals on the next phase of the program as soon as next week. It hopes to award contracts in May of 2014 for final development of the systems that it hopes will be transporting astronauts to the International Space Station by late 2015 or early 2016.

When asked by a reporter, NASA managers declined to say what percentage of the money spent on commercial crew development has been put up so far by NASA versus what percentage the companies have put up -- the so-called "skin in the game" NASA said was essential for them to compete. The companies' investment is proprietary to them, NASA Commercial Spaceflight Development Director Phil McAlister said, although he said "all of them are (contributing) in a pretty substantial fashion." (1/9)

What Does NASA Have To Do with Global Development? (Source: Guardian)
Every day, Dr Enrique Barraza checks satellite images on his computer for evidence of red tides. These tides off El Salvador's Pacific coast would indicate an overabundance of algae that could harm the fisheries. In El Salvador, where Barraza works for the Ministry of the Environment, domestic and export economies rely heavily on the fishing industry.

Thanks to SERVIR, a program of Nasa and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAid), Barraza can monitor key fishing areas before his country's fishing fleets head out to sea. Since El Salvador gained access to the information SERVIR provides, the Ministry has been able to issue advisories to prevent fishing in potentially toxic areas, saving the industry millions of dollars. (1/10)

ORBCOMM Completes $45 Million Term Loan Financing with AIG for Growth Capital (Source: EON)
ORBCOMM has completed a debt financing in the form of a five-year term loan through a Senior Secured Note Agreement in the principal amount of $45 million with AIG Asset Management. The five-year term loan has no required principal amortization and a fixed interest rate of 9.5%, payable quarterly, for the life of the loan. Subject to the terms set forth in the Note Agreement, the company may prepay the Notes, in whole or in part, at any time prior to the maturity date. (1/7)

DigitalGlobe Gets Antitrust Clearance for GeoEye Purchase (Source: Denver Business Journal)
DigitalGlobe Inc. has been given antitrust clearance by the U.S. Department of Justice for its planned acquisition of rival satellite-imagery company GeoEye Inc. Colorado-based DigitalGlobe needed the clearance to close on its $900 million buy of Virginia-based GeoEye. The companies announced the deal in July 2012. (1/9)

Israel's Space Policy Goes Civilian (Source: Haaretz)
Israel is among the top 10 countries in satellite research, but its commercial potential is hindered by the military juggernaut. Over the last two decades Israel has become one of the world's top 10 powers in space research, but by last year officials were growing concerned that high development and production costs would undermine the industry, and detract from its ability to compete for business in foreign space programs. (1/10)

Virgin Galactic to Make First Spaceport America Rent Payment (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
Virgin Galactic will make the first-ever rent payment this month for use of Spaceport America, state officials said Wednesday. Also, they said a funding shortfall to build a southern road to the spaceport, important to Las Cruces, is prompting them to seek another $3 million from the Legislature for the project.

Virgin Galactic rent will begin accruing Jan. 15, said Christine Anderson, executive director for the New Mexico Spaceport Authority. The company's payment will be $85,833 monthly, according to a calculation based on information from the spaceport. The amount due is one-twelfth of the $1 million per-year charged to Virgin Galactic for use of the facilities, Anderson said. Plus, another $2,500 per month is rent for land. (1/9)

Rocket Parts Picked Up in Northern Alaska (Source: SitNews)
Following up on a NASA promise to recover spent rocket parts scattered for decades across northern Alaska, workers for Poker Flat Research Range recovered more than 7,000 pounds of debris from 17 different sites in 2012. Peter Elstner, who also works for the University of Alaska unmanned aircraft team, led a team that picked up rocket parts from the White Mountains National Recreation Area north of Fairbanks to the Marsh Fork of the Canning River last summer.

The pieces were from sounding rockets launched mostly on winter nights since 1968 at Poker Flat Research Range, a university-owned complex in Chatanika, about 30 miles north of Fairbanks. Scientists arc rockets through the zone from about 50 to 800 miles elevation to gather information on the aurora and other aspects of space weather. NASA launches about four rockets each winter from Poker Flat. Some stages fly hundreds of miles northward before returning to the ground. (1/10)

Searching for Life Where the Sun Don’t Shine (Source: Astrobiology)
On February 17, 1977, Tjeerd van Andel of Stanford University and Jack Corliss of Oregon State took a few last breaths of the South Pacific air before closing the basketball hoop-sized hatch of the research submersible, Alvin. Their pilot, Jack Donnelly, then guided the 23-foot long craft down 9,000 feet towards the seafloor, away from the team’s research vessel Knorr and mother ship, Lulu. Ninety minutes later, the trio reached the bottom.

Six hours and forty-seven minutes later, they were back at the surface. When the science team extracted the first water samples taken from the seafloor, the entire lab on the Knorr was filled with a horrible stench: rotten eggs. As terrible as this smell was, the discovery of hydrogen sulfide on the seafloor was a watershed moment in humankind’s understanding of the origins of life.

Europa images and data received from Voyager 2 suggested that beneath that layer of water ice lies a liquid water ocean bigger than all of Earth’s oceans combined covering the entire moon—itself about the same size as our own moon. Soon researchers began to wonder if, beneath that layer of ice at the bottom of thousands of feet of water and methane liquid, the seafloor there smelled like rotten eggs, too. Click here. (1/10)

Company Test Pilots Slated for First Commercial Space Flights (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
The first American rockets and spacecraft to fly in the wake of the shuttle's retirement will be crewed by company test pilots -- not NASA astronauts -- in part to give space agency managers better insight into flight readiness and safety, officials said Wednesday. Assuming NASA gets the funding managers say they need -- a big if in today's political environment -- SpaceX, hopes to launch a manned version of its Dragon cargo ship in the mid 2015 timeframe, followed by a crewed flight to the International Space Station later that year.

A top Boeing manager told reporters the company's CST-100 capsule should be ready for an initial three-day orbital test flight, with company pilots, in 2016. A senior manager with Sierra Nevada, which has pinned its hopes on a winged orbiter similar in appearance to a mini space shuttle, said both manned and autonomous sub-orbital test flights will be used to pave the way to orbital missions.

The test flights will be part of a complex certification process that will lead to NASA flights to and from the space station in the 2017 timeframe, budgets permitting. Whether those flights will use all-NASA crews or combinations of company pilots and NASA passengers is not yet clear. (1/9)

SpaceX Crewed Dragon: Pressing Home the Advantage (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
With all three Commercial Crew partners providing a status update at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport this week, SpaceX outlined their path towards launching a crew on their Dragon spacecraft in 2015. With the advantage of already flying cargo missions on a near-human rated Dragon, SpaceX is leading the drive to return domestic crew launch capability to the United States.

With the Dragon that is already flying being a vehicle that is partly crew-rated already, SpaceX is working a parallel process to their current campaigns to complete the drive that will fully enable their spacecraft to safely carry astronauts to the ISS. This process is currently in the Commercial Crew integrated Capability (CCiCAP) stage, maturing from the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) process that has resulted in three companies earning NASA money to bring their spacecraft up to spec for NASA astronauts.

In order to get to the promised land of being the first commercial company to launch humans to the ISS, several key elements of the Dragon spacecraft require development – not least the Launch Abort System (LAS). Dragon sports a series of eight liquid SuperDraco engines, built into the side walls of the Dragon spacecraft, capable of producing up to 120,000 pounds of axial thrust to drive the Dragon away from its failing launch vehicle. Click here. (1/10)

A Tale of Two Congresspeople (Source: Space Politics)
An American Astronomical Society “Space Science and Public Policy” event featuring Reps. Judy Chu (D-CA) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). Their comments on space issues were markedly different and, in Rohrabacher’s case, controversial. Chu spoke about supporting NASA and science research. “I do not believe that research and development in science or space exploration is a luxury. It should never be an afterthought", she said. “That’s why I’m deeply committed to protecting the funding for NASA this year and many years to come.”

Rohrabacher offered a very different message about funding. “Saying ‘NASA deserves more money’ ain’t going to cut it,” he said. “The fact is, NASA does not have a good track record” in managing major programs. He expressed particular opposition to plans for the Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket, claiming it will cost at least $30 billion to develop. “This is going to defund every other space and science program that you can imagine. It’s up to you to know the sad details that we can’t afford everything.”

After the talk, I asked Rohrabacher about one particular issue of interest to those attending the AAS meeting: the James Webb Space Telescope. He indicated he wasn’t confident that the program was back on track after cost and schedule overruns. “We will hold hearings on that early on, and we’ll find out” how well it’s doing, he said, referring to the House Science Committee, of which he is the new vice-chairman. Click here. (1/10)

Petition Asks White House to Rekindle Space Nuclear Power Project (Source: NBC)
First there was the Death Star petition, then there was the Starship Enterprise petition, and now there's a petition calling on the White House to build a nuclear rocket for fast interplanetary travel. Unlike the spaceships cited in those first two petitions, this one isn't just science fiction. There was a time when the federal government tested nuclear thermal rocket technology for the flights that would follow the Apollo moonshots.

Back in the 1960s, Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and its industrial partners set up Project NERVA, which stands for Nuclear Energy for Rocket Vehicle Application. The idea was to use a nuclear reactor to heat up liquid hydrogen propellant and blast a rocket out of Earth orbit. A trip to the moon would take just 24 hours. Going to Mars? You could make the voyage in just four months. (1/8)

SPACErePORT Circulation Update (Source: SPACErePORT)
The FLORIDA SPACErePORT newsletter is distributed weekly, free of charge, to over 1,500 direct recipients worldwide. Newsletter items are compiled daily and posted online at the FLORIDA SPACErePORT blog, which also serves as a searchable archive with items dating back to 2006. For those of you accessing the SPACErePORT on smartphones, I have changed the website settings to improve readability on tiny screens. As always, reader feedback and suggestions for news items or Florida calendar events are encouraged. (1/10)

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