February 10, 2013

Congress May Update Commercial Space Transportation Laws (Source: Space Politics)
Members of Congress and their staffs outlined potential changes to existing space transportation legislation, from an extension of launch indemnification to granting the FAA authority for regulating on-orbit activities. One issue will be the “evolving role of the FAA in regulating safety,” said a staffer on the Senate Commerce Committee. AST retains its role in protecting the uninvolved public, but is restricted by law until 2015 from promulgating regulations covering the safety of spaceflight participants.

Another issue would be the issue of on-orbit authority. AST currently has the ability to regulate launches and reentries, but activities in space after launch and before reentry fall into a gray area, with no single agency having oversight or other authority for all activities. “We’ll certainly be having conversations with FAA as we look to update legislation in this area,” she said, noting that some in industry had proposed giving FAA that authority.

Toward potentially passing a new multi-year extension of the existing launch indemnification regime, FAA and COMSTAC will look for ways to improve the accuracy of the calculation of “maximum probable loss” to third parties in the event of a launch accident. The indeminification establishes a level to which launch licensees are liable for such losses, with the government indemnifying any losses above that level. (2/10)

Rohrabacher Foresees FAA AST Reauthorization (Source: Space Politics)
“I would suggest we could look forward to, at long last, a reauthorization of the Office of Commercial Space Transportation,” said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), vice-chairman of the House Science Committee. “It’s becoming very evident even to members of Congress that this industry is critical and we need to reauthorize that legislation.”

Rep. Rohrabacher said that FAA was, for the time being, doing a good job treating aviation and spaceflight differently, but warned he would seek action to move the office out of the FAA should the situation change. “Ultimately, if that proves too difficult for the FAA to reconcile, we may end up having to move this whole job back to the office of the Secretary of Transportation.”

Editor’s Note: Of particular interest in Florida will be whether any authorization language can be included to permit the FAA to move forward on erstwhile plans for that FAA Tech Center that was originally proposed by President Obama to be located at KSC. Similar to the FAA’s aviation-focused Tech Center in New Jersey, the KSC-based Tech Center would support testing, technology, and standards-development for commercial space transportation. NASA had planned to initially locate the Tech Center in one of the “OSB” office buildings next to the VAB. (2/10)

Cost of Exploring Space - Film Versus Reality (Source: Universe Today)
We all know that space exploration, while certainly not the largest expenditure of most countries, doesn’t come cheap. But neither do big-budget science fiction films, either. Special effects, sets, special effects, popular acting talent… special effects… those all come with hefty price tags that make sci-fi and fantasy films costly ventures — although bigger definitely isn’t always better. If you were to compare the price of real space exploration missions (which provide actual information) to the costs of movies about space exploration (which provide “only” entertainment) what would you expect to find? Click here. (2/10)

Sun Unleashes Solar Eruption at Earth During Long Flare (Source: Space.com)
A long-lasting solar flare erupted from the sun early Saturday (Feb. 9), triggering an intense sun eruption aimed squarely at Earth. The solar storm, however, should not endanger satellites or astronauts in space, but could amplify auroras on Earth, NASA says. The solar eruption-—called a coronal mass ejection-—occurred at 2:30 a.m. EST (0730 GMT) on Saturday during a minor, but long-duration, flare. It hurled a wave of charged particles at Earth at speeds of about 1.8 million miles per hour (nearly 2.9 million km/h). (2/10)

The Charge of the Satellite Brigade (Source: Wall Street Journal)
There are 1,154 active satellites orbiting the Earth. Of these, five have been miniaturized by the design-oriented toy company Papafoxtrot and brought to a decidedly lower atmosphere—a few inches above your desk. The model satellites in the series are made of common woods—maple and ash—with mock solar panels and other shiny parts in aluminum. The toys are quick to assemble and reflect the broad range of tasks that satellites carry out these days.

The line includes the Spektr-R, for example, which the Russian Astro Space Center launched in 2011 to "help astronomers see deeper into supermassive black holes, obtain views of collapsed stars, and better measure the influence of dark energy on the cosmos," according to the National Space Science Data Center. While the antenna reflector on the actual satellite is nearly 33 feet wide, the desktop model's measures 3¼ inches. Click here. (2/8)

Army Pack Radios to get SATCOM Upgrade (Source: DOD Buzz)
U.S. Army radio operators will soon have carry radios with 10 times more capacity to handle secure data in remote locations. The service will start upgrading its new Handheld, Manpack, Small Form Fit (HMS) AN/PRC-155 two-channel Manpack radios this fall to enable them to communicate with the military’s Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) satellite communications system. The service recently awarded a $5 million contract to General Dynamics C4 Systems for 100 MUOS channel kits to upgrade its 100 PRC-155s. (2/8)

Editorial: Beware of Errant Asteroids (Source: New York Times)
While no known asteroids or comets represent a worrisome impact threat now, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory shows more than two dozen asteroids have better than a one in a million chance of smacking into Earth within the next 100 years. That may sound reassuring, but we estimate that less than 10 percent of all near-Earth objects have been discovered. And while we are keeping a vigilant eye out for these objects in the Northern Hemisphere, we are considerably less watchful in the Southern Hemisphere. (2/9)

The Star that Behaves Like a Giant Cosmic Strobe Light (Source: Interesting Things)
A mysterious star that behaves like a gigantic cosmic strobe light has been detected by astronomers using the Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes. Every 25.34 days, the object, dubbed LRLL 54361, which is is hidden behind a dense disk and envelope of dust, unleashes a burst of light. Similar observations have been made of two other young stellar objects, but this is the most powerful yet seen. (2/10)

Closest Earth-Like Planet May Be 13 Light Years Away (Source: New Scientist)
Let's take a peek at the neighbors. The closest Earth-like planet is probably orbiting a dim red star just 13 light years away. While that's too far for a visit, future telescopes might be able to see it and probe for signs of life. A new analysis of planets orbiting red dwarf stars seen by NASA's Kepler telescope found 95 possible planets orbiting red dwarfs. Of these, three are Earth-sized candidates in the habitable zone.

Finding smaller, rocky planets this way is a challenge, since they block out less of a star's light. But red dwarfs are relatively cool and dim, making Earth-sized worlds easier to spot. Most of the stars nearest to us are red dwarfs, including the closest, Proxima Centauri. Based on the distribution of red dwarfs in the Milky Way, a potentially habitable planet is only 13 light years away. (2/6)

Military Now Favors Launch Competition (Source: Florida Today)
For the first time in a decade and a half, the U.S. Air Force says it’s working to provide a way to re-introduce competition into its purchase of launches for government spacecraft. The reason: under the current setup, with one provider, the price of a rocket ride to orbit for military and intelligence satellites is rising. The military knows there are new providers that might be capable of delivering the same service for less money.

The military is working to open the competition to new providers, but it also must make sure spy satellites, military spacecraft and other payloads get to orbit. At its simplest level, the predicament is SpaceX and Orbital Sciences want a shot at some of the lucrative government launches locked up for now by United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V and Delta IV rockets and the government would love to have a second bidder to help drive the price down.

Heavier versions of SpaceX’s Falcon rocket fleet may be capable of lifting some of the payloads that, under current rules, almost automatically go to United Launch Alliance’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles. The concern for the government is whether the Falcon has enough “experience” to be deemed reliable enough to risk losing a multi-billion satellite that is critical to national security. The Catch-22 for SpaceX is how to acquire that experience if it can’t win launches in the first place. (2/9)

Giffords Eases Steadily Into New Life, and Cause (Source: New York Times)
...Mark Kelly, a retired astronaut and former naval aviator who has emerged as a forceful, politically astute advocate for his wife’s cause, fills in the verbal blanks on conference calls and in meetings with donors and members. Mr. Kelly offers shades of the astronaut John Glenn, who headed up the Emergency Committee for Gun Control after the shooting deaths of Senator Robert F. Kennedy and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Political operatives on both sides of the aisle in Arizona widely expect Mr. Kelly to eventually run for office himself, something he has waved off for now. “Gabby, as a member of Congress, knows where they are coming from,” Mr. Kelly said. “We believe strongly that the Second Amendment affords every American the right to defend their home and defend their property with a gun. But there needs to be reasonable limits.” (2/9)

Brazil Scales Back Launch Vehicle Plans (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Brazil has come out with a new strategic plan to guide its space efforts through 2021 that involves a significant change in its effort to develop a domestic satellite launch industry. Brazil has scaled back an ambitious Southern Cross development program to focus on a series of smaller launch vehicles that appear to rely more on home-grown technology. The country also has forged a cooperative arrangement with Germany to develop a dedicated micro-satellite launch vehicle.

Meanwhile, Brazil is continuing work on launching Ukraine’s Cyclone-4 rocket from the Alcantara Launch Center in 2014. This is a significant change from Brazil’s previous plan, which featured close co-operation with Russia to develop a new family of boosters under the Southern Cross program. The series would have incorporated technologies from Russia’s Angara family of rockets.

The Alfa and the Beta rockets appear to have been preserved under the new plan while the Gamma, Delta and Epsilon launch vehicles are no longer there. The Delta launch vehicle’s payload of 1.7 tons to GTO would have been similar to that of the Cylcone-4. The other notable change in the plan is that Brazil and Germany are jointly working on a micro-satellite launcher that would be capable of lifting payloads weighing 150 kg into a 300-kilometer orbit. It will be interesting to see how well the launch vehicle competes with other small satellite launchers now being developed in other countries. (2/10)

Commercial Moon Flights Coming Soon? (Source: Discovery)
How much would you like to see humanity travel back to the moon? Or for that matter, how much would you like to stand amongst the craters of Lacus Somnorium yourself and look up to see your home planet above you, a shining blue marble in the darkness? Since Apollo 17 left the Moon in 1972, no humans have traveled further than a few hundred kilometers from Earth’s surface, but an ambitious space travel company has plans to put humans back on the moon — and they’ll take anyone who can afford the asking price.

The Golden Spike Company, formally announced in December last year, are aiming to provide a means to do exactly that. Riding the wave of enthusiasm for private space flight, they intend to provide reliable transport to the surface of the moon. However, with the cost of the tickets currently expected to be the princely sum of $1.5 billion for a two person mission, their customers are more likely to be governments than wealthy tourists. Click here. (2/9)

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