February 14, 2013

Sea Launch Evokes Optimism Despite Troubled February (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
Sea Launch says it is committed to returning to operations despite a rocket failure and a lawsuit filed against the firm's owners and suppliers by Boeing, a minority shareholder and builder of the company's payload fairings. The Russian-owned launch provider, which has spent the last few years in third-place in the global commercial communications satellite launch market, says it will evaluate ways to improve its reliability and viability in the wake of a Feb. 1 launch failure.

In a pair of statements issued last week by Sea Launch and RSC Energia, its Moscow-based majority owner, officials said they were committed to returning to flight. Kjell Karlsen, Sea Launch's president and general manager, said last year the company would be profitable with four launches per year. But Sea Launch has no firm launch contracts in its backlog. Sea Launch has agreements and contract options for up to three satellite launches for U.S.-based EchoStar Corp. and a single mission for AsiaSat of Hong Kong. (2/14)

Orbiting Satellites Safe as Asteroid Approaches (Source: Satellite Today)
Scientists monitoring Asteroid 2012 DA14, which will pass closer to Earth on Friday than any other known object of its size, have ruled out it could pose any threat to orbiting satellites. The asteroid, which has approximately 150 feet in diameter and travels at about 8 miles per second, is expected to get as close as 17,100 miles from Earth; closer than communication satellites in geosynchronous orbit. (2/14)

GAO Fears Gaps in Weather Satellite Data are "High Risk" (Source: Space Policy Online)
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its latest High Risk List today, adding mitigating gaps in weather satellite data to its biennial identification of areas of government operations that are most vulnerable to fraud, waste, abuse or mismanagement or in need of broad-based transformation.

Weather satellite data gaps is one of two new areas this year.  The other is limiting the federal government's fiscal exposure by better managing climate change risks. Weather satellites and climate change are two of the 30 High Risk areas listed in the new report. The other 28 have been on the list for varying periods of time, including NASA Acquisition Management, which first appeared in 1990. (2/14)

Satmex and ILS Plan Proton Launch in March (Source: ILS)
Satmex and International Launch Services (ILS) announced today that the ILS Proton launch date for its C- and Ku- band satellite, Satmex 8, has been scheduled for March 27 (March 26 EST), 2013 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. The deployment of Satmex 8 is expected to facilitate a timely and seamless transition of customers from Satmex 5 to the new satellite.

The Satmex 8 launch, previously planned for December 28, 2012, was postponed due to an anomaly experienced by the Proton Breeze M launch vehicle on December 8, 2012.  As part of the return-to-flight process, Satmex participated in the ILS Failure Review Oversight Board (FROB) review which recently concluded. The required corrective actions to prevent future recurrence of the anomaly have been started and are on schedule to support the new launch date. (2/14)

UN Report: Space Debris in Low-Earth Orbit May Be Reaching the Tipping Point (Source: Space Safety)
A report from the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC), which is meeting during the 50th Session of the Scientific and Technical Sub-Committee to the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), states that the debris situation in low Earth orbit (LEO) may be reaching a catastrophic tipping point. This tipping point, known as the Kessler Effect, was first predicted by Donald Kessler from NASA in 1978.

The Kessler Effect envisions a scenario where the density of objects in LEO is high enough that collisions between objects will cause a cascade of collisions with each collision generating space debris thereby increasing the likelihood of further collisions. One inference of this cascade event is that the distribution of debris in orbit could render space activities in LEO, including the use of satellites such as the recently launched Landsat 8, impossible for several generations.

The study presented by the IADC used six space debris models from six IADC members: ASI, ESA, ISRO, JAXA, NASA, and UKSA.  Each of the models used a 2009 baseline environment for space debris larger than 10 centimeters, which was provided by ESA’s MASTER model. From this baseline, all six models used a future space traffic assumption based on space traffic from 2001 to 2009. From this point, each model used its own solar flux projection standard with a future post-mission disposal (PMD) compliance level assumption of 90% for both spacecraft and launch vehicle stages. (2/14)

Sequestration May Push Milsat Disaggregation (Source: Aviation Week)
The increasingly likely prospect of deep cuts in federal spending forced by failure of the U.S. Congress to thwart the sequestration of funds has Pentagon managers taking yet another look at spacecraft disaggregation. Under the circumstances, the notion that breaking massive, multifunction Cold War-style defense and intelligence satellites into smaller platforms can save money is understandably appealing. But on closer examination, it is not that simple. While there are military advantages to scattering military sensors and relays across space, and possibly technology/industrial base plusses too, it remains to be seen that it will be cheaper to do so. (2/11)

Special Report: West Texas Space Secret (Source: KVIA)
Click here to view a local TV news segment focused on Blue Origin's West Texas spaceport operations near Van Horn. Blue Origin has been testing its reusable launch vehicles. Editor's Note: Blue Origin eventually hopes to launch from Florida's Cape Canaveral Spaceport, because the company faces safety challenges getting to orbit from West Texas. (2/13)

Florida Aerospace Advocacy Group Gets New Leadership (Source: SPACErePORT)
The Florida Aviation Aerospace Alliance (FAAA), a long-dormant statewide advocacy group formed to represent the interests of aerospace businesses in Tallahassee, has installed new leadership following a meeting of its board of directors on Thursday. Marshall Heard, who also ostensibly represents FAAA on Enterprise Florida's board of directors, has been replaced by Dr. Ken Stackpoole of the Florida Institute of Technology. The group plans to reinvigorate its mission and broaden its membership. (2/13)

No House Action is Expected on Sequester (Source: Defense News)
Republican lawmakers are seen as unlikely to approve President Barack Obama's proposal to avoid sequestration by changing the tax code and making health care system reforms, and congressional watchers say little action is being taken on other sequester-fix ideas as well. In his State of the Union speech this week, Obama criticized both the sequester and the suggestion that deep cuts to domestic programs be made to avert it. Republicans want spending reductions to be part of a sequestration solution. (2/13)

FAA Workforce Would Suffer Furloughs From Sequester, Committee Says (Source: Aviation Today)
Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee released a report Wednesday forecasting the effects of sequestration, including those on the Federal Aviation Administration. "As much as 10 percent of FAA's workforce of 40,000 would be 'on furlough' on any given day resulting in reduced air traffic control, longer delays and economic losses for air transportation, tourism and the economy as a whole," the committee said. (2/13)

Harris Corp., Comtech EF Data Sign Agreement for FAA Project (Source: Avionics Intelligence)
Harris Corp. has chosen ground-equipment from Comtech EF Data Corp. for a project to upgrade satellite infrastructure in Alaska. The agreement, which could be worth as much as $6.5 million, will provide equipment for the Federal Aviation Administration project. (2/12)

Spaceport Colorado Picks HDR for Feasibility Study (Source: Denver Post)
Spaceport Colorado on Wednesday named HDR as its consulting firm that will develop Front Range Airport's feasibility studies. The group also appointed a Technical Advisory Committee to help with airspace solutions. The feasibility studies are a necessary step for the airport's spaceport application, which it will present to the FAA by the end of 2013. Front Range received $660,000 in public and private funding in November, allowing the team to move forward with the feasibility assessment phase. (2/13)

Orbital Tentatively Plans Second Antares Hot-Fire Test Next Week (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
Orbital’s Antares hot fire attempt on Wednesday was scrubbed at T-1.5 seconds, after the vehicle’s flight computer registered a low pressure purge condition ahead of engine ignition. With all other parameters deemed to be nominal throughout the count, a realigned hot fire attempt is likely to take place next week. The Antares – a vehicle that started life under the Taurus II call sign – is the first cryogenically powered rocket produced by Orbital Sciences, as well as its largest rocket to date. (2/14)

The UN Braces for Stormy Space Weather (Source: NASA)
Rewind to the late 1950s. The Soviet Union had just launched Sputnik. The United States was scrambling to catch up, kick-starting a Cold War space race that would last for decades. Space was up for grabs, and it seemed like anything could happen. Into this void stepped the United Nations. In 1958, the General Assembly "recognizing the common interest of mankind in furthering the peaceful use of outer space ... and desiring to avoid the extension of present national rivalries into this new field...." established the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS). 

COPUOS became a forum for development of laws and treaties governing space-related activities. Moreover, it set the stage for international cooperation on problems that no one nation could handle alone. As the years went by, COPUOS membership ballooned from 18 to 74 nations, while items such as space debris, near-Earth asteroids, space-based disaster management, and global navigation were added to the committee's regular agenda.  At each annual meeting in Vienna, Austria, COPUOS members confer about these issues, which present some key challenge or peril to the whole planet.

This year, a new item is on the agenda: space weather. "By adding space weather to the regular agenda of the COPUOS Science and Technical Subcommittee, the UN is recognizing solar activity as a concern on par with orbital debris and close-approaching asteroids," said a NASA official. This week, members of the Science and Technical Subcommittee heard about some of the potential economic impacts of space weather. (2/13)

Embry-Riddle Student ‘EcoCAR’ Engineers Enter Vehicle in Daytona 500 Parade Lap (Source: ERAU)
Students at the nation’s leading aerospace university are designing more than airplanes and rockets. They’re designing the next generation of cars. The Embry-Riddle vehicle that race fans will see Feb. 24 at Daytona International Speedway won’t be the fastest car on the track, but it represents fast-paced efforts by student engineers at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University to design the next generation of green vehicles.

The car, a GM Malibu, will take part in pre-race activities by going on-track for parade laps at 11:40 a.m., before the Daytona 500 starts. It highlights more than 50 Embry-Riddle students’ participation in the EcoCAR2 Challenge as they compete against 14 other North American universities to design a better hybrid car. In the three-year competition established by General Motors and the U.S. Department of Energy, student engineers are working to reduce the environmental impact of vehicles without compromising performance, safety or consumer acceptability. (2/14)

It's Party Time at UCF — To View Asteroid (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
An asteroid the size of half a city block will be zooming past Earth's surface on Friday and UCF is inviting the public to its viewing party. Experts say there's no chance the mammoth rock will hit Earth. But this is supposed to be the closest fly-by in recorded history. The free event, scheduled for 1 p.m., will be held in the Pegasus Ballroom of the UCF Student Union. Asteroid researchers will give short talks on the reality and myths of asteroids. Weather permitting, the public will watch the asteroid, known as 2012 DA14, through feeds from telescopes in Spain, where it will be nighttime. (2/14)

Muncy Begs to Differ on Asteroid Value (Source: Forbes)
In response to Forbes' article questioning the claimed raw-materials value of the near-miss asteroid, Jim Muncy offered the following rebuttal: "...Certainly there isn’t a commercial DEMAND for this much “dirt” in near-Earth space at present-day launch prices. Perhaps not even if it showed up for free. But I guarantee you… if the gods of gravity give us a rock the size of 2012 DA14 in a stable earth orbit, someone will figure out how to do something with it to make a buck. The only question is whether international and domestic law, policy, and R&D funding will be aligned to accelerate that magical market moment, or not." (2/14)

Antares Hot-Fire Test Aborted (Source: Space Safety Magazine)
Orbital Sciences Corp. was all set to perform a hot fire test of its Antares rocket on Feb. 13. The test is the last before Orbital launches its Cygnus cargo ship aboard the rocket on its demonstration mission to the International Space Station, making it the second commercial cargo ship to rendezvous with ISS, after SpaceX’s Dragon. But Orbital will have to wait a little longer now; Wednesday’s test aborted at T-1 second without firing. A new test date has not been set. (2/13)

Behold! Comet Lemmon Glows Lime Green (Source: Discovery)
Looking like a lone headlight on a rainy night or a glowing lime in the sky, the bright green ball is actually the coma of Comet Lemmon, caught on camera by Australian astronomer Peter Ward (view the hi-res version here). Comet Lemmon (C/2012 S1) is currently traveling across the sky in the southern hemisphere and has brightened to the limit of what can be seen with the naked eye under very dark, clear skies. The green color comes from outgassed ethane surrounding the comet’s nucleus interacting with radiation from the sun, causing it to glow — in very much the same way that neon signs and fluorescent lights work. (2/13)

Space Exploration Ignored in Obama's State of the Union: No Surprise (Source: Space.com)
The lack of attention given to space exploration in President Barack Obama's annual State of the Union address Tuesday night (Feb. 12) shouldn't make NASA and the space community nervous, experts say. Spaceflight and exploration received the barest of mentions in the speech, with President Obama invoking the Cold War space race once to highlight the need for increased scientific research and technological development. NASA didn't get a single shout-out.

But that's par for the course for State of the Union speeches, experts say, and doesn't necessarily mean the Obama Administration places little value on the space agency or its work. While NASA didn't get a mention, the agency wasn't completely shut out of the State of the Union. Mars rover Curiosity flight director Bobak Ferdowsi — who gained fame as "Mohawk Guy" during the 1-ton rover's harrowing landing last August — sat in first lady Michelle Obama's box during the speech, along with a handful of other special guests. (2/13)

NASA Busy Testing Orion’s Parachutes and Rocket Engines (Source: WIRED)
NASA engineers are hard at work testing the engines that will take astronauts beyond earth orbit for the first time since the Apollo era and the parachutes that will carry them home afterward. The Orion capsule and the Space Launch System are designed to carry humans to the moon and perhaps even asteroids, part of NASA’s renewed focus on exploration as commercial contracts are awarded for transporting astronauts to the International Space Station.

On Tuesday NASA engineers intentionally prevented one of three parachutes designed to carry the Orion spacecraft back to Earth from inflating. A test capsule – actually more of a rocket-shaped object with the mass as the Orion capsule — was dropped from 25,000 feet over the Arizona desert. With just two parachutes inflated and the third flapping in the wind, the 21,000-pound test capsule fell to Earth at speeds that would have been safe for astronauts on board.

At the other end of of the program, engineers are busy testing the large rocket engine that will power the Space Launch System vehicle that will boost Orion into space. Testing of the J-2X engines will take place at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The J-2X is designed by NASA and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, the latest iteration of the company that designed the J-2 engines of the Saturn V rockets used in the Apollo program. Despite the J-2X designation, the engines are a clean-sheet design that produces more power, more efficiently, than the older engine. (2/13)

Griffin Throws Cold Water on Commercial Space, Offers Solution (Source: Huntsville Times)
Former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin told a commercial space conference here Wednesday that there is no significant commercial space market and won't be anytime soon. "Commercial space" now, he said, "is really just a name for a different government procurement method." A persistent critic of President Obama's space policies, he said the current system consists of companies such as SpaceX operating with "government as their venture capitalist." SpaceX is getting "something approaching 90 percent" of its funding from the government, he said.

Griffin has fought Obama since the president announced his space vision in 2010. The president wanted access to low-Earth orbit and the International Space Station provided by commercial companies, while NASA focused on new technologies. To do that, Obama's first NASA budget proposed killing NASA's Constellation program - a program Griffin headed - while giving more funding to companies such as SpaceX. Congress balked, and the two sides compromised on start-up subsidies for commercial space while NASA builds a rocket for deep space misisions.

But Griffin said there is a way to generate the kind of commercial space market he would support. In his model, companies would sell services to the government as needed, but would be able to go on without government investment. Griffin wants America to build a permanent base on the moon. Such a base multiplies the logistical challenges by a factor of 10 over the station, he said, and it would require long-term services ranging from life support to housing. "That market is 10 times larger and 10 times longer than the space station," he said, and it could support a space industry. (2/13)

NASA Glenn Offering Free Tours of Facilities (Source: Clevelant Sun News)
NASA Glenn Research Center will be offering free tours once a month from April to Oct. A tour bus will depart from Glenn’s main gate every hour beginning at 10 a.m. One-hour tours begin in the Briefing Center Auditorium and include a multimedia presentation on Glenn. The last tour departs at 1 p.m. Each tour is followed by a stop at Glenn’s gift shop. (2/13)

Top NASA Scientist Arrested (Again) in White House Protest (Source: FOX News)
NASA's top climate scientist and government official James Hansen was arrested Wednesday outside the White House -- at least the fourth arrest now for the scientist. Hansen, a controversial and highly vocal proponent of the argument that man's actions have dramatically affected the planet's climate, is the director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies -- a position for which he earns a $180,000 taxpayer-paid salary. (2/13)

Asteroid Isn't Worth $195 Billion, Whatever Deep Space Industries Says (Source: Forbes)
This is one of the petty annoyances of actually knowing what you’re talking about on any specific subject. Finding people who aren’t as specialist as you are making a hash of a claim in your field. Today’s petty annoyance for me was the claim by Deep Space Industries that a near-Earth asteroid is worth $195 billion.

No. The value of any lump of rock is not the value of the metals trapped within it. It is the value of those trapped metals minus the cost of untrapping them. Thus that calculation of value by Deep Space Industries is simply wrong. A mountain of iron ore out in the Australian Outback is not worth the same as that same tonnage of iron ore sitting outside a steel plant in China. We must subtract the costs of tearing the mountain apart, grading the ore, building a railroad to the coast for it, the cost of the ships to transport it to China and, crucially, the cost of the finance to do all of this.

The costs of actually mining that asteroid. Well, at present, no one can actually do that. It’s simply not possible. Thus the price of mining it is infinite. $195 billion minus infinity is less than nothing. On the second point, well, no one is able to make use of those products up in space at present, there just is no market at all. So even if point one fails, the value is still zero for that asteroid: for there just ain’t no one to buy it. (2/13)

National Space Club Honors Mars Curiosity (Source: NASA)
The National Space Club will honor NASA's Curiosity/Mars Science Laboratory team with three awards, including the prestigious Dr. Robert H. Goddard Memorial Trophy. The Goddard Trophy recognizes the team for significant contributions to developing the most capable deep space mission ever and initiating the most ambitious science mission ever conducted on the surface of another planet.

The team will also receive the organization's Nelson P. Jackson Aerospace Award for its significant role in successfully landing on and exploring the Martian surface. In addition, Richard Cook, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., will receive the Astronautics Engineer Award for his personal engineering leadership as both the Mars Science Laboratory's flight systems manager and project manager. (2/13)

‘Young’ Black Hole is Nearby; Doorway to a New Universe? (Source: LA Times)
Researchers believe they may have spotted the youngest black hole in the Milky Way galaxy, and — from scientists’ point of view –  it’s not far away. When it comes to black holes, it can be hard to differentiate the science from the science fiction.  Remember Nikodem Poplawski’s 2010 theory — that our universe is within a black hole — which is within another universe altogether. And this fascinating space phenomenon is relatively nearby, just 26,000 light-years away. So, astronomers plan to study it closely, NASA says. (2/13)

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