February 17, 2013

$21.4 Million for Annual LC-39A Maintenance? (Source: SPACErePORT)
The Florida Today article “Hire Me for KSC Upkeep” may have incorrectly interpreted NASA KSC’s costs for maintaining LC-39A. A NASA source suggests to me that the $21.4 million figure cited in the article probably refers to the total cost for LC-39 maintenance, which would include both launch pads, the VAB, and other infrastructure within the large area referred to as “LC-39.” Maintenance of the single mothballed LC-39A launch pad is closer to $1 million per year. (2/17)

Reconstructing Meteor’s Path, with Google Earth, YouTube, High-School Math (Source: Ogle Earth)
Like many others, I was absolutely astounded by the meteor strike over Chelyabinsk when I woke on Friday morning. One silver lining to our self-surveilling society is that an event of this magnitude is certain to get caught on the myriad of always-on dash- and webcams. I for one could not get enough of the videos. Might it be possible to use this viral footage with Google Earth to have an initial go at mapping the meteorite’s trajectory? Click here. (2/16)

“It Came From The Sky!” The 1992 Meteorite That Mangled The Malibu (Source: Daily Beast)
Eighteen year-old Michelle Knapp was alone in her family’s home in Peekskill, NY that October day in 1992 when the heard a loud noise outside. She saw nothing when she stepped onto the front deck and might have just gone back inside when a guy from down the street called out. “You have a big hole in the trunk of your car!”

The car was a red 1980 Chevy Malibu that had handed down to her just a few days before and it was parked nose first in the driveway. She circled around to the rear and saw that something had indeed smashed in the trunk and punched a considerable hole in it. What could have done the damage remained a mystery when a police officer arrived. Then somebody discovered a rock the size of a broad loaf under the smashed end of the car. “I think a meteorite fell on my car.” (2/17)

Threat from Space is Real, But Man Stands Better Chance Than the Dinosaurs (Source: New America Media)
Unlike the dinosaurs, we have, in effect, become active agents in changing our destiny. A giant meteor wiped out much of life on earth 65 million years ago because the dinosaurs didn't collectively create a missile shield to deflect the meteor. Humans, on the other hand, with our orbiting telescopes and space probes, and our growing awareness of the threat from space, can track large foreign objects coming from millions of miles away, and are talking about collectively deflecting those that could do us harm.

Editor's Note: The threat of asteroid/meteorite impacts is global and deserves a coordinated international response. Sure, NASA is sadly underfunded to address the threat, but the U.S. should not alone have to shoulder the responsibility for this problem. If ever there were a need for international collaboration in space, it is this. However, many of the capabilities required to meet this challenge will surely be viewed as having military potential, so don't expect to soon see a globally coordinated effort. (2/17)

21st Century Spaceport - Is KSC Ready for the Future? (Source: Florida Today)
NASA established the “21st Century Space Launch Complex” program, in part, to make KSC less dependent on a single government space program and attract jobs with more frequent launches. That future may yet come, but a review of more than $1.3 billion committed to KSC’s modernization since 2011 shows an overwhelming focus so far on one user: NASA’s own Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. “That is our primary mission, there’s no question about that. We have to get that off the ground,” said Scott Colloredo.

NASA will bear the entire cost of maintaining its little-used infrastructure unless more users materialize. Those same factors contribute to a view held by some, including Miller, that NASA’s heavy-lift rocket will prove so expensive that it is doomed to be canceled like its predecessor, Constellation. In that context, Miller thinks Kennedy’s modernization investments will only be useful to the extent they anticipate the rockets that might replace SLS, possibly heavy versions of ULA’s Delta IV or Atlas V.

Ultimately, KSC’s transformation into a 21st Century spaceport that attracts more commercial operations may depend less on millions for infrastructure than on a willingness to change how NASA does business. Space Florida’s DiBello says billionaire entrepreneurs like Musk, Jeff Bezos and Paul Allen, who each are major investors in emerging space transportation ventures, are seeking a different, more competitive economic model. “They see the future that is out there, but they want an environment that’s very commercially friendly.” Click here. (2/17)

Hire Me for KSC Upkeep (Source: Florida Today)
I’ve never known what to make of the multibillion-dollar prices NASA pays for spacecraft. The missions are so unique and risky. But its costs for terrestrial things can make me break out the calculator and start asking questions. Take for instance, the $21.4 million per year NASA pays to maintain the mothballed former space shuttle launch pad and equipment at Kennedy Space Center, known as Pad 39A. It looks like a theme park ride with extra plumbing parked on a highway overpass.

How much work could it need? It is nearly three times as much as Brevard Public Schools will spend to fix buildings and buses next year. So I called KSC on Thursday to request a breakdown for spending on Pad 39A (I’ll let you know what I learn). And I while I was on the line, I made this offer: I will personally maintain Pad 39A for one-10th the cost until NASA can sublease it to someone else in a year or so. I’m pretty sure I’d make money, too.

Here’s what I jotted down on a sticky note next to the phone Thursday: 1) Pay 10 laid-off space center workers $100,000 each in annual salary and benefits for labor; 2) Spend $500,000 or so on a mower and weed-whacker, plus gas, a pallet of WD-40 and a truckload of gray “high heat” Rustoleum: and 3) Pay another $100,000 for insurance and federal red tape. The cost would be $1.6 million and I would make $500,000 in profit, saving taxpayers $19.3 million. “It’s a noble thing to think about,” said KSC's Lisa Malone. Click here. (2/17)

Scientists Unveil New Detectors in Race to Save Earth From Next Asteroid (Source: Guardian)
The extraterrestrial double whammy that Earth only partially avoided on Friday has triggered an immediate response from astronomers. Several have announced plans to create state-of-the-art detection systems to give warning of incoming asteroids and meteoroids. These include projects backed by NASA as well as proposals put forward by private space contractors. Click here. (2/16)

23-Year Old Poker Player Set to Blast Off on $200k Space Trip (Source: Mirror)
23-year-old poker pro Jens Kyllonen is set to join the likes of Stephen Hawking, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie as one of the first humans on a commercial flight into space. In 2012, the player from Finland won a hefty $2.49 million playing high-stakes online poker. So what does a young, wealthy well-to-do jet-setter like Kyllonen spend his hard earned cash on? Why a seat on a Virgin Galactic space flight of course. (2/17)

High-End Space Program to Take Off in Indonesia (Source: TTG Asia)
LYNX Space Program is offering Indonesia's ultra-wealthy an out-of-this-world space travel program, after its launch in Singapore last year. Spanning five days and four nights, participants will be familiarised with all aspects of a suborbital flight, climaxing with a one-hour space travel experience. “To make the flight safer and more enjoyable, they will engage in medical screenings, seminars, altitude chamber training and a g-force experience,” said lifestyle travel consultant, John B Sutherland.

Sutherland, XCOR Aerospace and Space Expedition Corporation’s partner in Asia, is working with MillionaireAsia Indonesia to promote the programme. Test flights are due to start in the next few months, and interested parties should be able to venture into space by the end of this year or the beginning of 2014. (2/17)

Business Really Is Looking Up: Asteroid Hunters See Opening (Source: New York Times)
The meteor that rattled Siberia on Friday, injuring hundreds of people and traumatizing thousands, has suddenly brought new life to efforts to deploy adequate detection tools, in particular a space telescope that would scan the solar system for dangers. A group of young Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who helped build thriving companies like eBay, Google and Facebook has already put millions of dollars into the effort and saw Friday’s shock wave as a turning point in raising hundreds of millions more.

“Wouldn’t it be silly if we got wiped out because we weren’t looking?” said Edward Lu, a former NASA astronaut and Google executive who leads the B612 Foundation's detection effort. “This is a wake-up call from space. We’ve got to pay attention to what’s out there.” Astronomers know of no asteroids or comets that pose a major threat to the planet. But NASA estimates that fewer than 10 percent of the big dangers have been discovered.

B612 is just one player. Last April, Planetary Resources unveiled plans to mine asteroids that zip close by Earth, both to provide supplies for future interplanetary travelers and to bring back metals like platinum. The venture attracted some big-name investors, including Larry Page and Eric Schmidt of Google. The company also has plans to develop telescopes that would hunt for rocky intruders coming near the planet. (2/16)

The Final Frontier For Whisky (Source: Forbes)
The beauty of the opening of space for commercial research by Nanoracks is that it’s allowed a number of different experiments to flourish on board the International Space Station. Perhaps on of the most interesting is one being  carried out by Ardbeg Distillery – they want to see what happens to the chemical interactions that give Scotch its flavor characteristics when they happen in zero gravity.

“We literally have no idea what’s going to happen,” Ardbeg’s brand director Hamish Torrie told me. “Strange things happen in space.” What Ardbeg specifically wants to know about is the maturation process – the years-long process that turns clear distilled spirit into whisky as it ages in wooden barrels. They worked with Nanoracks with their MixStix platform – one of Nanoracks products that allows for the controlled mixing of substances on board the ISS. (2/13)

Russia Calls for International Anti-Asteroid System After Meteor Terror (Source: IB Times)
Russia's deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin has called for leading powers to work together to develop a system to intercept objects falling from space, after a meteor that exploded over Russia's Ural mountains injured about 1,000 on the ground below. "Neither we nor the Americans have such technologies," Rogozin said. His remarks echoed concerns raised by his boss Dmitry Medvedev, who said the meteor that exploded in the skies over sparesly populated parts of Russia showed how "the whole planet is vulnerable". (2/15)

Meteorites Could be Worth Big Bucks (Source: RIA Novosti)
As Russia assesses the damage from the meteorite shower that rained down on the central region of the country Friday, experts in the US said the fragments of space rock could bring a small fortune in hidden treasure to those quick enough to find and scoop them up. “A relatively small piece is worth maybe a few hundred dollars, but a large chunk can be up to $100,000 or even more,” said Joseph Gutheinz, a specialist on meteorites and a former senior special agent with NASA. (2/16)

NASA Casts a Wide Net for STEM Education Partners (Source: NASA)
NASA is inviting potential partners to help the agency achieve its strategic goals for education. Using its unique missions, discoveries, and assets, NASA supports education inside and outside the formal classroom to inspire and motivate educators and learners of all ages in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The agency is seeking unfunded partnerships with organizations to engage new or broader audiences across a national scale.

NASA recognizes the benefit of leveraging those unique resources and abilities that partners can provide in order to improve efficiency and maximize impact of its STEM efforts. This announcement requests information from organizations interested in working with NASA to improve STEM education in America. Potential partnership activities are varied, and NASA is receptive to a wide range of possibilities. All categories of domestic groups, including U.S. federal government agencies, are eligible to respond to this announcement. Click here. (2/15)

NASA Scientists Plan Europa Clipper Mission to Jupiter Moon (Source: Guardian)
NASA scientists have drawn up plans for a mission that could look for life on Europa, a moon of Jupiter that is covered in vast oceans of water under a thick layer of ice. The Europa Clipper would be the first dedicated mission to the waterworld moon, if it gets approval for funding from NASA. The project is set to cost $2 billion. Click here. (2/15)

India to Launch Seven Satellites on February 25 (Source: IBN)
The Indian space agency will on February 25 put into orbit seven foreign satellites including an Indo-French collaborative satellite SARAL and thus earn much wanted revenue. "The launch of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle-C20 (PSLV-C20) is currently fixed for February 25 evening," ISRO sources said. "The rocket will blast off from the Sriharikota rocket launch center carrying seven satellites, totally weighing around 700 kg," a source in ISRO said. (2/16)

Homeowners Insurance Covers Meteor Strikes (Source: KGO-TV)
While it's unlikely your home will be hit by a meteor, Friday's cosmic crash brings up the question, what if? Tully Lehman, the spokesman for the Insurance Information Network of California has some advice for those asking that question. "That is one of the things that is definitely covered under your homeowners insurance policy. A lot of people may not realize it because it doesn't happen that often. But if it does it is something that would be covered," he said. (2/15)

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