February 3, 2013

GAO Audit Offers Solutions for NASA (Source: Florida Today)
As outsiders look at the way NASA and the Defense Department develop big space projects, one thing stands out. The Government Accountability Office has identified NASA and the military’s management of those substantial space projects as one of the “key issues” worthy of more attention across the entire federal government.

“Systems often cost more and take longer to develop and produce than originally planned, which forces agencies to request more funding to complete them, make trade-offs among programs, defer other priorities, or cancel programs after significant amounts of money have already been spent,” reports the GAO, an auditing operation working on behalf of the U.S. Congress, identifying how government agencies do their jobs and spend your money.

The GAO boiled down some common findings from its past and present work, listing a few potential solutions in abbreviated form to a decades-old problem that has cost taxpayers many billions of dollars and delayed most big space projects by years. Click here. (2/3)

Troubles at Spaceport America (Source: KRQE)
So, last Monday, a state senate committee unanimously okayed the bill Richard Branson wants. The full senate unanimously passed it and sent it to the House on Thursday. Okay. That should make Virgin happy. Right? Wrong. The same day the committee approved the bill, the company announced a new gripe. It’s now stewing about paying its million dollar a year spaceport rent which started January 15th. Virgin claims the state has not yet done everything that it promised to do at the site.

The company’s public statement did not go into detail about the alleged deficiencies. But it warned that if Virgin is not satisfied by March 31st, it “may either stop paying rent, pay reduced rent or give notice to terminate” its lease. There. They said it: “terminate the lease.” Three words calculated to send shivers down the spine of state lawmakers, officials and taxpayers and spark hope in the hearts of other states which would love to steal Virgin Galactic away. Florida is already pushing hard to get into the commercial space business.

“Florida Today” posted an article the day after the new Virgin Galactic demand, under a headline that fairly chortled, “Virgin Galactic Shuns Binding Lease at New Mexico Spaceport“. Christine Anderson, Executive Director of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority, says the latest Virgin demand/threat has no basis. She says that under the lease the firm signed, the spaceport has met required standards and the rent is due. Even so, Virgin seems to believe if its demands are not met, it an opt out of the deal. If they can, they have us in a very tight spot. New Mexico has already put $209 million into Spaceport America. (2/2)

The Art of Citizen Space Exploration' Looks Up (Source: LA Times)
It will come as news to many, no doubt, that there is a Warhol on the moon. And a Rauschenberg and an Oldenburg — a whole "Moon Museum," in fact, containing the work of six artists in all, in the form of drawings inscribed on the surface of a ceramic chip roughly the size of a thumbprint. Conceived by the artist Forrest Myers in 1969, the chip was fabricated in collaboration with scientists at Bell Laboratories and illicitly slipped by a willing engineer between some sheets of insulation on the Apollo 12 lander module.

One of the earliest projects featured in "Free Enterprise: The Art of Citizen Space Exploration" at the UC Riverside ARTSblock, the "Moon Museum" is a telling example of the determination with which artists have set about inserting themselves into not only the dream but the functional reality of space exploration.

It is not an exhibition of space art, per se. "We have purposefully not included artists who stopped at metaphor and allegory," says Stallings. "There are many artists who are interested in space, but we were looking for those who had a serious desire to connect with the aerospace industry." Click here. (2/2)

Virgin Galactic Gives Boost to Abu Dhabi Spaceport Plan (Source: The National)
Virgin Galactic plans to make its inaugural commercial space flight some time this year, providing a massive boost to plans to locate a 21st-century spaceport in Abu Dhabi. "Depending on the progress of the last portion of the experimental test flight programme and the federal aviation authority licensing process we hope to be undertaking full space test flights by the end of 2013 and in commercial operations within a relatively short period thereafter," says a Virgin Galactic spokeswoman.

According to Virgin Galactic, which is in negotiations with "appropriate Abu Dhabi entities" regarding the construction of a spaceport, the emirate stands to make huge gains from the location of the company's second spaceport in Abu Dhabi. "Abu Dhabi would have the potential to become a globally recognized and respected regional center for the new commercial space industry," says Ms. Wilson.

Sir Richard predicts that his satellite launch service will enable new space businesses to become operational far more quickly and far more cheaply. He foresees a growing democratization of space. Until now, the launching of satellites has been the preserve of powerful governments or of wealthy mega-corporations. (2/3)

Iran Releases Wrong Monkey Pic; Skeptics Question if Mission Even Happened (Source: NY Daily News)
Monkey see, monkey don’t. Iranian officials say they mistakenly released the wrong photo of its first primate in space, leading to skepticism that its 20-minute simian mission never got off the ground. But senior Iranian space official Mohammad Ebrahimi insisted Saturday that there was no monkey business. Iran’s primate problems started when it released mismatched photos of Pishgam, the lone critter aboard the craft. (2/3)

As Asteroid Heads for Earth Near-Miss, Space Mining Companies Prepare to Boldly Dig (Source: Telegraph)
It will be one near-miss for man. But a new breed of space entrepreneurs hope it will presage one giant leap for mankind. When Asteroid 2012-DA14 hurtles past Earth later this month in what counts as the closest of cosmic calls, US government scientists will be closely tracking its path from NASA's observatory in the Californian desert.

Not least thanks to the attention of Hollywood, the world's interest in asteroid fly-bys has until now been focused on the danger of a cataclysmic collision. But for aspiring asteroid miners, the lump of debris the size of a school gymnasium that will pass within 17,200 miles of the planet at 18,000mph - closer than many of the satellites circling the planet - symbolizes a new commercial opening on the final frontier.

Two US companies have been outlining their plans to harvest asteroids for their mineral wealth in what they hope will be a 21st century solar system equivalent of terrestrial gold and oil rushes. They intend to deploy tiny satellites to prospect asteroids and then effectively lasso their targets, transporting them back into Earth's orbit to harvest precious metals and liquids. If successful, they will also fuel a new chapter in human space exploration. (2/3)

Alaska's Poker Flat Makes Plans for Rocket Launch (Source: Daily News-Miner)
A NASA rocket built for aurora research is scheduled for launch at the Poker Flat Research range north of Fairbanks. The launch window begins Saturday and runs through Feb. 17. Douglas Rowland NASA's Space Weather Laboratory in an announcement says the rocket's mission is to determine how the aurora heats and slingshots oxygen out of the upper atmosphere.

The oxygen from Earth's upper atmosphere is known as auroral wind. Rowland says it's not dense but the flow away from the planet affects the space environment, including behavior of the Van Allen radiation belt. The rocket will carry instruments up to 500 miles high. The full rocket is longer than a school bus and the payload alone is 17 feet. (2/2)

China Surpassed U.S. in Launches, Payloads in 2012 (Source: Parabolic Arc)
China’s surging space program moved into second place in 2012 in terms of both orbital launches and payloads, passing the United States and inching closer to Russia. China successfully launched 19 rockets last year, placing a total of 30 payloads into orbit, according to an annual report released by the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST). Russia led all nations with 34 payloads on 24 launches, while the United States came in third with 28 payloads on 13 launches. Click here. (2/2)

Curiosity Mars Rover Hammers Into Rock (Source: BBC)
The Mars rover Curiosity has used its drill system for the first time. The robot's tool bit hammered briefly, without rotation, into a flat slab of rock on the floor of Gale Crater, the huge bowl where it landed last August. Pictures taken before and after the operation reveal the indentation left by the tool's action. Although previous rovers have scrubbed the surface of rocks, Curiosity is the first to carry the capability to drill inside them. (2/3)

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