March 17, 2013

Texas Gains Momentum for SpaceX, But Viability Questions Remain (Source: SPACErePORT)
Although Texas' Boca Chica site seems to be out front in the race to host a new SpaceX launch complex, the technical feasibility of launching from the site remains the subject of study by the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation. Aside from dealing with the site's environmental, public safety, noise, and property title issues, SpaceX would require its own range safety system for their rockets' ascent to space (and descent, if/when reusable first stages are used) over the Gulf of Mexico and possibly sovereign states like Cuba and Mexico.

Some potential complicating factors include oil rigs and U.S. military test ranges to the north, the Yucatan Peninsula to the south, and Cuba further downrange. Based on Falcon-9 launch experience from Florida, the rocket's expendable first stages would fall well short of Cuba, but a launch anomaly could drop upper-stage hardware and payloads onto Cuba or even Florida.

There is also the issue of maritime traffic, with busy shipping lanes between U.S. ports and Central America, not to mention deep-sea fishing. And then there are very busy commercial air traffic routes to deal with. Downrange aviation and maritime clearance for launches from Florida is supported by the Air Force's Eastern Range. It is unclear how SpaceX launches will be accommodated by Gulf of Mexico ships, boats and aircraft. Although SpaceX might argue that they are safely in space before overflying Cuba, would Cuba agree? With a lack of regulatory clarity, it may become a question of insurability. Click here. (3/17)

Deep Space Industries Visits Cocoa Beach (Source: FSDC)
Stephen Covey, a co-founder of Deep Space Industries (DSI), serves as DSI's director of R&D and visited the Space Coast on Saturday to discuss DSI's plans for asteroid mining and other ventures. He demonstrated a full-scale early prototype of the grabber component of DSI's DragonFly Asteroid Picker and answered questions from members of the Florida Space Development Council. (3/17)

FSDC Continues to Grow, Plans April 12 Event on Launch Weather Operations (Source: FSDC)
The next regular FSDC meeting will be held on April 6 at 2:00 p.m. at the Courtyard Marriott in Cocoa Beach. The meeting will include a Space Locals discussion with William Roeder. Roeder will discuss Eastern Range weather operations and the impact of weather and lightning on launch operations at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport.

FSDC's membership has grown to around 60, with the recent addition of corporate members including Deep Space Industries, the Florida Space Grant Consortium, and Golden Spike. Membership is close to free, at only $5 for individual members and $50 for corporate members. Click here for information or to join online. (3/17)

Embry-Riddle Students Display Projects for Florida Manufacturers (Source: Daytona Beach News-Journal)
Hoping to impress area manufacturers, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University pulled out all of the stops during a recent tour of its engineering department. The event featured undergraduate students showing off their senior projects that included a NASA lunar excavator, a robot that can play Guitar Hero, an SUV that runs on used vegetable oil, and a yellow submarine. Manufacturer representatives on the March 11 tour included those from Technetics Group, Teledyne ODI, Hudson Technologies, AO Precision Manufacturing and Solar Fit. (3/13)

Kazakhstan a World Apart From 'Borat' (Source: Patriot Ledger)
Many of us were first introduced to Kazakhstan in the highly successful 2006 spoof film “Borat,” in which the Asian republic is portrayed as extremely backward. Despite the crude and primitive image of the country presented to the world in “Borat,” Kazakhstan has long had an honored place in the space community as home of the Baikonur spaceport from which Sputnik, the first manmade satellite, was launched in 1957, igniting the space race.

Today it remains the launch site for manned travel to the International Space Station, including the travel of private citizens who can afford the modest fee of fifty million dollars for a space adventure. Space Adventures is a Virginia-based space tourism company working with the Russian space agency, which now leases the Baikonur spaceport from Kazakhstan. Despite the impressive price, and the physically demanding training required of the space tourists, the company has already sent seven private citizens on separate weeklong trips to the space station, including one woman. (3/16)

On its 50th Birthday, Bird Refuge Remembers the Bad with the Good (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
One of the nation's premier bird paradises, less than 50 miles from Orlando, came to be five decades ago because of a relentless effort to move earth and water so the U.S. moon-landing program at Cape Canaveral wouldn't be plagued by mosquitoes.

That effort succeeded in ridding the Cape of mosquitoes, but it also drove a bird unique to Central Florida into extinction — which now, on the 50th anniversary of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, serves as a warning in the case of yet another Central Florida bird slipping toward oblivion. The refuge, created in 1963, comprises 140,000 acres in north Brevard County that includes Kennedy Space Center, coastal dunes, saltwater estuaries, piney woods and desert-like scrub.

Editor's Note: A lot of misinformation is circulating about the impact of the proposed Shiloh launch site wildlife and recreation in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Unlike a plan put forward by NASA several years ago for a new commercial launch pad on the protected lands, Shiloh would not close access to nearby Playalinda Beach, and would have a comparatively small land-use footprint. But as might be expected, there are some opponents to development within the Refuge who are lobbying local officials to try to block the project. (3/17)

Taxpayers Sour on Space During the Budget Crisis (Source: Florida Today)
If the American people were asked to cut spending to solve today's budget crisis, it could be bad news for the space exploration program. A newly released survey, measuring what programs Americans would spend more on and what programs they would spend less on, ranks space near the very bottom. In fact, of all the programs measured, the General Social Survey found only aid to foreign countries, aid to large American cities and welfare fared worse than space exploration.

The survey is by a longstanding, respected organization at the University of Chicago and the latest update came from data gathered over several months in 2012. People tended to favor increasing spending on education, social programs for older Americans, improving health care and protecting the environment. But, not space exploration. So, why is that?

While Americans seem interested and engaged in exploring space and they celebrate great achievements such as landing a man on the moon or a robot on Mars, there is some sense that the country is spending a lot of money on the space program. Even among supporters over the years, I've heard gripes about gold-plated spending and excess within the space program. People have a sense, right of wrong, that NASA is a big government program overspending on something that is maybe a luxury. Click here. (3/17)

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