March 18, 2013

Here We Go Again, Another Air-Launch Idea (Source: LaunchSpace)
Over the past two decades there have been a number of proposals suggesting that air launching a satellite is an effective and low-cost approach to space operations. Launchspace has followed each of these ideas and has discounted all of these. Yes, Orbital’s Pegasus is a successful launch vehicle that is launched from an aircraft. But, it is not a low-cost launcher. The simple fact is that there are no low-cost air-launched schemes that work.

The latest proposal is from a new Swiss-based company, Swiss Space Systems (S3). A recent announcement states that this company will provide low-cost satellite launches. In fact, the claim indicates the cost could be a mere one-quarter of current market rates. More specifically, S3 stated its goal was to offer launches for under $11 million each. The suggested approach is to use an unmanned suborbital space plane that could carry a satellite with a mass of up to 250 kg.

The company is led by Swiss astronaut Claude Nicollier, who said S3 has a budget of $238 million and plans to begin test launches in by 2017. Nicollier has apparently secured cooperative agreements with ESA and other elements of the aerospace industry to assist in resolving technical matters. (3/18)

Video Game Uses Real Martian Landscape (Source: Discovery)
I’d be willing to bet that at least a few people reading this article will have at least thought about how it might feel to set foot on another planet. Sadly, as strong as the pioneering spirit may be for some of us, this is unlikely to actually happen anytime soon. For now, the next best thing is going to be provided by a new video game that will set you down in the middle of an authentic Martian surface.

Lacuna Passage puts you in the shoes of Jessica Rainer, an astronaut whose job is to explore the surface of Mars and try to find out what was behind the disappearance of the previous expedition. And this game has a little extra something, in all of the scenery that you see actually exists on the surface of the Red Planet. Click here. (3/18)

Sea Launch, EchoStar Announce Comsat Launch with Zenit-3SL (Source: RIA Novosti)
Sea Launch AG plans to launch a satellite for US satellite services provider Echostar Corp. from its Pacific Ocean-based Odyssey platform in 2015, the companies said Monday. Sea Launch and Echostar said in a joint statement that the satellite would be launched using a Zenit-3SL vehicle. This marks the first launch announcement by Sea Launch since one of its Zenit vehicles carrying an Intelsat-27 telecommunications satellite crashed shortly after lift-off on February 1. (3/18)

Arianespace to Launch Three Satellites for Intelsat (Source: Arianespace)
Arianespace announced today a launch services contract with Intelsat S.A., the world’s leading provider of satellite services, for the launch of three satellites through 2017. Weighing more than six tons each at launch, the satellites will be placed into GTO by the Ariane 5 ECA from Europe’s Space Port in French Guiana. The three missions will include the launches of Intelsat’s previously announced, high throughput EpicNG–class satellites. (3/18)

EPA Orders NASA to Clean Up Contaminated Soil at Moffett Field (Source: Mountain View Voice)
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Friday ordered NASA to take immediate and long-term actions to clean up contaminated soils at Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, according to the EPA. The soils at the site are contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), lead, chromium, zinc, cadmium, and dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), and are posing a threat to local wildlife, according to the EPA.

Last year the U.S. Navy spent $9.7 million cleaning up an adjacent storm water retention pond and the soils at Ames Research Center have the potential to re-contaminate the neighboring site. The California State Regional Water Quality Control Board and the EPA plan to continue to negotiate a facility-wide cleanup agreement with NASA at the Moffett Field Superfund site and monitor the cleanup. (3/18)

NASA Langley: Some Science is Too Sensitive to Share (Source: Daily Press)
A Virginia congressman is calling for stricter security protocols for foreign scientists working at NASA after claims of security breaches at the agency's facilities in Hampton and the Silicon Valley. What a serious crackdown could mean for U.S. scientists working with colleagues from other countries in rocket science, space exploration or less sensitive fields is unclear, local experts say. But they agree there's a need to keep sensitive scientific advances out of the wrong hands.

"While there is great benefit from international collaboration, there is also a need to protect scientific and technological advances that place the United States in a favorable position in the global economy, as well as to protect advances that help assure the safety of U.S. citizens and property," said Rob Wyman, spokesman at NASA Langley Research Center. (3/18)

World Government Expenditures for Space Facing Short-Term Decline (Source: Euroconsult)
According to Euroconsult's newly released research report, Government Space Markets: World Prospects to 2022, government spending on space reached a peak in 2012 of $72.9 billion, a non-negligible increase compared to 2011 which followed two consecutive years of minimal growth.

This upswing is attributed to increased activity of countries such as Russia, China, India and new world or regional leaders who compensated for budget uncertainties affecting North America and Europe. Euroconsult expects global government expenditures on space to decrease due to fiscal policies exerting continuous pressure on public finances; improvement is not expected before 2015.

According to the research report, government space programs should be affected in the short term by an overall flat spending environment and decrease in global funding. The situation is expected to recover in the second part of the decade, driven by a cleaner public finance environment, a new procurement cycle and R&D in historical leading space nations, and sustained spending from new world/regional leaders and nascent programs. (3/18)

The EU Seems to Really Dislike ESA’s New Launch Vehicle Policy (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The European Union outlined elements of its proposed new space policy for the continent recently in a press release. The document describes a series of actions the Union feels are required to allow Europe to thrive in an increasingly competitive global market where it is significantly outspent by the U.S. The document is quite dry, but I did spot one proposed action that appears to be the equivalent of throwing gasoline on the smouldering embers of a fire that everyone involved spent about a year putting out. Click here. (3/17)

Golden Spike, Lunar & Planetary Institute Organize Workshop on Human Lunar Expeditions (Source: Golden Spike) Golden Spike, the first company planning to undertake human lunar expeditions for countries, individuals and corporations around the world, announced today that it will hold an international scientific workshop in October to explore the kinds of landing sites, experiments, and geological traverses their astronauts will undertake on the Moon starting by 2020. The theme of the workshop is what lunar science will be like after 20 Golden Spike human expeditions to different places around the Moon.
The two-day seminar will be held at the Lunar and Planetary Science Institute (LPI) in Houston, Texas, on October 3rd and 4th, 2013.  The program committee includes Dr. Alan Stern, CEO and President of Golden Spike, Dr. Steve Mackwell, Director of the Lunar and Planetary Institute, Dr. Clive Neal/Notre Dame University, Dr. William McKinnon/Washington University at St. Louis, Dr. Amand Mahesh/The Open University in the UK, Dr. Daniel Durda/SwRI, and Dr. James Carpenter/European Space Agency. (3/18)

A Tragedy's Lessons for the Future (Source: Space Review)
NASA took the lessons from the Columbia accident ten years ago and used them to help safely fly out the remaining shuttle missions, but what about future spacecraft? Jeff Foust reports on the views about safety of future human spaceflight vehicles, particularly those being developed commercially, discussed at a recent symposium. Visit to view the article. (3/18)

Using "Rocket Science" to Understand North Korea's Space and Missile Efforts (Source: Space Review)
Determining just how advanced North Korea's space and missile technologies are can be difficult, even when a mission like last December's launch appears successful. James Oberg estimates that country's progress, and future challenges, based on those reported successes and apparent failures. Visit to view the article. (3/18)

India's French Connection in Space (Source: Space Review)
The launch last month of an Indo-French ocean science satellite on an Indian rocket is just the latest sign of cooperation between the two nations in space. Ajey Lele discusses the strategic implications of Indian and French space cooperation. Visit to view the article. (3/18)

Cosmologists Await Planck's Views of the Universe's First Light (Source: Space Review)
Later this week ESA will release data from its Planck mission, offering astronomers their best view yet of the cosmic microwave background. Jeff Foust examines what makes astronomers so excited about Planck's data. Visit to view the article. (3/18)

Space Industrialization and the G20 (Source: Space Review)
Last month's Russian meteor was a reminder of the threat that near Earth objects pose, while recent commercial developments also highlight the resource potential of NEOs and other solar system bodies. Three authors make the argument that the G20 nations should make space industrialization, and planetary protection, a priority. Visit to view the article. (3/18)

The Satellite Collision that Never Happened? (Source: Aviation Week)
What has been reported by mainstream press to have been a satellite collision in late January, which allegedly damaged a Russian satellite, never took place, according to a U.S. defense official. Major news outlets reported last week that the Russian BLITS satellite collided with a piece of orbital debris left after China conducted an antisatellite test using its own Feng Yun 1C satellite as a target in 2007. They quote experts at the Center for Space Standards & Innovation, who say the collision occurred Jan. 22.

However, a defense official says such an incident never occurred. “There is no definitive proof there was a collision,” this source says. Experts at the Air Force’s Joint Space Operations Center in California constantly track orbital debris and satellites the size of a softball or larger using a global electro-optical and radar sensor capability. Debris from the destroyed Chinese weather satellite actually never came close enough to the Russian BLITS satellite for the Air Force to notify operators of a possible collision, this source says. (3/18)

Lockheed Martin to Continue Providing Life Sciences Support to NASA (Source: SpaceRef)
As part of the Wyle-led team, Lockheed Martin has been selected by NASA's Johnson Space Center to provide biomedical, medical and health services in support of all human spaceflight programs. These services under the Human Health and Performance Contract (HHPC) monitor astronaut health and enable bioastronautics research that benefits life on Earth.

The potential contract value to Lockheed Martin is about $250 million over the expected 10-year life of the contract. Lockheed Martin is responsible for flight hardware development, facilitation of life sciences research conducted on the International Space Station (ISS), human factors engineering to optimize tools and experiments for astronauts in zero gravity, radiation analysis, space food development, flight/ground crew training, and life sciences data archival. (3/18)

NASA Develops High-Speed Laser Communication (Source: R&D Magazine)
NASA has created a system for transmitting data much faster from spacecraft in lunar orbit. The Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration will send information as pulses of light from space to telescopes on the ground. "This is an exciting time for space communications," said Donald Cornwell, LLCD mission manager. "We are about to make a leap in communications ability that is unmatched in NASA's history." (3/15)

Xaero B Rises (Source: Masten)
Since last summer, even while we focused on Xombie flights for JPL and expanding Xaero’s flight envelope, we were working. Designing, tweaking, and starting to build the next iteration of Xaero that we affectionately (and creatively) call Xaero-B. We’re finally ready to pull the curtain back and share her with you! Xaero-B is intended to be capable of 6 km altitude with her engine on throughout the duration of flight. She is also configurable for higher altitude flight, but we’ll talk more about that later in the flight test program.

For the time being, Xaero-B will be headed through static hot-fire testing followed by initial tether flights, and then she’ll break into free flight. Once we’ve shown the ability to fly consistently to altitudes interesting to our customers, Xaero-B will be hosting payloads of many types for a myriad of companies. Click here. (3/18)

NSS Official Wins Space Club Educator Award (Source: NSS)
Lynne F. Zielinski, National Space Society (NSS) officer and director has been selected by the National Space Club as the 2013 recipient of the National Space Educator Award. This prestigious award will be presented this Friday, March 22nd, 2013 at the 56th annual Robert H. Goddard Memorial Dinner at the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C. Since 1982, the award has been given annually to secondary school teachers who mentor students in the field of space, science, and technology. Recipients are also given a $1,500 grant and a plaque for their respective school.

“Lynne Zielinski is the first two-time winner in the thirty year history of the National Space Club National Space Educator Award. After being selected in 1988 for exemplary work motivating students to do research by planning and flying experiments on the Space Shuttle, she did not rest on her laurels,” said National Space Club Award Chairman Kerry Joels. (3/18)

Sequester Cuts University Research Funds (Source: Washington Post)
The federal government, long a key sponsor of scientific research in universities, is scaling back support for academic laboratories from coast to coast to satisfy the new mandate to cut spending across the board. About $30 billion a year flows from Washington to universities for research and development in fields from agriculture to astrophysics. This funding has helped make leading U.S. research universities, including Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and the University of Maryland in College Park, the envy of the world.

But the federal budget sequester that took effect this month — requiring cuts of about 5 percent in nondefense programs and more than 7 percent in defense — is likely to shrink research spending by more than $1 billion. Advocates warn that the cuts could hamper exploration in biomedical science, among other disciplines, and undercut efforts to ensure U.S. leadership in science and engineering. The cuts will make it tougher for academics to win a grant. The National Science Foundation said it expects to make 1,000 fewer grants this year than the 11,000 it typically makes.

Almost immediately, it became tougher for students to enter doctoral programs in science and engineering. Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, which receives about $450 million a year in federal research funding, is admitting fewer graduate students this year because of the fiscal uncertainty. (3/16)

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