March 7, 2013

Moon Mining Race Under Way (Source: BBC)
Space exploration has long been about reaching far off destinations but now there is a race to exploit new frontiers by mining their minerals. Google has offered a $20 million grand prize to the first privately-funded company to land a robot on the moon and explore the surface by moving at least 500 meters and send high definition video back to Earth by 2015.

A second-placed team stands to win $5 million for completing the same mission, with bonus prizes for travelling more than 5km, finding water and discovering any traces of man's past on the moon, such as the Apollo site. Click here. (3/6)

NASA Outlines Budget, Scope for Mars 2020 Rover (Source: Space News)
NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has barely scratched the surface of a planned two-year mission to assess if the solar system’s most Earth-like planet ever had the chemistry for life, but planners of a bargain-priced 2020 follow-on rover already are eager for any lessons learned. That assessment, organized by the NASA chief engineer’s office and expected to run about six months, kicked off on March 5, complementing work by a newly formed Mars 2020 Science Definition Team (SDT) to scope out instruments for the new rover that will meet the project’s budget, deadlines and goals.

The 19-member SDT, headed by Brown University geologist Jack Mustard, has been told NASA will have about $80 million for rover science instruments, Meyer said, adding that at least one and possibly two more instruments, with a total value of about $20 million, also should be coming from participating international or other partners. That cost estimate does not cover a Curiosity duplicate chassis, operating systems and support equipment; a sky crane entry, descent and landing system; and a robot arm, drill and possible sample cache, if one is included.

Overall, NASA expects to spend about $1.5 billion on a second Mars Science Laboratory (MSL)-type rover, about $1 billion less than the cost of Curiosity, which landed on Mars Aug. 5. The cost also does not include a launch vehicle. Additional funding and instruments may come from NASA’s human exploration and technology development divisions, Meyer added. (3/7)

Unknown Class of Bacteria Found Under Ice Crust of Antarctic Lake (Source: Voice of Russia)
Tests of water samples from Antarctica's Lake Vostok have yielded a completely new class of bacteria, a Russian scientist has told reporters. The frozen samples were brought up from under the Antarctic ice in May 2012. Sergei Bulat of St. Petersburg’s Nuclear Physics Institute said they collected a core sample of water frozen into the borehole. He said the probe contained bacteria that didn’t belong to any known phyla, which is the next ranking above a class in size. (3/7)

Florida Space Day Highlights Space Requests (Source: SPACErePORT)
Dozens of space industry officials donned red badges and swarmed around the Capitol Building in Tallahassee on Wednesday for meetings with legislators. They explained the industry's economic impacts and express their support for a series of mutually approved policy and funding requests, including $20 million for Space Florida and another $15 million for FDOT spaceport infrastructure. $10 million of Space Florida's requested funding would be used to provide highly leveraged financing for projects that would bring aerospace jobs to the state.

Many Florida legislators have joined a "space caucus" and are supportive of the Space Day requests, but the real legislative horse-trading has not yet begun. With some legislators clearly not up-to-speed on space issues (I heard remarks like: "Obama has ended the space program") the annual Space Day event is definitely beneficial as means for educating our elected officials, and for letting them know there is an active constituency behind the various space-related requests being made. (3/7)

Florida Senator Thad Altman on Florida Space Day (Source: America Space)
Florida Space Day had almost concluded when Florida Senator Thad Altman stopped by for a visit to the Space Day team's gathering area on the third floor of the Capitol Building. The Space Coast falls in Sen. Altman’s district. Despite technical difficulties, Sen. Altman was all grace as we conducted a video interview. Click here. (3/6)

Florida Democratic Whip Alan Williams on Importance of Space Industry in Florida (Source: America Space)
AmericaSpace sat down for an interview with Florida House Representative Alan Williams, the House Democratic Whip, about his efforts to support the space industry within the State of Florida. Williams is both laid back and professional. He detailed his efforts to support Florida’s space industry, how inspiring space exploration is for the nation in general, and the state in particular, as well as his personal connection to the space program. Stay tuned for more updates from this crucial event for the future of Florida’s aerospace infrastructure. Click here. (3/6)

Commercial Spaceflight Industry Drifts Back to Earth (Source: Scientific American)
As the brash, stylish new kid on the block, SpaceX was sure to win its share of admirers. But last week’s launch hiccup showed that the private space operator, helmed by Elon Musk, has a few issues to work out, just like stodgy old NASA. Don’t get me wrong: SpaceX has done unbelievably impressive things. The company’s Falcon 9 rocket has gone from its first test launch to making deliveries to the International Space Station in less than two years. SpaceX is the only private operator allowed to dock with the ISS, which, given the station’s colossal costs, says something about the faith NASA has in the California upstart.

But space exploration is hard, no matter who you are, what your business model is, or what engineering innovations you bring to the table. (There’s a reason people use “rocket science” as shorthand for something difficult.) And the first two official SpaceX deliveries to the ISS, while successful, have each served as a reality check-—a valuable reminder of the enormous complexity and high stakes of spaceflight.

The private spaceflight industry has already tasted tragedy. In 2007 an explosion in California killed three people at a company called Scaled Composites who were working on engines for Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo. That mishap, like so many workplace accidents in the aerospace industry, has largely been forgotten. (3/6)

Don't Let US Knee-Jerk Secrecy Slow Down Spaceflight (Source: New Scientist)
One  of the more unorthodox ornaments that adorns New Scientist's London office is a large model of an inflatable space station that might one day be put into Earth orbit. Not long ago, a film-maker wanted to borrow it. We were fine with that, as was its inventor. But the views of another party had to be considered too: the US Department of State. The reason? US anti-arms trafficking rules extend to information about space flight equipment. The model had to be judged for its relevance to, say, North Korea's rocket program.

This example might seem absurd, but the rules can have more serious consequences. It may prevent SpaceX from fully describing the difficulties that beset its Dragon cargo capsule last week, for example, thus depriving the space-flight community of technical insights.

Those planning to send a couple to Mars, who may need SpaceX to lift off, face many stiff challenges. Knee-jerk secrecy should not be among them. Our friendly film-maker did eventually get the green light. Let's hope those working with the real thing can cut through the red tape too. (3/6)

Inmarsat: Maritime Price Hikes Not Alienating Customers (Source: Space News)
Inmarsat has offered evidence that selective price hikes have not alienated customers and that its handheld telephone is outselling competitor Iridium’s higher priced handset. Inmarsat, whose all-Ka-band Global Xpress satellites are scheduled to begin launching late this year, said it is locking in future Global Xpress maritime customers by getting ship owners to sign up for a bundled L- and Ku-band service — with Inmarsat purchasing the Ku-band capacity from competing satellite operators. (3/7)

Legislation Filed for SpaceX Project at South Texas Site (Source: Brownsville Herald)
State Rep. Rene Oliveira filed legislation Wednesday aimed at furthering the SpaceX project at Boca Chica Beach near Brownsville, he said. “We’re definitely more optimistic than ever that Cameron County will have SpaceX,” Oliveira said. “Obviously, there are still major decisions that need to be made with the federal government. But the fact that we and others are proceeding with legislation, and Mr. Elon Musk is going to be (in Austin) Friday, indicates, I think, a very favorable view on his part,” Oliveira added.

Oliveira, D-Brownsville, also said in an announcement that the legislation he filed would allow Cameron County to temporarily close a beach area for launches and space flight activities with approval of the General Land Office. Oliveira said that while SpaceX has not made a final decision to relocate to the area, he filed the bill to make certain the necessary legislative measures are in place to move the project forward. The proposed legislation would prohibit a beach closing during the major summer holidays of Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day, and all the summer weekends between Memorial Day and Labor Day. (3/6)

Wallops Rocket Launch Postponed (Source: AP)
NASA is rescheduling a rocket launch at the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia due to weather concerns. The launch of the Terrier-Lynx suborbital rocket has been rescheduled for Monday between 1:30 a.m. and 2:15 a.m. It was originally set for early Friday morning. (3/6)

New Mexico Senate Committee Approves House Version of Spaceport Bill (Source: Albuquerque Business Journal)
The spaceport “informed consent” bill keeps inching its way to the governor’s desk. On Wednesday, the bill cleared one of its final hurdles, when the state Senate public affairs committee approved the House’s identical bill, said company spokesman Tom Carroll. The law, which will offer some liability protections for Spaceport suppliers, has been a priority for many businesspeople during this legislative session. Virgin Galactic, the anchor tenant at Spaceport America, said passing the bill was critical to allow the spaceport to function.

The proposal, supporters say, could attract more spaceport-related companies by reducing their liability burdens. The bill passed the Senate and House unanimously. Though the bill was identical in both the House and Senate versions, both houses must approve each bill before they can be sent to the governor. Gov. Susana Martinez has said she’ll sign the legislation if it reaches her desk. (3/6)

Airport Chief: Houston's Ellington Field Spaceport 'Definitely Doable' (Source: Houston Chronicle)
With its goal of "going global" all but achieved, the Houston Airport System says it is now time to go extraterrestrial. Director Mario Diaz said the system is officially moving forward with a plan to turn Ellington Airport into one of the nation's first spaceports and is seeking certification from the FAA.

The system completed a feasibility study last year that found it would cost an estimated $48 million to $122 million to equip Ellington for launching small space vehicles full of joyriders out over the Gulf of Mexico, more than 60 miles above Earth. "It is definitely doable because, you see, space is not the final frontier, it just happens to be our next destination," Diaz said told business leaders in a State of the Airports speech hosted by the Greater Houston Partnership.

Diaz, who has been talking about the concept since at least 2011, said the system could get Ellington licensed in 15 to 18 months. "And what exactly do we have in mind? Well, I would start off by assuring the community we are not interested in vertical, heavy lift rockets," Diaz said. "What we do mean is to create an environment where a cluster of aviation and aerospace companies can flourish and where Houston can again step forward to lead the nation in the transition from a federal to a commercial space program." (3/6)

U.S. House Passes FY-2013 Funding Measure with $2.119 Billion for SLS (Source: Huntsville Times)
The House has passed a Continuing Resolution funding measure for the second half of FY-2013 that gives NASA $2.119 billion for the Space Launch System. NASA is developing the booster part of that rocket system in Huntsville. "While I'm disappointed we could not complete the normal appropriations process," said Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL), "there is a silver lining in the bill...This CR includes increased funding for a priority of mine, the Space Launch System (SLS). The SLS is important to our nation's work in space and to the economy of our area."

The bill will also pay for SLS-related ground operations and construction of the SLS B-2 test stand, Aderholt's office said. The House voted on the bill Wednesday shortly before adjourning due to a winter storm hitting the area surrounding Washington. The measure now goes to the Senate for its consideration. (3/6)

Barbara Morgan for Idaho School Superintendent? (Source: Boise Weekly)
Outgoing Idaho Democratic Party Chairman Larry Grant suggested former Educator-Astronaut Barbara Morgan as a candidate for Idaho superintendent of public instruction. "But you can't print this until you talk to her," he said. "Barbara Morgan would be an amazing state school superintendent. She hasn't said 'no.' We haven't put any pressure on her, but we would love to recruit her."

The former McCall-area elementary school teacher, astronaut and current Boise State professor greeted the remarks with extended laughter. "That's funny," said Morgan. "I really can't tell you anything, but that's an interesting rumor... For many years, ever since I first got here, people have asked about that," she said. "But I've been asked about many other things, too." As a Boise State Distinguished Educator in Residence, she often works with different government agencies. "So I would like to stay nice and nonpartisan," she said. (3/6)

House Passes Interim Measure to Avert U.S. Government Shutdown (Source: Reuters)
The House of Representatives passed a bill in a 267-151 vote that would fund U.S. government programs through Sept. 30, to avoid a shutdown March 27. Some attendees of a dinner meeting between President Barack Obama and Senate Republican leaders are more optimistic that Democrats and Republicans can reach an agreement on the budget and debt. (3/6)

NASA Tech Effort Will Aid Deep-Space Work (Source:
A new technology office run by NASA should benefit future deep-space exploration, the space agency says, by supplying the innovation and research needed for such missions. The Space Technology Mission Directorate will collaborate with industry and academia on technologies needed to get astronauts into deep space. (3/6)

Iowa State Engineers Developing Asteroid Defense Ideas, Technologies (Source: Iowa State)
Bong Wie has heard the snickers. You want to protect the Earth from asteroids? Where were you when the dinosaurs needed you? You want to be like Bruce Willis in that asteroid movie? Wie has a serious reply: After five years of science and engineering work, Wie and his small team have a publication list of 40-plus technical papers, $600,000 of NASA research support and a proposal for a $500 million test launch of an asteroid intercept system.

Plus, Wie has just been invited to show off his research as part of NASA's Technology Day on the Hill in Washington, D.C., on April 17. “It’s not a laughing matter,” said Wie, the director of the Asteroid Deflection Research Center at Iowa State University and the Vance D. Coffman Faculty Chair and professor of aerospace engineering. (3/6)

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