April 11, 2013

NASA, Air Force Seek Next Generation Space Processor Program (Source: NASA)
NASA and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory are requesting research and development proposals to define the type of spacecraft computing needed for future missions. Through a broad agency announcement, the Air Force Next Generation Space Processor Analysis Program is seeking two to four companies to perform a yearlong evaluation of advanced space based applications that would use spaceflight processors for the 2020-2030 time frame. (4/11)

Boeing Space 'Healthy' Amid Flat Military Spending (Source: Aviation Week)
Boeing’s space business is in a “relatively healthy position” despite a flattening of the military space budget, says Roger Krone, president of Boeing Network and Space Systems. This is partly due to the company’s strong commercial business. The space sector has the luxury of balancing fluctuations between its military and commercial customers much as Boeing corporate does with its aircraft business, which is divided between military and commercial customers. (4/11)

Orbital Sees Cygnus As Hosted Payload Platform (Source: Aviation Week)
Orbital Sciences Corp. believes it can sell space on the commercial cargo vehicle it has developed with NASA seed money as an orbiting laboratory once it is unloaded and unberthed from the International Space Station. The Orbital Sciences Antares medium-lift launch vehicle set for its inaugural flight next week won’t carry the Cygnus capsule developed to deliver cargo to the ISS, but the instrumented mass simulator it is set to place in orbit will remain there for several months before re-entering the atmosphere.

So will future full-up Cygnus vehicles, which will be outfitted to support both the cargo they carry for the space station and any hosted payloads Orbital can find. The company already has a contract with NASA’s Glenn Research Center to conduct a combustion experiment on an emptied Cygnus once Orbital begins flying out its $1.9 billion, eight-mission Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

Orbital hopes to use the Cygnus to create a market once filled by the Get Away Special (GAS) canisters in the space shuttle payload bay. The so-called GAS cans carried a variety of stand-alone space experiments that were jettisoned once the payload bay doors were opened, giving researchers a way to expose experiments to the space environment. (4/11)

National Space Society Applauds NASA Asteroid Plan (Source: NSS)
The National Space Society applauds the new NASA budget item that would provide close to $100 million for a mission to rendezvous with a small asteroid and move it into orbit around the Moon where it could later be visited by astronauts. "An asteroid capture mission is a tremendously important mission, and one that could not be more relevant to the challenges our civilization faces today," said NSS Chairman Mark Hopkins.

Notes NSS Executive Vice President Paul Werbos, "Even small asteroids contain tremendous wealth-precious metals, rare strategic metals important for sustainable development, raw materials for in-space construction, and volatiles for life support and propulsion in space."
 
This mission is an important precursor to enable private industry to access such resources for the benefit of all mankind and return wealth to our world economy. One medium sized  asteroid, 3554 Anum, is estimated to contain $20 trillion of platinum group metals. Robotic asteroid capture is also a key step toward an effective planetary defense. Editor's Note: Here's an infographic. (4/11)

NASA Touts Plan to Grab Asteroid as 'Unprecedented Technological Feat' (Source: NBC)
NASA says it will begin work on an ambitious mission to capture a near-Earth asteroid and bring it to a stable orbit in the Earth-moon system as part of the agency's overall $17.7 billion agenda for the coming year. "This mission represents an unprecedented technological feat that will lead to new scientific discoveries and technological capabilities and help protect our home planet," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement accompanying the budget request.

Planning documents suggest that the space agency would launch a probe powered by a next-generation solar electric propulsion system sometime around 2017, to rendezvous with a 7- to 10-meter-wide (25- to 33-foot-wide) asteroid around 2019. A collapsible shroud would be wrapped around the asteroid, and then the probe would pull the space rock to a stable point in high lunar orbit or at a gravitational balance point beyond the far side of the moon.

Officials familiar with the plan told NBC News that NASA was already beginning the work to identify a candidate asteroid. The 2014 budget includes $78 million for planning the mission, and $27 million to accelerate NASA's efforts to detect and characterize potentially hazardous asteroids. NASA's chief financial officer, Elizabeth Robinson, indicated that this spending would come in addition to the $20 million that the space agency currently spends annually on asteroid detection. (4/11)

Base Closings, Attrition to Cut up to 50,000 DOD Jobs (Source: Reuters)
The Pentagon expects to trim its civilian workforce by 40,000 to 50,000 people, primarily through attrition, Undersecretary of Defense Robert Hale said this week. The job cuts will take place over the next five years if lawmakers approve the Pentagon's plan, which involves consolidating health care operations and closing bases. (4/10)

FAA Budget Includes Spending Boost for NextGen (Source: Aviation Week)
The Federal Aviation Administration budget for fiscal 2014 of $15.6 billion represents a drop of $351 million from the 2012 fiscal year's budget. For 2014, the FAA plans to spend $928 million on NextGen initiatives, a 7% increase from the fiscal 2012 budget. (4/10)

SpaceX, USAF Launch Talks Nearly Complete (Source: Aviation Week)
SpaceX is nearly finished negotiating the details of its first two contracts providing launch services to the U.S. Air Force. Talks for its Falcon 9 v1.1 launch of NASA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory (Dscovr) satellite and a Falcon Heavy flight lofting the Air Force’s Space Test Program (STP-2) satellite should be wrapped up by the end of the month, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said. Dscovr is slated to boost in November 2014, with STP-2 to follow in September 2015.

Each of these flights will be one of three successful missions required for SpaceX to gain certification from the U.S. Air Force to boost future national security payloads. Both vehicles will rely on the yet-to-be-proven Merlin 1D. The Air Force has already set aside roughly $100 million for the Dscovr mission and another $162 million was being eyed for the STP-2 mission when Space X won the contracts in December. These missions are the first two Air Force-funded activities for the company as it works to compete against the ULA monopoly operating the Atlas V and Delta IV vehicles for the Pentagon. (4/10)

Space Florida Continues OPF Conversion for Boeing (Source: Space Florida)
Space Florida has completed Phase 1 of its efforts to transform the former Orbiter Processing Facility 3 (OPF-3) at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) into a modern and commercially friendly aerospace facility, now referred to as the Commercial Crew & Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF). This time-lapse video shows removal of the legacy Space Shuttle works stands from the C3PF High Bay to make room for a flexible and efficient clean-floor layout. Click here for a video. (4/10)

Reducing Launch Costs (Source: Space News)
Central to the process of reducing space mission cost is finding ways to dramatically reduce the cost of launch, particularly for small satellites. While launch is typically not the highest cost element of a space mission, it drives the other costs. So long as it costs on the order of $20,000 per kilogram to put stuff into orbit, the cost per kilogram of spacecraft will remain high. It is difficult to justify building spacecraft for “only” a few million dollars if the minimum cost for a dedicated launch to orbit is $30 million or more. Click here. (4/11)

Congress Frets About How Much It'd Cost To Save Earth From a City-Killer Asteroid (Source: CNS)
The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology shied away Wednesday from pledging tax money to track down and deflect "city-killer" asteroids, but called for international and private help during a hearing on giant space rocks. "Congratulations," Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-CA, told B612 Foundation CEO Dr. Ed Lu, whose organization has been raising money to build a space-based telescope system that will orbit the sun, tracking city-killer asteroids that aren't detectable by NASA and Earth-bound amateur astronomers. (4/11)

Sun Erupts With Huge Flare (Source: Discovery)
The sun has unleashed the biggest solar flare of the year, quickly followed by an Earth-directed coronal mass ejection (CME). Both phenomena have the potential to impact communications and electronics on Earth and in orbit. Although the sun is currently experiencing “solar maximum” — the culmination of its approximate 11-year cycle — scientists have noted that this particular maximum is a lot quieter than predicted. At this time, the sun should be bubbling with violent active regions, exhibiting sunspots, popping off flares and ejecting CMEs. But so far, the sun seems to be taking it relatively easy.

That was before today, however. This morning (at 0716 UT), active region (AR) 1719 erupted with an M-class flare. With a rating of M6.5, this event is the most energetic flare of 2013 (although it’s a lot less impressive than 2012′s X-class fireworks). What’s more, the site of the explosion unleashed a CME in our direction. (4/11)

Twist in Dark Matter Tale Hints at Shadow Milky Way (Source: New Scientist)
The hunt for some of the most wanted stuff in the universe took a new twist this week with the first results from a high-profile, space-based dark matter detector. The results are inconclusive, but, if combined with recent theory, they hint at something exciting. Could the universe have a dark side, complete with its own force, a zoo of particles and even a shadow version of the Milky Way?

"There could be a mirror world where interesting things are going on," says James Bullock of the University of California at Irvine, who has been working on the idea of a "dark sector" for a while. "It means nature is much richer than we would otherwise know," he says. The dark sector could help explain why we've failed to detect dark matter on Earth so far, but it would also demand a radical shift in our understanding of the stuff. (4/11)

KSC to Benefit from Obama's Proposed NASA Budget (Source: Florida Today)
President Obama’s proposed 2014 NASA budget includes almost $2.3 billion for Kennedy Space Center, enough to keep pace with planned milestones toward the next-generation of U.S. human spaceflight, agency officials said Wednesday. KSC Director Robert Cabana said the money would enable NASA to continue transforming the launch base into a multi-user spaceport – a home for NASA, commercial companies and other federal agencies.

The budget also calls for $99.2 million for repairs and modifications to the VAB and the Launch Control Center, among other complex 39 facilities; $39 million for the first phase of a new Central Campus that would replace the current KSC Industrial Area administrative office facilities (saving $6 million a year in operations costs when completed); and $14.9 million to upgrade environmental control systems in the Launch Complex 39 area to support new Space Launch System rockets. (4/11)

PWR Moving Ahead On F-1 Resurrection (Source: Aviation Week)
Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne is working toward a full-scale turbomachinery test next year of the F-1B kerosene fueled rocket engine it is developing with Dynetics as a potential power plant for the advanced side-mounted boosters NASA will need to meet the 130-metric-ton congressional requirement for its planned Space Launch System.

The company displayed a vintage F-1 gas generator and turbomachinery unit at the National Space Symposium here. The flight hardware, left over from the Saturn V program, dwarfed other full-scale rocket engines the company had on display in its exhibition-hall booth. The company has two more F-1A engines that it is using for its NASA work.

“We’ve torn them down and inspected them to see how they look,” said Main combustion chamber development lead Tom Martin. “We’re refurbishing those. We’re taking some of the components and using modern processes to replicate that hardware.” Click here. (4/9)

Why You Better Not Cry in Space (Source: NBC)
Is there anything Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield can't do? He's the commander of the International Space Station, a guitar-strumming space troubadour, a prolific orbital photographer and a frequent commentator about life in space. Hadfield seems to do it all, but apparently there's at least one thing he can't do — namely, shed a tear in zero gravity. Hadfield demonstrated why there's no crying in space last week, in an instructional video from the space station. He squirted water from a bottle into his eye, and then showed how the liquid just kept piling up on his face. (4/11)

Fewer Russians Consider Their Country Space Leader (Source: RIA Novosti)
The share of Russians who consider their country the leader in space exploration has fallen by about a third to 35 percent in 2013 from 51 percent two years ago, but has only changed slightly since last year, according to an opinion survey. Thirty-six percent of those polled said Russia was the leading space power in 2012, in line with the survey by independent pollster Levada Center published Tuesday.

According to the 2013 opinion poll results, the United States was in second place: it was named the top space explorer by 31 percent of respondents, China came third (nine percent) and the European Union fourth (six percent). The viewpoint that Russia is the space leader was most often voiced by unemployed people (46 percent), pensioners and housewives (39 percent each), and men (37 percent), the pollster said. A half of respondents said Russia should expand its space exploration programs, five percent said they should be cut and 38 percent said nothing should be changed. (4/11)

Nobody Wants to Cough Up Cash for the Next Trip to the Moon (Source: Motherboard)
Well, this is inconvenient. Golden Spike, the private space exploration startup that announced plans for a mostly crowdfunded trip to the moon a few months ago, is having a hard time motivating the crowd to fund said trip. The company let out an audible gasp on Tuesday when it realized that the IndieGoGo campaign it launched to raise $240,000—"$1 for each mile from the Earth to the Moon"—wasn't going so well.

With 16 days left before the deadline, they'd only raised $9,400, so Golden Spike CEO Alan Stern made an appeal in a column on Space.com not only talking up the moon project but the power of crowdfunding in general. Despite the press, the IndieGoGo campaign had only raised an additional $277 a day later. This is especially inconvenient, because as many people pointed out when Golden Spike announced its launch last December, the company's $1.4 billion budget seemed way too little dough to send a ship to the moon.

Why doesn't anybody want to give Golden Spike money to go to the moon? The mission itself is noble. After it had already cancelled the moon-bound Constellation mission, NASA said very plainly that it wasn't planning another moon trip last week. "NASA will not take the lead on a human lunar mission," said the agency's chief Charles Bolden last week. "NASA is not going to the moon with a human as a primary project probably in my lifetime. And the reason is, we can only do so many things." (4/11)

NASA Glenn Gets Money and a Key Role in the Obama Budget (Source: WKSU)
Not even a decade ago, the NASA Glenn center near the Cleveland Hopkins airport was in a lot of trouble. NASA was seriously considering shutting down the smallest of its centers. But the budget President Obama released Wednesday morning sets Glenn’s share at nearly $700 million and makes in a key part of a solar propulsion project that would be used to wrangle asteroids into the moon’s orbit – and could be a major step toward deep-space exploration. (4/11)

Curacao Space Flights Seem To Be Uncertain (Source: Curacao Chronicle)
Michiel Mol, CEO of Space Expedition Corporation, is unsure whether Hato Airport will be available for space tourism flights. This was reported by the ANP news agency. The current policymakers in Cura├žao are afraid that the project is too costly, level of noise too high and bad for the environment. The intention is that this year the first test flights will be carried out with the spaceship Space Expedition Corp., which is currently being built. If everything works properly, the first commercial flight will start at the end of 2014. (4/10)

Despite Cuts, NASA has Big Plans for Exploration and IT (Source: FCW)
President Obama's 2014 budget proposal shaves $50 million from NASA's discretionary budget and $27 million from the space agency's total IT budget compared to 2012 numbers. Yet agency officials said it was enough money to ensure the U.S. continues to be the world's leader in space exploration and scientific discovery. Overall, NASA's requested $17.7 billion budget is a 0.3 percent decrease from pre-continuing resolution figures in 2012. The agency would receive about $1.44 billion in total IT investment, or a two percent decline from two years ago.

Yet topline numbers can be misleading, as NASA's Agency Information Technology Services (AITS) program would actually get a $10 million boost in funding, up to $168 million. AITS provides the space agency a slew of IT services, including IT security policy, application management, incident monitoring, web services for the agency's 1,600 websites, end-user services and enterprise business applications. It is also charged with supporting data center consolidation and NASA's "Green IT" efforts. The extra cash for AITS allows NASA to move forward on several key IT initiatives over the next year. (4/11)

Virginia Senator Eyes Progress on Wallops Launch (Source: DelMarVaNow)
Last week Virginia Senator Tim Kaine visited the NASA Wallops Flight Facility to see its latest rocket scheduled to launch into orbit April 17. Thursday’s two-hour tour began at Wallops’ horizontal integration facility, where the space vehicle Antares was housed before it was erected onto its launch pad early Saturday morning. Privately manufactured by Orbital Sciences Corp., the Antares will be used to transport supplies to the International Space Station.

“It’s always better to have the picture in the mind’s eye when you’re trying to lobby or advocate for something, so this helps,” he said. Kaine’s brief visit to Wallops was his first time back on the Eastern Shore since his U.S. Senate campaign ended in November. (4/11)

Commercial Space Companies Call Colorado Home (Source: KOAA)
When America returns to using its own rockets to send astronauts into space, there is a good chance those vehicles will be designed and even built here in Colorado. The retiring of the Space Shuttle Program alone has sparked a boom in commercial space innovation by requiring private companies to compete for NASA contracts to carry astronaut to the International Space Station via the Commercial Crew Program. "There's a whole revolution going on now," explained Tom Clark, president of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation a member of the Colorado Space Coalition. (4/11)

No Major Budget Cuts for Marshall Space Flight Center (Source: WZDX)
President Obama's FY2014 proposed budget will not force any program cuts at Marshall Space Flight Center according to Director Patrick Scheuermann. The President's budget allocates $17.7 billion for NASA, that number is about 3% lower than the 2012 budget. Marshall Space Flight Center will receive $2.18 billion. Scheuermann says that is enough to continue Marshall programs such as the Space Launch System and Orion as well as a new program to identify, capture, and relocate an asteroid.

"From a human standpoint, the only way to get the humans to the asteroid, no matter where it comes to, will be on the SLS which means great news for Marshall Space Flight Center," says Scheuermann. Considering the lean financial times the country is facing, he views this budget as a strong one. (4/11)

Editorial: At Long Last, Is the International Space Station Worth It? (Source: America Space)
Taxpayers have sunk $100 billion into the orbiting laboratory. The cost factor has come with criticism. The ISS took a long time—13 years—to construct. Its last module, the Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM), was delivered to the station on Space Shuttle Discovery’s last flight, STS-133, in early 2011. Russia may add other modules in the future. The Centrifuge Accommodations Module, which would have provided for experiments in artificial gravity, was canceled in 2005 due to prohibitively high costs.

This was also the fate, although it was later revived, of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-02 (AMS-02), which is currently affixed to the space station’s truss assembly. As the United States’ economy experienced problems, the space program was scaled back. ...While some have argued that some of the experiments could possibly be replicated on, say, a “vomit comet” aircraft, there are experiments and discoveries that have taken place on the ISS not replicable within the bonds of Earth. Most of these discoveries have taken place recently—within the last five years.

While the ISS has been a magnet for criticism due to its lack of published science thus far, long building time, high costs, and need for continued maintenance, its $100 billion worth may be proven in the next few years, as it continues to shed light on Earth’s environmental and health problems while yielding discoveries about living and working in space. The ISS’ story is still being written. Hopefully, some of these lessons will be learned if the U.S. does head to an asteroid, the Moon (again), or Mars, and decides to build infrastructure on or near other worlds. (4/11)

Hints of a Bigger Deal Between Bigelow and NASA (Source: Las Vegas City Life)
Ever see an agreement signed by the U.S. government that declares a specific goal “to extend and sustain human activities across the solar system?” Me, either. Yet that is essence of an adventurous deal already reached between NASA and Las Vegas space entrepreneur Robert Bigelow. An official announcement is still a few days away and will likely happen during a news conference at NASA headquarters.

In the meantime, I have a draft copy of what could be an historic contract, one that reads like a Kubrick screenplay or an Arthur C. Clarke story. It is flat-out otherworldly. Back in January, NASA bigwigs came to Bigelow’s main plant to announce a landmark deal that calls for one of Bigelow’s modules to be attached to the International Space Station (ISS). What few knew at the time was that he was secretly negotiating an even bigger deal with NASA, one that represents a fundamental, across-the-board change in our approach to space. (4/11)

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