April 16, 2013

The Exoplanet Naming Debate Heats Up (Source: Universe Today)
Following last Friday’s press release from the International Astronomical Union (IAU) concerning the naming of extrasolar planets, a heated debate has arisen over two separate but related issues. One is the “official” vs. “popular” names of astronomical objects (and the IAU’s jurisdiction over them) and the other is Uwingu’s intentions in their exoplanet naming contests.

Uwingu has always been upfront that the names chosen in their exoplanet naming contests were never meant to be “officially” recognized by the IAU, but instead are a way to engage the public and to create non-governmental funding for space research. The names won’t be officially approved by the IAU, but Alan Stern said they will be similar to the names given to features on Mars by the mission science teams that everyone ends up using. This also solves the problem of how to come up with names, a task that the IAU has yet to discuss.

Anyone who implies that Uwingu is like the ‘name a star’ scams, or that they are out to make money to line their own pockets is completely misreading Uwingu’s website and completely missing the point. “No one at Uwingu has ever been paid, we have all worked for free from the start,” Uwingu tweeted. Click here. (4/16)

United Launch Alliance Completes Major Human-Rating Milestones (Source: Flight Global)
United Launch Alliance (ULA) has completed major milestones for the Orion-capable Delta IV launch pad ahead of a planned launch in September 2014. The aerodynamic windtunnel testing is now complete and critical design review (CDR) finished for needed launch pad modifications.

"We just completed a windtunnel test of that configuration last week, a very solid, very aerodynamically friendly configuration," says George Sowers, ULA's vice president of business development and advanced systems. The Orion will be topped with an inert launch abort tower to test its aerodynamics and separation from the capsule. During a crewed launch, the armed tower would be ready to fire, rapidly ejecting the capsule away from the rocket in the event of an abort. (4/16)

Bechtel Partners with Planetary Resources for Space Initiative (Source: Planetary Resources)
Bechtel has joined Planetary Resources' core group of investors and will be a collaborative partner in helping Planetary Resources achieve its long-term mission, which is to mine near-Earth asteroids for raw materials, ranging from elements used in rocket fuel to precious metals, through the development of innovative and cost-effective robotic exploration technologies. 

Currently, Planetary Resources has multiple contracts to develop miniaturized and responsive technologies with far-reaching applications to space assessment, accessibility and resource recovery. “As we pursue our vision to expand the resource base beyond Earth; we’re extremely excited to announce this partnership with Bechtel. They are a world leader in the engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) industry,” said Dr. Peter H. Diamandis, Co-Founder and Co-Chairman, Planetary Resources, Inc.

“Planetary Resources’ mission is ambitious, but they’ve assembled a world-class team to succeed,” said Riley Bechtel, Bechtel Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. “Our companies share a common vision to continually innovate and push boundaries, all aimed at contributing to a better quality of life." (4/16)

The Incredible Shrinking CCDEV (Source: Citizens in Space)
NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Development (CCDev) program keeps getting smaller all the time. Last June, Congress forced a “compromise” on NASA, which was more like a surrender. Under this “compromise,” NASA was forced to reduce the number of companies in the CCDev competition from five to three. The third company (Sierra Nevada) received a much smaller amount of funding than the primary competitors (SpaceX and Boeing), so the current field is often referred to as “two-and-a-half competitors.”

Now, it appears the field is about to shrink further. At a hearing on March 20, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told Congress, “We intend to put a request for proposal on the street this summer and you will probably get a downselect.” The losers will be kept hanging for a while, however. “You won’t see the selection announced until the middle of next year, 2014,” Bolden said. The downselect is being driven by Congressional budgets. Congress has not allocated anything close to the full amount requested by the Administration for CCDev, preferring to pour money into the Orion capsule and Space Launch System instead. (4/16)

Editorial: Funding for NASA is Not a Gamble (Source: Daily Press)
Perhaps in a century and a half or so, there really will be a James T. Kirk — and an Enterprise. Based on NASA's sky's-the-limit philosophy when considering the universe, it's certainly possible. NASA's administrator, former astronaut Charles F. Bolden, Jr. is confident when he says the agency leads the world in space exploration. He says NASA's mission is, in part, to better explore farther than we have ever gone before. Sound familiar?

We're already exploring beyond the moon. Fueled by our innate "Curiosity," a one-ton man-made device that landed on Mars less than a year ago is still exploring the planet's surface. Last year on these pages we suggested that funding such exploration a wise, big-picture investment. The next question is: Should we go farther and spend more?

It's not as though we, as a nation or as individuals, have money to burn. After all, in earth money — sequester money — spending $2.5 billion to travel 352 million miles for a red planet excursion works out to a bit more than $7.10 a mile. Hardly a hybrid vehicle. But space money is different; over time, the return on investment is much better than $7 per mile. There are decades of examples. (4/16)

U.S. Air Force Says Space Fence Program Safe For Now (Source: Reuters)
The U.S. Air Force on Monday said it took steps to fully fund the first increment of a new ground-based radar to track satellites and other objects in space in its fiscal 2104 budget proposal, but there was no funding for a second site for now. Jamie Morin, acting undersecretary of the Air Force, told reporters the Space Fence program was a priority given growing threats in space and the need to monitor activities in space.

"Space Fence is as solid as any program can be in the fiscal environment we're in right now," Morin, who also serves as the Air Force's top budget official, told reporters. The new program will allow the Air Force to sharply increase its ability to track "space junk" and other smaller objects in space. Currently the Air Force tracks about 23,000 of an estimated 500,000 objects in space, but the new program would allow it to track hundreds of thousands of additional objects. (4/15)

Chinese Former NASA Contractor to be Held Until Trial (Source: WAVY)
A former NASA contractor accused of lying to federal agents will remain behind bars until his trial date. According to court documents, Bo Jiang will remain in custody until his trial. On March 28, Jiang appeared in court for a detention hearing and was granted a $10,000 bond by Judge Lawrence Leonard. After an appeal by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the decision was reversed and Jiang was ordered to be detained until the trial. Jiang is accused of failing to disclose all electronics he took with him on a one-way flight to China. He worked as a contractor at NASA-Langley for the National Institute of Aerospace until January. (4/16)

Sarah Brightman Looks Forward to Singing in Space (Source: CBC)
British singer Sarah Brightman has long been fascinated with space and the news that she will travel to the International Space Station fulfills a lifelong dream. The soprano who sang I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper in 1978 and is known for performing as Christine in The Phantom of the Opera announced last year she would travel to the International Space Station. (4/16)

Crowdfunding Space (Source: Space Review)
Within the last year a number of cutting-edge space projects have gotten their start through a new funding concept called crowdfunding. Jeff Foust examines the benefits and drawbacks of using crowdfunding to support space projects, and the prospects for true crowdsourced investment in space companies. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2279/1 to view the article. (4/15)

Human Epace Exploration: Why Godot Isn't coming, But Golden Spike Is (Source: Space Review)
People have been waiting for decades for a human return to the Moon in the classic Apollo paradigm, without success. Alan Stern and Homer Hickam argue that it's time to embrace a commercial approach for human space exploration. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2278/1 to view the article. (4/15)

Piecing Together the Chelyabinsk Event (Source: Space Review)
Two months ago, a meteor exploded high above the Russian city of Chelyabinsk, causing damage and injuring more than a thousand people. Jeff Foust reports on the latest insights into exactly what happened that day and its implications for looking for and understanding the threats posed by near Earth objects. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2277/1 to view the article. (4/15)

Proton Launches Canadian Satellite (Source: SpaceToday.net)
A Proton launch successfully launched a communications satellite for a Canadian company on Tuesday. The Proton M lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan carrying the Anik G1 satellite. The rocket's Breeze M upper stage released the satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit nine hours and 13 minutes after liftoff. The launch was the second in less than a month for the Proton. (4/16)

FAA Shares Environmental Impact Report for Texas Spaceport Site (Source: Brownsville Herald)
An ongoing environmental review so far has found that “no impacts would occur” that would force the Federal Aviation Administration to deny SpaceX a permit for rocket operations near Brownsville. The FAA’s 350-page draft environmental impact statement on the proposed SpaceX project at Boca Chica beach was released to the public Monday, a little more than year after officials announced that Cameron County could land a commercial launch site.

After the review is finalized, likely after a May public hearing, the FAA could issue a permit to SpaceX, known also as Space Exploration Technologies, to launch rockets from the site near Boca Chica beach. Although SpaceX has not decided where it will build its launch site, the South Texas location is one of four locations under consideration, with other contenders in Florida, Georgia and Puerto Rico. However, SpaceX founder and billionaire Elon Musk has said numerous times that Texas is the leading candidate for the proposed venture.

The EIS draft reviewed 11 resource areas for potential environmental impacts that could result from the proposed construction and operations there. The FAA looked at compatible land use; properties; noise; visual resources and light emissions; historical, architectural, archaeological and cultural resources; air quality; water resources; biological resources including fish, wildlife and plants; hazardous materials; socioeconomics; natural resources; and secondary impacts. Click here. (4/16)

Is the Space Tourism Industry Ready for Lift Off? (Source: Global News)
In the middle of the desert at the Mojave Air and Space Port, there is a race underway: a race to build a spaceship that will take tourists into space. Two spaceships are leading the pack, Virgin Galactic’s ‘SpaceShip 2’ and XCOR Aerospace’s ‘Lynx’. “What we want to do is open up space flight to humanity. And so what that means is making the wondrous experience of spaceflight available to you and me,” says Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides.

Jeff Greason, co-founder of XCOR Aerospace, agrees. “We could enter a phase of human history like what happened before with the opening of the New World.” Although there is no official launch date, both companies believe that they’re close to taking off. Test flights are expected to start in late 2013 and commercial flights in 2014. Each company offers a different experience. Click here. (4/16)

South Georgia Needs Space Industry (Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
I grew up in Tifton and Brunswick and have family in Waycross, Moultrie, and Savannah. I drive through that part of the state and see small towns dying. The proposed spaceport in Camden County is the best opportunity to help South Georgia’s economy. We should do whatever it takes to make it a reality.

When NASA was looking for a location to launch rockets in the early 1960s, a group of Georgia businessmen promoted southeast Georgia as a potential site. Their proposal ran a close second to sites in Florida. After a great deal of discussion, visits and evaluation, NASA decided to locate its facility at Cape Canaveral.

Prior to that selection, eastern central Florida was very empty with only 17,000 people. Since then, the Kennedy Space Center has grown to become the world’s leading space launch facility, a tourist attraction that helped spur the population’s growth to 700,000. Imagine if NASA had chosen southeast Georgia instead. (4/16)

NASA Marks Third Anniversary of Obama Support of Space at KSC (Source: NASA)
NASA marked the third anniversary Monday of President Obama's speech at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where he laid out a plan to ensure the U.S. will remain the world's leader in space exploration. The plan includes reaching new destinations, such as an asteroid by 2025 and Mars in the 2030s, using NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the Orion spacecraft. During an anniversary event at KSC's Operations and Checkout Building, where Orion spacecraft is being processed for a 2014 flight test, KSC Director Robert Cabana and human spaceflight officials showcased Orion's crew module.
"Three years ago today, the president was here in an empty high bay challenging us to go to an asteroid by 2025, said Cabana. "Today, this is a world-class production facility with a flight article, a flight vehicle, Orion, getting ready to fly next year. We've made tremendous progress in our transition to the future. And now with the announcement from the budget rollout last week about our plans to retrieve an asteroid and send a crew to it, we're moving forward to meet the president's challenge."

Following the president's 2010 visit to KSC, Congress passed the bipartisan NASA Authorization Act of 2010. The agency continues to implement the ambitious national space exploration plan outlined in the act. It will enable scientific discovery and technological developments for years to come and make critical advances in aerospace and aeronautics to benefit the American people. (4/15)

Mikulski Will Support Asteroid Initiative, Not Sure About Orion (Source: Space Policy Online)
Speaking to the Maryland Space Business Roundtable today, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said that she will support President Obama's new asteroid retrieval initiative, but expressed concern about the request for the Orion spacecraft and planetary exploration.

Applauding the FY2014 request of $17.7 billion for NASA overall, which she said was a "$200 million increase over last year ...we're going to keep that," she went on to note the President's proposal to capture an asteroid and said "we support him on that."  She quickly added, however, that she is concerned about the proposed cut to Orion and stressed the reality that, with Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) as vice chairman of the full committee, it was not politically possible to cut that program.

Throughout her talk she praised Shelby for working with her in a bipartisan manner to get the final FY2013 Continuing Resolution (CR) passed and their effective working relationship over many years. Semi-seriously, she said she always asks three questions about budget requests: "what do we need to do for the nation, what do we need to do for Maryland, and ... what did you say we were going to do for Maryland? (4/15)

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