April 25, 2013

Spaceport America Board Approves Contract, Discusses Progress (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
Virgin Galactic is making testing strides on the spaceship that will carry tourists to suborbital space from Spaceport America and is expected to apply soon for a needed permit, a company official said Wednesday. Also at the meeting, state spaceport officials awarded a contract to a Las Cruces company for the interior, fit-out construction at the spaceport's operations building. The New Mexico Spaceport Authority board, too, heard updates about a southern road to the site and the agency's visitor-center plans.

As of Tuesday, Virgin Galactic had carried out 17 "captive-carry" flights of SpaceShipTwo, where the vehicle is aboard its carrier plane but not released, and 26 "release-and-glide" flights, in which it's taken aloft and dropped. It lands like a large glider. "We're getting much closer to the point where we'll be able to do powered flight," said Bruce Jackson, Virgin Galactic vice president for Trade Controls & Export Strategy. A test done April 12 was "kind of the last real test before powered flight." (4/25)

Harpoons, Robots, Lasers, & Nets Could Curb Orbital Debris (Source: Huffington Post)
Nets, harpoons and suicide robots could become weapons of choice to hunt down the space junk threatening crucial communications satellites currently in orbit round Earth, scientists said Thursday. Even lasers that act like "Star Trek" tractor beams were among the proposals put forward to protect some $100 billion worth of satellites from man-made cosmic garbage.

"Whatever we do is going to be an expensive solution," Heiner Klinkrad, a space debris expert at the European Space Agency, said at the end of an international conference on space debris in Darmstadt, Germany. "But one has to compare the costs of what we are investing to solve the problem as compared to losing the infrastructure that we have in orbit." (4/25)

15-Year-Old May Be on Her Way to Mars (Source: Mashable)
It was nothing short of fate when Abigail Harrison spotted her hero, astronaut Luca Parmitano, in an airport security line. At just 15 years old, Harrison knows what she wants to do with her life: become the first astronaut on Mars in 2030. And the ever-so-keen Harrison — a well-spoken Minnesota high school student who has a confidence that doesn't come naturally to most teenagers — knew picking Parmitano's brain would bring her one step closer.

"He had an hour before flight, and we talked for the whole time," she tells Mashable. "He was really interested in my dream and wanted to stay in touch." Parmitano lived up to his promise, and now the two are undertaking an unprecedented project. When Parmitano travels to the International Space Station on board a Russian Soyuz spacecraft this May, Harrison will serve as his Earth-based liaison.

Each day, Parmitano will correspond via email with Harrison, who will in turn distribute his photos, video and research to the world on her blog. Their hope is to continue the buzz that Twitter's favorite astronaut Chris Hadfield, who returns to Earth in May, has generated while on the ISS. "Commander Hadfield has done such amazing job of getting the public interested in the ISS, and we don't want that to go away when he comes back down," she says. "Luca is going to carry on the flag." (4/25)

Competition Comes to the Celestial Trucking Business (Source: Economist)
On May 25, 2012 SpaceX made the first privately run supply mission to the International Space Station (ISS). It was a vindication of NASA’s decision to outsource such missions to the private sector. Still, purists could argue that something was missing: a proper market has competition, but SpaceX was the only firm capable of doing it. That may be about to change.

On April 21, at NASA’s Wallops flight center in Virginia, another rocket built by another firm—-Virginia-based Orbital Sciences-—lifted off from the pad. A few minutes after the launch the Antares rocket was safely in orbit, prompting cheers and sighs of relief on the ground. It is an important step: if everything continues to go well, then a Cygnus test flight may take place in a few months’ time, and Orbital’s first ISS resupply mission could happen before the end of the year.

The firm has a $1.9 billion contract with NASA to fly eight cargo missions to the station. That makes it pricier than SpaceX, which will fly 12 missions (two of which it has already completed) for $1.6 billion. But the competition ought to be a good thing for both companies. Click here. (4/25)

Shelby Doubts NASA's Commitment to Big New Rocket (Source: Huntsville Times)
U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) signaled another spending fight with the White House today during a hearing on NASA's proposed 2014 budget. Shelby said he has "serious doubts about NASA's dedication to truly developing a heavy launch capability." The administration's budget request does not reflect a real commitment to the new rocket known as the Space Launch System (SLS) being developed in Huntsville, Shelby said. "Instead, it shows cuts to SLS vehicle development as far as the eye can see."

Shelby's comments came in his opening statement to the Senate Appropriations Committee's NASA subcommittee as it began discussion of NASA's FY 2014 budget request. President Obama is asking for $17.7 billion for NASA next year including $821 million for commercial space flight and roughly $1.3 billion for SLS work at Marshall. NASA's Charles Bolden has said the commercial space amount is critical to meet the administration's goal of having commercial carriers ferrying cargo and astronauts to the International Space Station by 2017.

"NASA has no ability to keep the projects on budget or on schedule," Shelby said of the commercial work, because of the Space Act Agreements it is using to fund them. He said President Obama has invested $1.5 billion in private space companies with "no idea how much money these companies are investing themselves." Click here. (4/25)

Against-The-Clock Rehearsal for Space Immunology Test (Source: ESA)
Simply getting anything into space is tough, but doing so against a strict deadline can be really stressful. Researchers in an ESA laboratory nervously checked the clock as they extracted immune cells – beginning a full dress rehearsal to prepare a time-critical experiment for launch. An international team led by a NASA astronaut gathered at ESA’s Life and Physical Sciences and Life Support Laboratory in the Netherlands earlier this month.

There they rehearsed preparing their payload for flight to the International Space Station by Dragon capsule this November. The experiment involves activating T-cells – central to the human immune response – in microgravity to test how their behaviour changes. Previous research has shown that suppressed immune systems of astronauts in orbit come about largely due to weightlessness. Click here. (4/25)

When Typhoid (Briefly) Struck Apollo 16 (Source: Universe Today)
Astronaut pranks are, well, just a part of the job. Often they poke at a sore spot in the astronaut’s history, and Charles Duke found himself the subject of a particularly painful one in the 1970s. Duke was in the final moments of preparations before climbing into the Apollo 16 spacecraft, which was exploring the Moon in this week in 1972. It was a serious moment as Duke and his crew were about to rocket off to the moon. Then Duke got a surprise, courtesy of backup commander Fred Haise, as Duke recalled in an interview with NASA in 1999. Click here. (4/25)

What’s Your Major? Drones. (Source: WBUR)
Colleges are creating unmanned aircraft programs to meet the demand of the growing drone industry. A recent study says the industry could create 70,000 jobs in the next decade. A recent study estimates the drone industry in the U.S. could create 70,000 jobs and generate $13 billion in economic activity in the coming decade. Industry experts are expecting the demand for drones, sometimes called unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), to explode.

American colleges and universities are trying to fill that demand. Nearly 100 schools have applied for permission from the FAA to operate drones. Some schools [including Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University] already have programs in operation...

“The real roadblock there is integrating the drones into commercial airspace,” Polovits said. “The FAA is currently looking into building six test sites where they would study how to do that. But the technology is there.” There has been some push back from states who are nervous about the use of drones. So far, 37 states have introduced legislation placing limits on the use of drones. Florida is poised to pass a law that would require the police to get a warrant before using drones for surveillance. Click here. (4/24)

Florida Tech Presents Northrop Grumman May 1: Leading the Next Generation into Space (Source: Florida Tech)
A delegation from Northrop Grumman’s Aerospace Systems sector will present an overview of the company’s space technology portfolio, including programs like the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) that are leading the next generation into space, Wednesday, May 1, 7-8:30 p.m., at the Gleason Performing Arts Center. Among the speakers is Florida Tech alumnus Jeff Grant, sector vice president and general manager of Space Systems. The public is welcome to attend this free event, which includes a panel discussion and Q&A session. Light refreshments will be served. (4/25)

French Trade Group Comes to the Defense of Arianespace Status Quo (Source: Space News)
The French aerospace industries association, GIFAS, on April 23 disputed a French government audit that cited inefficiencies in the way Europe’s Ariane rockets are built, saying Europe’s French-led rocket industry is possibly the most cost-effective in the world despite its organizational disadvantages. GIFAS President Jean-Paul Herteman, who is also chief executive of aeronautical and rocket-engine builder Safran, also criticized the French Accounting Court’s assessment of the Ariane 5 heavy-lift rocket.

In its assessment, the Court said Ariane 5 is little used by European governments, who financed its development, and has become a vehicle whose main beneficiaries are commercial satellite operators around the world. That view has been echoed by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the French space agency, CNES, to justify development of an Ariane 5 successor, called Ariane 6, that would be smaller than Ariane 5 and focus on launching one satellite at a time. Ariane 5 typically carries two telecommunications satellites on each mission. (4/25)

U.S. Officials Update House Panel on Export Control Reform (Source: Space News)
U.S. government agencies are making significant progress in their ongoing campaign to streamline rules governing exports, but significant work remains in the effort to create a unified list of items vital to national security and a single agency with authority to oversee the export control process, a panel of witnesses said April 24 during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing.

“The Department of Defense strongly supports continued reform and efforts to establish a single control list and a single agency,” said James Hursch, director of the Pentagon’s Defense Technology Security Administration. “Our national security will not be served if we stop half way.” (4/25)

Let's Honor Robert Heinlein by Naming Closest Expoplanet After Him (Source: NSS)
The closest exo-planet discovered to date is in orbit around Alpha Centauri B, a mere 4.2 lightyears away. Uwingo, a nonprofit organization that funds educational initiatives to promote space exploration that will lose funding from NASA sequestration, has been running a contest to name the planet. Each .99 donated through a vote goes to a worthy cause. In my opinion, the best name on the list right now is Heinlein, but it is about 450 votes short of winning. I'm hoping to rev up interest by space exploration geeks (like myself) to push it over the top. Click here. (4/25)

Russian Spaceship May Fail to Dock to ISS (Source: AFP)
An unmanned Russian spaceship carrying 2.5 tonnes of cargo may be unable to properly dock with the International Space Station after its navigation antenna failed to properly deploy, Interfax said on Thursday. The news agency report cited a Russian space industry source as saying that the Progress cargo carrier may be impeded in its docking operation by the improperly protruding antenna.

The antenna would create a space between the craft and the space station's hermetic seals that would make opening of the station's hatches too dangerous, the report said. "After the cargo carrier manually docks with the station, the unopened antenna could run up against the docking node," the unnamed source said. "In that case, the docking process will be impossible to complete in a perfectly hermetically-sealed manner." The source added that this would then require for the crew on board the ISS to perform a spacewalk during which the problem could be fixed. (4/25)

Gerstenmaier Expands on Recently Announced Asteroid Mission (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
In a presentation to the human exploration and operations committee of the NASA Advisory Counsel, William Gerstenmaier described the challenges associated with the mission to capture an asteroid. It involves three segments: first is the detection and characterization of candidate Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs); second is a robotic rendezvous, capture, and redirection of a target asteroid to the Earth-Moon system; and third is a crewed mission to explore and sample the captured asteroid using the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion crew capsule.

Based on the initial target date presented to lawmakers in the FY14 Budget Proposal, the Orion trip to the captured asteroid is likely to be a realigned version of the 2021 Exploration Mission -2 (EM-2). Concerning the redirection segment, Mr. Gerstenmaier – presenting the mission to the NAC – said that the high powered (40-kW) Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) hardware “plays a key role” in this aspect of the mission. The word “redirect” is being used for this part of the mission, because the asteroid cannot be maneuvered into cislunar space, it “must be heading back to cislunar space on its own.”

“(The asteroid is) continually thrust upon by the SEP, essentially deflecting it or redirecting it into the earth gravity or lunar gravity. With gravity assist – and then with some continued thrusting – you end with a deep retrograde orbit around the moon. That is a stable orbit that can be stable for up to a hundred years.” Click here. (4/25)

Northrop Grumman 1Q Net Income Falls 3 Percent (Source: AP)
Northrop Grumman Corp.'s first-quarter net income fell 3 percent as government defense spending cuts reduced sales at some of its businesses. Northrop Grumman earned $489 million, down from $506 million in the same quarter the year before. Revenue edged down 1.5 percent to $6.1 billion from $6.2 billion. (4/25)

Texas House Passes Beach Closure Bill for SpaceX (Source: My San Antonio)
A bill intended to help lure SpaceX to build a launch site near Brownsville tentatively passed the House on Wednesday. House Bill 2623 by state Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, would allow for Boca Chica beach to be temporarily closed during rocket launches. SpaceX, the private rocket ship company founded by billionaire Elon Musk, has not yet committed to building a spaceport in Brownsville. Several other sites outside of Texas are still being considered. Lawmakers say the beach closure bill needs to pass to keep the SpaceX negotiations on the table with Texas. HB 2623 passed on a voice vote and is set to receive a final vote Thursday. (4/25)

Raytheon Reports Solid First Quarter 2013 Results (Source: Raytheon)
Net sales for the first quarter 2013 were $5,879 million, compared to $5,938 million in the first quarter 2012. Operating cash flow from continuing operations for the first quarter 2013 was $422 million compared to $111 million for the first quarter 2012. The Company ended the first quarter 2013 with $719 million of net debt. (4/25)

Worth It or Wasted: State Plans Space Tourism Marketing Fund (Source: Tampa Bay FOX 13)
Now that the space shuttle fleet is retired, Florida is betting the next big thing out the Kennedy Space Center is space tourism. Lawmakers have proposed spending $1.5 million dollars for promotion and marketing in this year's budget. Here's the exact language:

"$1,500,000 in recurring funds from the State Economic Enhancement and Development Trust Fund shall be used for marketing and promotion of the space tourism industry in the State of Florida. Funds may also be used to support marketing and promotion initiatives undertaken by businesses engaged in or relating to the space tourism industry in the State of Florida, which shall include but not be limited to Spaceflight entities... and entities related to launch and landing sites or launch and landing facilities." (4/25)

FAA Program to Test Spaceflight Effects on Chronic-Condition Passengers (Source: UTMB)
The FAA's Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation is supporting research on how persons with common chronic diseases will respond to the forces of acceleration that are experienced during a typical commercial spaceflight. This is a new frontier in medicine. UTMB is looking for persons with chronic disease with an interest in expanding the frontiers of human spaceflight.

You must have a chronic disease or diseases that are well controlled with medication or other treatment. The disease categories we are studying in this project are: high blood pressure; cardiovascular diseases such as coronary artery disease and arrhythmias; diabetes; respiratory diseases such as emphysema (COPD) and asthma; and history of neck or spine disease, injury, or surgery. Click here. (4/25)

CASIS Academy: Bringing Students Closer to the Space Station (Source: CASIS)
CASIS' education mission is to utilize the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory as the ultimate learning platform; to support innovative science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs that capitalize on the unique environment of the National Lab. In the middle grades, students begin to gain career awareness, and it is unfortunately also at this age that U.S. students are most likely to lose interest in science. Three-quarters of U.S. 8th graders are unprepared for high school science and math courses—-far behind other countries—-and these students show decreased confidence and interest in science compared with younger students.

The CASIS Academy targets our nation’s youth at this critical age, using the excitement of space as a tool to maintain and improve interest in STEM careers. CASIS Academy features interactive investigations, videos, apps, definitions and a tour of the space station—-all designed alongside complementary resources for educators. Our webpage for educators features lesson plans, National Lab research information and other resources, designed to meet national education standards and to promote the easy use of CASIS Academy as a learning tool. 

We will continue promoting CASIS Academy at education events throughout the country. CASIS Education is actively seeking out partnerships and funding for developing current projects and additional education initiatives. Click here. (4/24)

Scientists Detect Dark Lightning Linked To Visible Lightning (Source: Space Daily)
Washington DC (SPX) Apr 25, 2013 - Researchers have identified a burst of high-energy radiation known as "dark lightning" immediately preceding a flash of ordinary lightning. The new finding provides observational evidence that the two phenomena are connected, although the exact nature of the relationship between ordinary bright lightning and the dark variety is still unclear. (4/25)

4 Questions About Capturing an Asteroid (Source: Popular Mechanics)
Why Lasso an Asteroid? The answer involves politics and money. Although the moon is just three days away and offers valuable resources such as water ice, the White House canceled NASA's Constellation program, and its plan to return to the moon, in 2010. At this point there is no chance the Obama administration will reverse course and adopt this Bush administration goal.

So, NASA had to find another nearby destination for future exploration, and the capture-an-asteroid mission gives the agency a near-term target just beyond the moon. NASA thinks it can get astronauts there on a month-long mission by the early 2020s. Given current budgets, the asteroid mission is the only realistic astronaut destination NASA can reach before 2025—a manned trip to Mars just isn't going to happen that soon. Click here. (4/24)

Randy Weber: Congressman, Space Cadet (Source: Beaumont Enterprise)
He’s our congressman. Born and bred in Pearland, Texas. Representative Randy Weber is real excited about a story he saw on CNN’s website. So much so that he posted it on his Facebook page. Which is surprising because you would peg him as more of a FOX NEWS kind of guy. He’s a little conservative. It’s about the discovery of three planets by NASA’s Kepler satellite that could be habitable. Maybe by humans.

He sees potential. For NASA. But since the closest of these potential ‘habitats’ in question is twelve hundred light years away it’s not likely NASA will be “developing a mission” to visit, even study, them anytime soon. But no doubt they’ll still look around for something a little closer to home. That should keep ‘em busy! (4/24)

NASA Proposes $200 Million Cuts to Planetary Science; JPL Could Suffer (Source: KPCC)
To meet a 1 percent overall budget cut, NASA is proposing a $200 million cut to planetary science programs next fiscal year. That could be an ominous sign for Pasadena's Jet Propulsion Lab, the brains behind the successul Mars rover missions. The agency said it shouldn't have to reduce programs as a result. But members of Congress told the head of NASA today they’re concerned the space agency is trying to take on too much without the funds to back it up.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-CA, said it sounds like NASA is "going to raid" planetary science "and seriously degrade Mars missions." Schiff, whose district includes JPL, said Congress told NASA it didn't want to see cuts to planetary science. "They’re just not listening," he said. NASA head Charles Bolden told lawmakers NASA had to make "some pretty tough choices." But trimming the agency's planetary science budget to $1.2 billion will leave enough money to launch next year's Mars atmospheric mission and another Mars rover mission in 2020, he said.

Editor's Note: NASA can't cut the Webb Telescope because of Mikulski, they can't cut SLS because of Shelby and Nelson, they can't cut Commercial Crew or Space Station any more without killing them. They've already gutted KSC upgrades and they're getting getting rid of other infrastructure. They cut education and outreach to the bone. So what's left? Planetary science and aeronautics, both of which are poised for budget cuts. How about increasing NASA's top-line budget with excess DOD funding? (4/25)

NASA Chief: Visiting an Asteroid is All We Can Afford (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
A NASA plan to send astronauts to an asteroid was met with skepticism Wednesday when NASA Chief Charlie Bolden presented the idea to top space officials in Congress — though their doubts may not be enough to sink the program. The asteroid mission, unveiled a few weeks ago, would send a NASA probe to capture a small asteroid and drag it to a point near the moon so astronauts riding a new rocket and capsule could visit it, possibly as soon as 2021.

"The goal is [to] remain the world's leader in exploration," Bolden said. But members of the U.S. House science committee took issue with the project's cost and feasibility — and questioned why the agency wasn't planning a return to the moon en route to an eventual mission to Mars. The NASA chief delivered a blunt reply: It's all NASA can afford. "I need money to go to the moon," Bolden said. (4/24)

Garvey Spaceflight Aims High with Nano-Sat Launch Vehicle (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Garvey Spacecraft Company is continuing its quest to develop a nano-sat launch vehicle through an incremental series of suborbital rocket tests as well as a small business grant from NASA, according to founder John Garvey. The small Southern California-based company has conducted 32 suborbital flight tests since 1998, including three during the past year, Garvey said during the recent Space Access Conference in Phoenix. The company’s rockets have provided suborbital flight opportunities for cubesats and the testing of new rocket engines. Click here. (4/24)

Space Weakens Human Immune System (Source: RIA Novosti)
Spending time in space could be bad for your health and the culprit could be microgravity, US military researchers said after a two-year experiment that compared human cells that went up on the space shuttle with cells that stayed on Earth. Researchers at the US Army Medical Command analyzed data collected during the final flight of the shuttle Atlantis in 2011, which, in addition to carrying astronauts and scientific equipment into space, had a cargo of living human cells in a sterile module.

During the shuttle’s two-week flight, astronauts periodically pushed a button to infect the cells with bacteria that can cause a serious infection that results in the immune system attacking the body's own organs and tissues. When the shuttle returned to Earth, the cells that went into space were compared with similar cells that stayed on Earth where they were subjected to the same bacteria bombardment. (4/24)

Private Asteroid-Mining Project Launching Tiny Satellites in 2014 (Source: Space.com)
A billionaire-backed asteroid-mining company aims to start putting its big plans into action soon, launching its first hardware into space by this time next year. Planetary Resources, which counts Google execs Larry Page and Eric Schmidt among its investors, plans to loft a set of tiny "cubesats" to Earth orbit in early 2014, to test out gear for its first line of asteroid-prospecting spacecraft.

"Our belief and our philosophy is that the best testbed is space itself," Chris Voorhees, Planetary Resources' vice president of spacecraft development, said Wednesday (April 24) during a Google+ Hangout event. "Despite the fact that we're a deep-space company, we're going to use Earth orbit as much as possible," Voorhees added. "For us, it's a valuable learning experience, and that's what we plan on doing one year hence."

The cubesats slated for launch in 2014 will measure 12 inches long by 4 inches wide by 4 inches tall (30 by 10 by 10 centimeters), company officials said. These "Arkyd-3" satellites will test out technologies for Planetary Resources' Arkyd-100 scouts, which the firm hopes to launch to low-Earth orbit on asteroid-hunting missions in 2015. The Arkyd-3 "is the testbed manifestation of our Arkyd-100 spacecraft. It just happens to be flying," Voorhees said. (4/24)

U.S.-Australia Agreement Promotess Space Situational Awareness (Source: USAF)
A new agreement made between the United States and Australia represents the first in what U.S. Strategic Command's commander hopes will be many that promote transparency in the space domain. Air Force Gen. C. Robert Kehler signed the agreement on behalf of the United States, short-cutting the process for the Australian government to request data through STRATCOM's Space Situational Awareness Sharing Agreement Program. The agreement represents another step in the November 2010 pact between the two countries to cooperate on space situational awareness activities. (4/24)

Obama Forges Ahead with Historic Overhaul of Export Controls (Source: The Hill)
The Obama administration has begun to roll out a series of regulations that would represent the largest overhaul of federal export controls in U.S. history. But lawmakers, who must approve a central component of the effort, appeared torn Wednesday between the economic benefits it would yield and potential national security threats that could arise if U.S. technology were to fall into the wrong hands. The State and Commerce departments in recent days have issued hundreds of pages of regulations to begin the process of streamlining and updating Cold War-era rules for exporting items deemed sensitive. (4/24)

Progress Antenna Malfunction Does Not Prevent ISS Docking (Source: Xinhua)
An antenna deployment failure of a Russian cargo spacecraft would not prevent it from docking with the International Space Station (ISS), the Mission Control Center said. He said that even if the failed antenna would not resume work, it would not prevent the docking process as the Mission Control and the ISS crew can use the backup procedures to complete the maneuver. (4/24)

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