April 30, 2013

Embry-Riddle Project Lined Up for Virgin Research Flight (Source: SPACErePORT)
As Virgin Galactic nears operational readiness, Embry-Riddle researchers are anxious to advance their ongoing development of microgravity propellant transfer technologies aboard SpaceShipTwo. The project flew last week for the 12th time aboard NASA's parabolic research aircraft (Zero-G Corp.'s G-Force One 727) to test the evolving design of the flight hardware.

Now, having won a suborbital scientific payload slot from NASA's Facilitated Access to the Space Environment for Technology Development and Training (FAST) program, the Embry-Riddle team, led by student researcher Nathan Silvernail, is officially in line for extended-duration microgravity tests aboard SpaceShipTwo, hopefully before the end of 2013. He hopes the project, which has been supported by United Launch Alliance as part of their work on in-space propellant depots, may also soon fly to the International Space Station in addition to the 3-6 suborbital flights that NASA could sponsor. (4/29)

NASA Tops Again in Government Innovation (Source: Politico)
A new report ranks the most (and least) innovative agencies of the year, with NASA leading the list and the Departments of Homeland Security, Labor and Transportation coming in last place for large agencies. For the third year in a row, NASA topped all other large agencies receiving an innovation score of 76.5, gaining 1.5 percentage points since the previous year, according to an analysis by the Partnership for Public Service. The Department of State follows NASA at some distance earning 67.6, with its overall innovation score decreasing by almost a full percentage point. (4/29)

Congress: All Science Grants Should Be “Groundbreaking” (Source: Ars Technica)
Due to Congressional rules, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology had to choose new leadership this year. At the time, we opined that almost any choice would be a bad one. The Democrats had been neglecting the committee, leaving three seats unfilled, while the Republicans filled their seats with people who were openly hostile to a number of fields of science such as evolution and climate research.

Earlier this month, the House committee held hearings that featured the NSF director and the chair of the board that oversees the science agency. Again, grants made to social scientists were held up as examples of wasteful spending. The committee's new chair, Lamar Smith (R-TX), used these to suggest that "[w]e might be able to improve the process by which NSF makes its funding decisions." Rather than targeting only grants in the social sciences, Smith is reportedly preparing a bill that would revise the criteria for all grants funded by the agency.

The bill would require the NSF director to certify that every grant met the following conditions: a) must "advance the national health, prosperity, or welfare, and... secure the national defense by promoting the progress of science"; b) must also be "the finest quality, groundbreaking, and answer questions or solve problems that are of utmost importance to society at large"; and c) should not be "duplicative of other research projects being funded by the Foundation or other Federal science agencies." (4/30)

Space Shuttle Enterprise's New Home Taking Shape In New York City (Source: Collect Space)
Space shuttle Enterprise, NASA's test orbiter that first arrived in New York City one year ago this month, is soon to have a new home. As aerial photographs taken on Friday (April 26) show, the construction of a new exhibition pavilion is taking shape above and around and prototype space shuttle on board the flight deck of the Intrepid, Sea, Air & Space Museum, a converted World War II aircraft carrier that is docked on the west side of Manhattan. Click here. (4/29)

Spaceport Visitor Center Plans Closer to Launch (Source: Albuquerque Business First)
State Spaceport Authority officials have begun unveiling more details about plans for a visitor center in Truth or Consequences and a tourist center at the spaceport location just north of Doña Ana County. The two facilities — which could see up to 200,000 tourists per year — will make heavy use of smart phones and tablets to dish out in-depth information about the spaceport, space history and other New Mexico tourism sites, said Aaron Prescott, business operations manager for the state spaceport authority.

Since mid-2011, the Florida-based Arts & Technology, Inc. has been contracted to design the spaceport visitors centers and the exhibits and attractions that will go in them. Pricing for the future tours hasn’t been decided yet, according to Prescott. He said it will be up to an eventual operations company — who’ll be selected through an upcoming bid process — to set the prices. Prescott said there are currently some tours of spaceport that cost $59 per person, and the aim is to make the final tour price affordable. (4/29)

Firm Adds Local Touch to Virginia Launch (Source: DelMarVaNow.com)
The Antares rocket launch April 21 had a hint of local flavor, thanks to a Selbyville-based company. Spaceport Support Services, established in 2009, was involved in an engineering support and services role for the project, providing engineers, technicians and ground crew needed to support the launch. Company President Sep Mostaghim said his company was the only local contractor used for the project.

There’s no routine day when it comes to this business, Mostaghim said. He said he’ll typically get a checklist to follow — in this case, Orbital — via the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. All there is a goal: seeing a successful launch. The launch was four years in the making, Mostaghim said, adding it took more than a year to decide to hold the launch in Virginia and almost two and a half years to build the facility. Four years ago, he thought it was a long-shot the launch would have happened in Virginia. (4/30)

Opportunity in Standby on Mars as Commanding Moratorium Ends (Source: NASA JPL)
During a moratorium on commanding this month while Mars passed nearly behind the sun - a phase called solar conjunction -- NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity entered a type of standby mode. Mission controllers learned of the changed status on April 27 when they first heard from Opportunity after the period of minimized communication during the solar conjunction. They prepared fresh commands today (April 29) for sending to the rover to resume operations. (4/29)

Herschel Telescope Closes Eye on the Universe (Source: The Engineer)
After more than three years of probing the secrets of the universe, ESA’s Herschel space observatory - the largest astronomical telescope ever launched - has exhausted its supply of liquid helium coolant and ceased operating. Essential for cooling the observatory’s highly sensitive instruments to around absolute zero, the telescope’s supply of over 2,300 liters of liquid helium has been slowly evaporating since its launch in 2009. Confirmation that the coolant had run out came yesterday when the spacecraft reported a rise in temperature to its ground station in Western Australia. (4/30)

Virgin Galactic: Space Flight or Space Hype? (Source: UT San Diego)
Is Virgin's "history making" flight a lot of hype? Richard Branson has been saying for years that commercial space tourism is near. But, so far, industry hasn't developed a vehicle that has proven capable of safely and reliably carrying paying passengers into space. Do you think that Branson, or someone else, will accomplish this goal any time soon? (4/29)

SpaceX to Conduct Another 'Louder Than Typical' Test at Texas Site (Source: KXXV)
SpaceX will be conducting a test at the end of this week. The test will be either on Thursday or Friday, and it is expected to be louder than a typical test. Traditionally, the company tests their rockets as soon as everything is set and ready to go rather than having a set schedule. The time of the test hasn't been released yet. (4/29)

Texas Spaceflight Liability Bill Closer to Passage (Source: San Antonio Express News)
The Texas House on Monday gave its preliminary blessing to the second piece of a legislative package aimed at bolstering the state's bid to attract SpaceX to build a launch site near Brownsville. House Bill 1791 by state Rep. John Davis, R-Houston, would give private space flight companies — namely SpaceX — legal cover to launch rockets without fear of getting sued for noise complaints.

Specifically, the bill grants companies like SpaceX “immunity from liability to any person for damages resulting from nuisance arising from testing, launching, re-entering, or landing, and exempts such an entity from being subject to any claim for nuisance arising from testing, launching, re-entering, or landing.” (4/30)

Northrop Grumman to Hold Forum at Florida Tech (Source: Florida Today)
On Wednesday, speakers from Northrop Grumman are expected to discuss the company's aerospace initiatives at the Florida Institute of Technology. The speakers will outline how the company is making progress on NASA's James Webb Space Telescope. "We are honored to provide a forum to share the incredible advances in space technology and how Northrop Grumman is leading the next generation into space," said T. Dwayne McCay, Florida Tech's executive vice president and chief operating officer. (4/29)

Human Mission to Mars is No Longer Just a Sci-Fi Dream (Source: Washington Post)
The notion of landing astronauts on Mars has long been more fantasy than reality: The planet is, on average, 140 million miles from Earth, and its atmosphere isn’t hospitable to human life. But a human voyage to the planet is now, for the first time, within the realm of possibility, according to space advocates inside and outside government. As a result, plans for a mission around the planet, and ultimately for lengthier stays, have been sprouting like springtime flowers.

The new momentum, some space experts say, comes from the successful landing of the large rover Curiosity in a Martian crater last year, the growing eagerness of space entrepreneurs to mount and fund missions to Mars and encouraging new data about the radiation risks of such an expedition. Click here. (4/29)

NASA Chief: We Will Renegotiate Contracts If Sequester Continues (Source: Aviation Week)
A continuation of across-the-board budget sequestration into fiscal 2014 will force NASA to renegotiate contracts, including those for commercial resupply of the International Space Station, and begin furloughing employees, according to Administrator Charles Bolden.

Testifying on NASA’s fiscal 2014 budget request before the Senate Appropriations Committee April 25, Bolden said the agency has been able to accommodate the fiscal 2013 sequestration without furloughs or major programmatic disruptions. That will change Oct. 1 if sequestration continues, he told Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), who chairs the appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA. (4/29)

Antares Hits the Mark (Source: Space News)
Congratulations are in order to Orbital Sciences Corp. for the successful inaugural flight April 21 of its Antares medium-lift rocket, which will be used to launch commercial logistics missions to the international space station. Antares continues a string of successful rocket debuts that follows a demoralizing rash of inaugural-flight failures in the 1990s. More than 50 years into the Space Age, rocket science finally appears to be maturing to the point that one can envision spaceflight becoming truly routine in the not-to-distant future. (4/29)

Harnessing Public Support for Mars Exploration (Source: Space News)
The Curiosity rover and other similar missions have fueled a growing level of enthusiasm regarding Mars exploration. This enthusiasm is clearly illustrated by a recent national poll that Explore Mars commissioned (with Boeing and Phillips & Co.). Americans are very optimistic and believe that we will have a human crew on Mars by 2033 and that despite our current budgetary crisis NASA’s budget should be increased. This is good news for the space exploration community and good news for the country as a whole.

To be clear, confidence in a human mission to Mars 20 years in the future isn’t “hopelessly optimistic” as some pundits have claimed. It is a goal well within our ability to achieve — and with time to spare. The primary obstacles to achieving it are political and to a lesser degree budgetary. In our current world, we know that these are not insignificant obstacles, but they are largely self-inflicted — rather than obstacles based on engineering, American industrial prowess, or science. The real problem is we are constantly lowering expectations of what can be achieved and what we should expect from our elected officials. (4/29)

Flame On (Source: Economist)
News from the fledgling private space business is coming thick and fast. A few days ago the Antares rocket built by Orbital Sciences Corporation made a successful maiden flight, paving the way for Orbital to provide some competition for SpaceX when it comes to delivering cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). Then, on April 29th, Virgin Galactic, the private space firm with the slickest PR (its name notwithstanding, the firm does not even plan to fly into orbit), conducted a successful, in-flight test-firing of the rocket motor aboard its SpaceShipTwo craft.

With little reliance on public money, Virgin is arguably the most privately-focused of the private space firms. That, of course, assumes that the firm's subsequent tests continue to go well. The company has suffered plenty of delays, having originally hoped to begin flying passengers in 2007. And while SpaceShipTwo's first rocket-powered flight is a significant milestone, it was far from a dry run for a passenger mission. The rocket burn lasted just 16 seconds. There is still plenty of work to be done before the first tourists get their brief glimpse of space. (4/29)

Pentagon Lease of Chinese Bandwidth Arouses Concern (Source: Space News)
The U.S. military is leasing bandwidth aboard a Chinese-owned satellite for communications services in Africa, raising eyebrows in Congress and leading the Pentagon to review its procedures for vetting similar arrangements. The satellite in question is the Apstar 7 owned by Hong Kong-based APT Satellite Holdings, a subsidiary of the China Satellite Communications Co. The lease was arranged through Artel Inc. of Reston, Va., one of 18 companies authorized to provide commercial satellite services to U.S. government customers under the Future Comsatcom Services Acquisition contract.

U.S. Africa Command required coverage of the entire continent using a single satellite and that Artel, through the Apstar 7 satellite, was the only authorized provider able to meet that requirement. The 1-year lease, which began in May 2012, is worth $10.6 million and could be extended for three more years. The leasing arrangement first came to light at a hearing of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee April 25.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) asked whether there is any cause for concern. DOD's Doug Loverro explained that U.S. forces operating in an unspecified location needed satellite communications and went to the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), the Pentagon’s contracting agency for commercial satellite services, to request that support. The agency requested bids from more than a dozen authorized providers, but only one could meet the requirement and that was through a Chinese company. (4/29)

Sierra Nevada’s Hybrid Rocket Engines Power SpaceShipTwo (Source: SNC)
A Sierra Nevada Space Systems Hybrid Rocket Motor propelled Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo (SS2) sub-orbital vehicle on its first ever powered flight. SNC’s hybrid propulsion system is the largest hybrid ever used for space vehicle propulsion. SNC manufactures two major subsystems on the SpaceShipTwo vehicle including the main oxidizer valve and the hybrid rocket motor, plus nitrous oxide dump system and nitrous oxide pressurization system control valves. (4/29)

Mars Mission May Carry Asteroid-Smashing Probe in 2016 (Source: Space.com)
When a NASA mission to study Mars' deep interior blasts off in 2016, it may also carry a tag-along experiment that will slam an impactor into a potentially hazardous asteroid. Scientists are studying the possibility of adding the asteroid-deflection effort — dubbed Impactor for Surface and Interior Science (ISIS) — to NASA's InSight Mars mission, which is slated to launch a lander toward the Red Planet in March 2016. Once set loose in space, ISIS is designed to slam into the asteroid target of the already-on-the-books NASA mission Osiris-Rex, which aims to launch a robotic probe toward potentially dangerous asteroid 1999 RQ36 in September 2016. (4/29)

Harris Corp. To Market Iridium Next Hosted Payload Capacity (Source: Space News)
Harris Corp. of Melbourne, Florida, has assumed responsibility for marketing residual hosted payload capacity aboard Iridium Communications’ next-generation satellite constellation slated to begin launching in 2015. Additional payloads hosted aboard the 66 low Earth orbiting Iridium Next satellites will need to plug into the Harris-supplied electronics boxes already slated to fly aboard each spacecraft for the Aireon air traffic management venture.

Billed as the largest hosted payload arrangement sealed to date, Aireon, a joint venture of McLean, Va.-based Iridium and Nav Canada, will sell aircraft position-location data that will enable commercial airlines to save on fuel costs by flying more efficient routes. Iridium said the new arrangement could generate up to $45 million in additional hosting fees, depending on what types of deals Harris is able to secure and the level of Iridium Next resources required. (4/29)

Who Knew a Monstrous Saturnian Hurricane Could Look So Lovely? (Source: NBC)
The eye of a super-hurricane at Saturn's north pole looks like a peaceful red rose in a fresh bouquet of pictures from NASA's Cassini orbiter. But don't be fooled: That rosy appearance is merely due to the false colors ascribed to infrared wavelengths. This storm's eye measures 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometers) in diameter, about 20 times wider than the average hurricane's eye on Earth. The outer clouds at the hurricane's edge are traveling at 330 mph (530 kilometers per hour), which would be off the scale on our planet. Click here. (4/29)

Crew Health and Performance R&D Projects Selected for Funding (Source: NASA)
NASA and the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) have selected 23 research proposals from 100 received for "Research and Technology Development to Support Crew Health and Performance in Space Exploration Missions." The selected investigations address astronaut health and performance risks for future space exploration missions. These grants are collectively valued at approximately $17 million over their lifetimes of one to three years.

Two of the selected projects are from the University of Central Florida, both led by Eduardo Salas, Ph.D. His projects focus on detecting performance decrements in spaceflight teams, and measuring safety and efficiency in human-automated systems. Click here to see the entire list of projects. (4/29)

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