April 4, 2013

FSDC Tracks Florida Legislative Space Issues (Source: FSDC)
The Florida Space Development Council applauds the Florida Legislature's support for the continued development and diversification of our state's space enterprise. The Florida Legislative Session is supposed to end on May 3 (extensions are not uncommon), probably with passage of the state's ~$74 billion budget as one of the final items to be decided. Meanwhile, several space-focused policy and funding issues remain unresolved. With support from Space Florida, FSDC will use this document as a weekly scorecard until the end of the Session. (4/4)

Could Rockets Launch from Volusia County Next? (Source: CFnews13)
Commercial space companies are looking for new areas across the country to launch their rockets. Space Florida thinks it has found the perfect place for it. It's 150 acres of land inside the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Volusia County. On Thursday, Frank DiBello, the president and CEO of Space Florida made a presentation to the Volusia County Council, giving the broadest of pictures of what the "Shiloh Complex" could become.

He told county leaders his team searched the entire east coast of Florida to find the best site for a commercial launch complex, he said the site near Oak Hill is the one spot. While DiBello was only making a presentation, he wanted to get the lines of communication open between Space Florida and county leaders. He said their support would be vital during an upcoming environmental impact study phase.

"I'm ready to go. I'm ready to start more than the conversations. I want to let all these companies know that we mean business in Volusia County. We are about space and we are about moving forward in every capacity,” said councilman Josh Wagner. But Wagner's enthusiasm was not echoed by everyone. Person after person addressed the council to ask them, when the time comes, to reconsider the site which sits near Mosquito Lagoon.  (4/4)

Supporters and Detractors Mix at Volusia Meeting on Shiloh (Sources: CFnews13, FSDC)
Part of what Frank DiBello said makes the Shiloh Complex ideal for any company is what DiBello calls the 'Space Triangle.' Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Volusia County, Florida Institute of Technology in Brevard County and the University of Central Florida in Orlando would make great research partners as well as provide valuable pipelines of talent. That's talent Volusia Councilman Josh Wagner said is now leaving.

Person after person addressed the council to ask them, when the time comes, to reconsider the site which sits near Mosquito Lagoon. Councilwoman Pat Northey summed up their arguments. "Eco-tourism has value as well. And we've heard from fishermen, we've heard from birders, we've heard from a number of people who believe that we need to honor our eco-tourism as well," Northey said. Yet all those arguments are nothing new to those in Space Florida. Frank DiBello warned of the possibility of missing out on a critical offer.

Members and supporters of the Florida Space Development Council (FSDC) spoke in favor of the project, along with students from nearby Embry-Riddle. The county officials want Space Florida to return within the month to discuss the project further. (4/4)

Shaping a New Earth on Mars (Source: Discovery)
As you read this, you’re one of nearly 7 billion human beings on this planet. And that number is likely to increase massively. In fact, if the population of Earth continues to increase at its current rate, there will be over 10 billion people in the world by the year 2050. As we start to run out of space on Earth, there’s one particularly audacious possible solution. What if we could shape another planet into a second Earth?

Terraforming is the hypothetical process through which we could engineer the surface of an entire planet to make it habitable for our own planet’s life to thrive. We’ve certainly proven that we can influence and alter the environment of a whole planet, even though in the case of Earth the results weren’t exactly beneficial. Or desirable. The difficult part is, given a blank canvas, we aren’t entirely sure how to even begin. Click here. (4/4)

Garvey Nanosat Launcher Selected for NASA SBIR Funding (Source: Parabolic Arc)
NASA has selected Garvey Spacecraft of Long Beach, Calif., for a Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) award for work on the development of a nanosat launch vehicle capable of lifting up to 20 kg into low Earth orbit. The maximum amount available under the space agency’s six-month SBIR Select Phase I award program is $200,000.

Garvey plans to use the award for “the continued functional evolution and concept refinement of an incremental series of test vehicles” to serve the nano- and micro-sat launch markets. Initial versions of the launch vehicle will be capable of delivering 10 kg payloads into a 250 km orbit. The ultimate goal is to place satellites weighing up to 20 kg into a 450 km orbit. (4/4)

Florida's Space Fate Turns on Shiloh Decision (Source: Florida Today)
Our future as the Space Coast could hinge on 150 acres at the northern tip of Kennedy Space Center near the Brevard-Volusia county border. Once a citrus community called Shiloh, private rocket companies such as SpaceX want to build a launch facility there, beyond the space agency’s strict security and regulations. That would require NASA to turn over the Shiloh land to the state of Florida. The agency has said “no” so far. And SpaceX has turned to Texas for a commercial-launch site, although it would continue to service the International Space Station from KSC. Click here. (4/4)

Volusia Council to Hear Spaceport Plan Thursday (Source: Daytona Beach News-Journal)
The news out of Brownsville, Texas, suggests that's the site leading the race to land SpaceX. But Florida isn't dropping out now, and neither is Volusia County. So Space Florida, the public-private state agency trying to recruit private space industry, will come to the Volusia County Council on Thursday morning to talk about what Volusia — specifically one site in Southeast Volusia — can offer SpaceX or future private aerospace ventures.

"I want to know really what our chances are," County Councilman Josh Wagner said Wednesday — the day after several Texas leaders testified in favor of a bill that would close some of its beaches during SpaceX launches. "When it really comes down to it, what do we need to do to get this done?" Space Florida considers NASA's Shiloh site in Southeast Volusia a "prime location" for a 150-acre commercial launch pad. But NASA would have to release the land for private use, and there are environmental concerns about impacts on the surrounding Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Canaveral National Seashore.

"The main point of this (presentation Thursday) is that we want to get in front of as many audiences as possible," Lange said. "Just to answer questions and educate people on the potential for a commercial spaceport, and also to address any environmental concerns, because all of these things have been taken into account." Space Florida President and CEO Frank DiBello will be presenting to the council. Wagner said he supports all the efforts to bring aerospace here, but he hears the concerns about the environment. (4/4)

ISS Orbit Adjusted (Source: Interfax)
The orbit of the International Space Station was lifted by one kilometer to an average of 418 kilometers using the engines of the Progress re-supply ship, which is currently docked to the ISS, a Russian space rocket industry source said. "The average altitude of the station's orbit was raised by approximately one kilometer," he said. (4/4)

Galaxy Arm Simulation Helps Explain Spiral Galaxies' Strange 'Appendages' (Source: Huffington Post)
Astronomers know a thing or two about galaxies, including how many there are in the universe (at least 100 billion) and the different shapes they take (spherical, elliptical and spiral). But as to the particulars of the ginormous star-studded arms of the Milky Way and other galaxies of the spiral sort, astronomers have been largely in the dark. Until now.

With the help of a stupendous computer simulation that tracks 100 million separate "stellar particles," researchers at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics showed that the galaxies’ arms reflect the action of forces from gas clouds within the galaxies.

Gravitation from the clouds perturbs the orbits of stars within the galaxies, kick-starting the formation of swirling "filamentary" structures that turn into the arms, study co-author Dr. Lars Hernquist, professor of astrophysics at the center, told The Huffington Post. He likened the swirling structures to the tendrils of cream that appear when it's stirred into a cup of coffee. (4/4)

Kepler Reaction Wheel Remains a Concern (Source: Space News)
 A reaction wheel on NASA’s Kepler spacecraft continues to experience elevated levels of friction after a brief rest period, but project officials say that does not necessarily imply an imminent failure that could jeopardize the spacecraft’s planet-hunting mission.

Spacecraft engineers in early January noticed increased levels of friction in one of four reaction wheels on the spacecraft used for attitude control. To address the problem, NASA suspended science operations of the spacecraft for ten days in January, hoping that this “wheel rest” period would resolve the issue. However, the high levels of friction continued in wheel No. 4 after normal spacecraft operations resumed in late January. (4/4)

Tom Cruise Almost Ready for Space Travel (Source: Stuff)
Tom Cruise wants to fly into space after "other people test it out first". The 50-year-old action hero says going into orbit has always been a boyhood dream. Civilians will soon be able to follow astronauts into space as Sir Richard Branson plans to launch two-hour tourism missions on his Virgin Galactic later this year. Cruise is ready to follow the entrepreneur out of this world as soon as he's sure it's safe. (4/4)

How the Air Force and SpaceX Saved Dragon from Doom (Source: Universe Today)
The picture perfect docking of the SpaceX Dragon capsule to the International Space Station (ISS) on March 3 and the triumphant ocean splashdown last week on March 26 nearly weren’t to be – and it all goes back to a microscopic manufacturing mistake in the oxidizer tank check valves that no one noticed long before the vessel ever took flight. A sudden and unexpected failure of the Dragon’s critical thrust pods had prevented three out of four from initializing and firing.

The oxidizer pressure was low in three tanks. And the propulsion system is required to orient the craft for two way communication and to propel the Dragon to the orbiting lab complex. SpaceX engineers and the U.S Air Force sprang into action and staged an amazing turnaround. “The problem was a very tiny change to the check valves that serve the oxidizer tanks on Dragon.” Musk said. “Three of the check valves were actually different from the prior check valves that had flown – in a very tiny way. Because of the tiny change they got stuck.”

“But we had difficulty communicating with the spacecraft because it was in free drift in orbit... So we worked closely with the Air Force to get higher intensity, more powerful dishes to communicate with the spacecraft and upload the software to do the Heimlich pressure maneuver.” (4/4)

He Created Fake ISRO Identity Card to Impress Girlfriend (Source: The Hindu)
The Central Crime Branch officials arrested a 23-year-old youth from Jharkhand, who was posing as a scientist with the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) to impress his girlfriend. The imposter was exposed when the check he issued to the owner of a flat which he had rented for his girlfriend bounced.

Some months ago, his girlfriend informed she was coming to Bangalore on a project work with her friends and Akmal boasted that he would make the necessary arrangements for her stay. A besotted Akmal then rented a car for a monthly rent of Rs. 35,000 and pasted a Government of India sticker on it. He also downloaded ISRO’s logo from the internet and created a fake ID card. He also rented a flat in Platinum City on HMT Road near Peenya to accommodate her. (4/4)

AIA Partners with Challenger Center on Crowdfund Campaign (Source: SpaceRef)
The Aerospace Industries Association is excited to announce it has partnered with the Challenger Center for Space Science Education to further enhance and grow the crowdfund campaign to place an ad trailer on NASA's new exploration for the premier of "Star Trek Into Darkness."

AIA's IndieGoGo campaign reached its initial goal in less than 6 days with more than 1,300 donors. If the campaign reaches its new goal of $94,000 by May 1, AIA in partnership with Challenger Center will place the trailer ad in at least one movie theater in every state in America. Should the campaign go beyond $94,000, all of the remaining proceeds will be used to enhance and grow Challenger Center's impact. (4/4)

Musk Mixes Rockets and Cars in Texas Legislative Push (Source: Yahoo! News)
Elon Musk, best known for his rocket company SpaceX, is also a purveyor of electric cars under the Tesla brand. As part of his effort to expand the sale and distribution of Tesla electric cars, Musk is taking on the Texas car dealership lobby. He issued an urgent email message to employees and supporters to rally in Austin at what he sees as efforts by the Texas Auto Dealers Association to prevent him from selling Tesla cars in the Lone Star State.

At issue are state laws that restrict the selling of automobiles to licensed franchise dealers and prohibit automobile dealerships directly owned by the factory. Musk is backing a bill in the Texas state legislature that would change the law and allow for factory-owned auto dealerships. David Kiley suggests that the influence the Texas car dealers have in the Texas legislature means that Musk and Tesla have an uphill battle. In Kiley's words, Musk would have better luck instituting an assault weapons ban in Texas than he would changing the franchise laws, such is the power of the car dealers lobby.

Editor's Note: Perhaps this car battle has something to do with Elon Musk's rhetoric about Texas being the leading contender for a new spaceport. I imagine the lure of a South Texas launch site for SpaceX might be enough to get lawmakers in-line to support the Tesla legislation in Austin. (4/3)

Protecting History With Satellites (Source: ESA)
Looking down from orbit is an attractive way of monitoring historical sites in remote or politically unstable regions – and can even help archaeologists to make new discoveries. The ancient city of Samarra was a powerful Islamic capital during the ninth century, located in what is today Iraq. It is the only surviving Islamic capital that retains its original plan, architecture and arts, although only about 20% of the site has been excavated.

Monitoring sites like Samarra during periods of political instability is both difficult and dangerous for archaeologists. Satellites, however, offer a non-invasive solution to monitor these remnants of the past, and can even help to identify new areas to excavate. Click here. (4/3)

What to Watch For in the President's 2014 Budget (Source: Planetary Society)
In less than a week – April 10th – the White House will release its proposed budget for 2014. Even though Congress ultimately approves federal spending, this is a very important document for NASA for the following reasons: Unlike Congressional budgets, the White House will project spending levels for the next five years. This helps agencies plan development for multi-year programs (like, say, space missions). NASA works for the Administration, so funding priorities in the President's budget are the official priorities of the Agency. This typically means that civil servants will get in line behind the budget once its been released. Only Congress can modify the numbers.

For non-politicized issues, the President's budget numbers effectively create an anchoring bias against which any changes are measured (i.e. it's very hard to restore the full amount to a division that receives a cut). Will Planetary Science see funding restored? How will NASA pay for its Asteroid Retrieval Mission? What about those donated spy satellites? Will Education funding be safe? Click here. (4/3)

Russia Clarifies Status of South African Space Tracking Station (Source: RIA Novosti)
The space tracking station that is being built in South Africa as part of Russia’s astrophysical project RadioAstron can only be used with the radio telescope. Earlier in the day some media reported that next year Russia would be able to receive telemetry from other spacecraft with the help of the South African station.

“The agreement that was signed in South Africa provides for cooperation in astrophysical research under the RadioAstron project. So the ground-based tracking station will work only in the interest of this particular project,” a Roscosmos representative said. (4/3)

Orbital Ready To Roll Antares to Launch Pad for Maiden Flight (Source: Space News)
Orbital Sciences will roll Antares out to the pad early April 6 in preparation for the rocket’s debut launch less than two weeks later, the Dulles, Va.-based company announced April 3. Orbital was planning to roll out the first Antares to fly in space April 5, but forecasts of lightning near the launchpad forced a delay, Orbital spokesman Barron Beneski said in an email. (4/3)

NASA Communications with Mars Rovers Soon to Go Silent (Source: Computer World)
Within days, NASA's robotic rovers and orbiters working on Mars will go silent. Starting today, communication with all machines working on Mars will become spotty -- and within about a week should stop all together, according to Richard Zurek, chief scientist in the Mars Program Office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. NASA is dealing with a solar conjunction, which is when the Sun is almost directly in the path between Earth and Mars, knocking out communications between the two planets. (4/4)

Astronomers Anticipate 100 Billion Earth-Like Planets (Source: RAS)
Researchers at The University of Auckland have proposed a new method for finding Earth-like planets and they anticipate that the number will be in the order of 100 billion. The strategy uses a technique called gravitational microlensing, currently used by a Japan-New Zealand collaboration called MOA (Microlensing Observations in Astrophysics) at New Zealand’s Mt John Observatory.

“Kepler finds Earth-sized planets that are quite close to parent stars, and it estimates that there are 17 billion such planets in the Milky Way. These planets are generally hotter than Earth, although some could be of a similar temperature (and therefore habitable) if they're orbiting a cool star called a red dwarf.”

“Our proposal is to measure the number of Earth-mass planets orbiting stars at distances typically twice the Sun-Earth distance. Our planets will therefore be cooler than the Earth. By interpolating between the Kepler and MOA results, we should get a good estimate of the number of Earth-like, habitable planets in the Galaxy. We anticipate a number in the order of 100 billion.” (4/3)

NASA Team Investigates Complex Chemistry at Titan (Source: JPL)
A laboratory experiment at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., simulating the atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan suggests complex organic chemistry that could eventually lead to the building blocks of life extends lower in the atmosphere than previously thought. The results now point out another region on the moon that could brew up prebiotic materials.

"Scientists previously thought that as we got closer to the surface of Titan, the moon's atmospheric chemistry was basically inert and dull," said Murthy Gudipati, the paper's lead author at JPL. "Our experiment shows that's not true. The same kind of light that drives biological chemistry on Earth's surface could also drive chemistry on Titan, even though Titan receives far less light from the sun and is much colder. Titan is not a sleeping giant in the lower atmosphere, but at least half awake in its chemical activity." (4/2)

NASA Asks Coders to Make Robot Astronaut More Helpful (Source: NBC)
NASA is asking software coders on Earth to help a robotic astronaut helper on the International Space Station use its cold mechanical eyes to see better. Robonaut 2 — a humanoid robot being tested by astronauts on the space station — is designed to perform mundane and complex tasks to help make life on the orbiting lab easier for human crew members. So far, the robot (which NASA affectionately calls R2 for short) has carried out a series of routine tasks on the space station, performed sign language and learned how to shake hands with human crewmates.

But NASA thinks the robot can do more and launched two new contests under the $10,000 Robonaut Challenge on Monday to make it happen. The new competitions, managed for NASA by the group TopCoder under the agency's NASA Tournament Lab, will give 470,000 software developers, digital creators and algorithmists the chance to help the robot butler "see" and interact with the station in a new way. Click here. (4/3)

Xombie Suborbital Demonstrator Makes Record Hop (Source: Aviation Week)
Masten Space Systems’ XA-0.1B “Xombie’ vertical-landing, suborbital rocket demonstrator reached 1,626 ft., its highest altitude yet, during a test flight of a precision navigation system at Mojave, Calif., on March 25. The vehicle was controlled for the 80-sec. flight by Charles Stark Draper Laboratory’s Guidance Embedded Navigator Integration Environment (Genie) system developed under NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program.

The agency is using the Xombie and Genie — a closed-loop planetary guidance, navigation and control system — to begin tests of prototype landing instrument for future missions to the Moon or Mars. NASA adds that the flight, which included movement along a realistic planetary approach trajectory with a translation distance of 984 ft., “established a test-bed capability that will allow for landing demonstrations that start at much higher altitudes — several miles above the ground.” (4/2)

South Florida Science Museum Plans New Space Exhibit and Gala (Source: Palm Beach Illustrated)
Spurred by this desire to know more, the South Florida Science Museum, a product to the Space Race itself, looks to capitalize on the wonderment of space to encourage the next generation of explorers. Through the Dekelboum Planetarium (the county’s only public planetarium), the new Science on a Sphere exhibit and the Out of this World exhibit—which contains space artifacts, including a 232 meteorite and a slice of a Mars rock—SFSM has made it its mission to “excite curiosity and further the understanding and appreciation of science and technology.”

In line with is, the museum's annual gala has taken on an interstellar theme in preparation for the new expansion, slated for a June opening. Last year, SFSM explored the depths of the earth’s oceans with famed deep-sea explorer Dr. Robert Ballard. This year, SFSM has turned its gaze to the stars, inviting five explorers who dedicated their lives to the mysteries of space.

The gala, dubbed “Out of this World: An Evening Honoring America’s Space Pioneers,” American astronauts Scott Carpenter, David Scott, Edgar Mitchell, Charles Duke and Robert Crippen will convene at The Breakers on April 5 for an evening of truly astronomical proportions. A panel discussion, led by CNN space correspondent John Zarrella, will touch on these men’s extraordinary careers and the importance of space exploration for humanity at large. (4/3)

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