May 11, 2013

Texas Spaceflight Bills Advance (Source: Parabolic Arc)
In addition to a bill that would allow for the closing of Boca Chica Beach for SpaceX launches, three other pieces of space-related legislation are making their way through the Texas Legislature. The bills, all sponsored by State Rep. John Davis (R-Houston), include: A) HB 545, which would enable municipalities to establish their own spaceport development corporations; B) HB 1791, which would align space flight activities in Texas with federal regulations; and C) HB 417, which would require one member of the state’s Aviation Advisory Committee to come from the commercial spaceflight industry. HB 545 and HB 1791  have been approved by the House and are now before the Senate Economic Development Committee. HB 417 is before the House Transportation Committee for review. (5/10)

Dayton Firm Selected to Manage UAV Competition for NASA (Source: Dayton Daily News)
NASA has chosen Dayton-based Development Products Inc. to manage a $500,000 prize competition for the next generation of unmanned aerial vehicle technology, according to the space agency. The NASA Unmanned Aircraft Systems Airspace Operations Challenge will focus on developing key technologies, such as the ability to sense and avoid other aircraft, the space agency said in a statement.

Development Products Inc. is the public sector funding division of the Dayton Development Coalition. NASA chose Development Products from a field of proposals submitted last fall to set rules and register competitors, the space agency said. The first competition demonstration is expected in May 2014. (5/10)

Belgian Export-Credit Agency Backs $272M Eutelsat Loan (Source: Space News)
Belgium’s export-credit agency is backing $272 million in low-interest loans to satellite fleet operator Eutelsat to finance the construction and launch of a satellite aboard an Ariane rocket. Eutelsat said Belgium’s Office National du Ducroire (ONDD) agreed to back an 11.5-year loan facility with an interest rate of 2.07 percent “to finance the construction of a satellite.” (5/10)

Air Force Targets $1B in Space Acquisition Savings (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Air Force expects to shave nearly $1 billion from its space acquisition portfolio over the next five years, primarily through efficiencies that include reduced oversight of key programs, a senior service official said. Lt. Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, commander of Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles, the service’s space acquisition shop, attributed more than $600 million of those anticipated savings to the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) secure satellite communications program.

The Air Force is buying five AEHF satellites from prime contractor Lockheed Martin under a multibillion-dollar contract. Pawlikowski said the Air Force worked with the contractor to streamline production flow and test schedule, while reducing by nearly half the number of reports required from the contractor — from 78 to 42. The Air Force also has reduced the number of meetings on the program as well as the number of people required to attend, she said. (5/10)

NASA Worries Latest Progress Docking Damaged ATV Reflector (source: Space News)
A reflector that enables Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) to perform its unpiloted approach to the space station may have been damaged last month when a hobbled Russian cargo ship docked with the station. The Progress cargo ship on April 26 had to dock without the benefit of a communications antenna used by the craft’s Kurs automated docking system. The antenna failed to extend after launch, possibly leaving its undeployed bulk in the path of the laser radar reflector ATV uses as a navigation aid during its own automated rendezvous. (5/10)

Boeing Lands Contract for Small Classified Satellite (Source: Space News)
Boeing reported a 5 percent revenue increase in its Network & Space Systems division, to nearly $2 billion, during the first quarter of 2013 and also said it landed a small-satellite contract with an undisclosed customer. Boeing provided no details of the small-satellite contract because it is a classified national security contract. Commercial satellite programs, along with NASA’s Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket, were the primary drivers of the division’s growth compared with the same period last year. (5/10)

Hints of Lightweight Dark Matter Get Even Stronger (Source: New Scientist)
A strange light is shining near the centre of the Milky Way, and evidence is mounting that it is the spark of lightweight dark matter meeting a violent end. At the same time, a suite of sensitive detectors deep underground is seeing hints of similar particles. Dark matter is thought to make up roughly 80 percent of the matter in the universe. But aside from its gravitational tug on regular matter, the substance has proven tough to detect, and many of its fundamental properties remain unknown.

The leading theoretical candidates for dark matter are weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs). It's thought these particles annihilate when they meet, producing a shower of radiation, including gamma rays. Launched in 2008, NASA's Fermi space telescope has been scanning for excess gamma rays emanating from the centre of our galaxy, where dark matter should be concentrated. (5/10)

The X-15B: The Spaceplane That Wasn't (Source: Discovery)
Reactions to SpaceShipTwo's flight are celebratory, heralding this flight path as an amazingly futuristic model of spaceflight. But it’s actually a very old flight path flown by the X-15. And while it never went into orbit, the X-15 did take some of the nation’s first steps into space. Unfortunately its orbital successor, the X-15B, never got to take the next step. The X-15 was launched from underneath the wing of a B-52 bomber at around 45,000 feet at which point the pilot would light its main engine, climb in a high arc as he burned through all his fuel, then made an unpowered landing on a dry lakebed in California...a flight profile identical to the SpaceshipTwo’s.

The X-15’s story usually ends there, but its designers wanted to send it into orbit. The push to get a man in space took on a sense of urgency after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in October 1957. Proposals from aviation companies started pouring in to the Air Force. Among the submissions was an orbital version of the X-15 proposed by its builder, North American Aviation. A “stripped” version of the X-15 would be launched on a two-stage booster — the first stage would be a cluster of three Navaho missiles and the second stage a single Navaho — and the X-15’s own XLR-99 engine would serve as a third stage.

With this configuration, the orbital X-15 could reach an apogee of 400,000 feet and a perigee of 250,000 feet. Its low perigee meant the orbital X-15 wouldn’t need retrorockets to start its descent back towards the Earth; it would return naturally after one orbit. The pilot would eject and land by parachute just before ditching the X-15 in the Gulf of Mexico. The aircraft wouldn’t be recovered. North American anticipated launching a man into orbit on this cobbled together spaceplane within 30 months for a mere $120 million. (5/10)

Aldrin: Forget the Moon. Let's Go to Mars (Source: National Geographic)
America won the "moon race" more than four decades ago. We do not need to engage in that contest again. Instead, we should set our sights on a permanent human presence on Mars. There is no compelling reason that this can't be done, but great care must be taken that precious government dollars necessary for the great leap to Mars are not sidetracked to the moon. Robotic exploration of the Red Planet-—including the highly capable NASA Mars rover Curiosity—-provides us a window on a world that can be a true home-away-from-home for future adventurers.

Mars has been flown by, orbited, smacked into, radar inspected, and rocketed onto, as well as bounced upon, rolled over, shoveled, drilled into, baked, and even laser blasted. Still to come—being stepped on. The first footfalls on Mars will mark a momentous milestone, an enterprise that requires human tenacity matched with technology to anchor ourselves on another world. Click here. (5/10)

Power of the Suborbital Experiments Market is Growing (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Up until now, getting an experiment into space has been an expensive, time consuming process. The choices have been limited to sounding rockets, the space shuttle, and the International Space Station. All these systems offered rare opportunities to fly and even fewer chances to fly the same experiment more than once. Reusable suborbital spacecraft promise to change that situation by offering routine and affordable access to the microgravity environment. Citizens in Space Founder Ed Wright predicted that thousands of experiments will be flown into space annually once these vehicles are operating commercially. (5/10)

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