May 13, 2013

Proposed Texas Launch Pad Situated in Smuggling Route (Source: SPACErePORT)
SpaceX's proposed launch site at Boca Chica is situated within view of the Mexican border, a stone's throw from the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, where border towns like Matamoros and Reynosa are ground zero in a violent struggle for control of the Gulf Cartel. Within the past two months, the U.S. Consulate in Matamoros issued a travel warning for the border region, citing carjackings and kidnappings, while local media outlets report gunfights and grenade throwings in towns 'held hostage' by drug violence.

Across the border in Texas' Cameron County (home of the proposed Boca Chica launch site), police have recently made multiple arrests with seizures of bulk cash, cocaine, and marijuana. Smugglers are using innovative tactics like "the use of cloned vehicles that are equipped and painted to appear as belonging to a company or government agency,” including law enforcement vehicles. The Boca Chica area is a Primary Avenue of Approach for both drug and human smuggling from Mexico into the U.S.

According to the website Mexico's Drug War, "The Gulf cartel is based in Matamoros, Tamaulipas state, and smuggles cocaine, marijuana, heroin, and methamphetamine into the US. The cartel is known for its violence and intimidation. Aside from earning money from narcotics sales, the Gulf cartel also collects “taxes” from dealers and local businesses in exchange for protection. They are also reportedly expanding their business into kidnapping for ransom." (5/13)

Air Force, SpaceX Close to Certification Plan (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The U.S. Air Force and SpaceX are within a week of agreeing on a plan for the certification of Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets to compete to launch defense payloads. The plan includes launching Dscovr (Deep Space Climate Observatory) aboard a Falcon 9 in late 2014 to the Sun-Earth Lagrange point L1, which is located 930,000 miles from Earth. SpaceX will also launch the Air Force’s Space Test Program (STP-2) mission — which consists of two satellites — aboard a Falcon Heavy in mid-2015.

“SpaceX says that in addition to preparing for the two OSP-3 missions and additional flights of the Falcon 9 and Heavy variants, it must undergo extensive audits of its spacecraft control and operations software along with reviews of launch site operations prior to certification,” Aviation Week reports. Once the launch vehicles are certified, SpaceX will be able to compete with United Launch Alliance for defense missions.

Editor's Note: In pursuit of Air Force EELV launch business, SpaceX is learning about the levels of oversight and "mission assurance" support that the military will impose on the company's launch operations for high value national security payloads. NASA will impose similar demands for human spaceflight missions to the Space Station. This kind of on-site involvement from the Air Force and NASA leads to higher costs and slower schedules for each mission. SpaceX is looking at non-federal launch site alternatives so they can avoid these cost and schedule impacts as they compete for commercial launch contracts. (5/13)

Air-Traffic Control Towers Will Stay Open, FAA Says (Source: AP)
The Federal Aviation Administration announced that the 149 air-traffic control towers scheduled to close in June will now remain open through the end of the fiscal year in September. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said there is enough money in the FAA budget to keep the towers open after Congress passed a bill to end furloughs of air-traffic controllers by allowing the agency to shift money in its budget. (5/11)

Beyond GEO, Commercially: 15 years... and Counting (Source: Space Review)
Fifteen years ago today, a commercial communications satellite stranded in a transfer orbit flew around the Moon in a bid to make it to geosynchronous orbit. Rex Ridenoure provides a behind-the-scenes account of the development of that rescue scenario, marking the first -- and, to date, only -- commercial mission beyond GEO. Visit to view the article. (5/13)

Asteroids: On the Way to Mars, or Just in the Way? (Source: Space Review)
NASA has argued that its proposed asteroid initiative, including a mission to redirect an asteroid into lunar orbit to be visited by astronauts, is a key step towards human missions to Mars. Jeff Foust reports from a Mars conference last week where some saw that asteroid mission as more of a distraction. Visit to view the article. (5/13)

Notable Canadians Who Have Made History in Space Exploration (Source: Star Phoenix)
Chris Hadfield is the latest in a line of Canadians who have left their mark on the history of space exploration. Here is a list of notable Canadians to venture into the final frontier. (5/13)

Skylab's 40th Anniversary Reminds Us of Space Debris Danger (Source: Guardian)
NASA is commemorating the 40th anniversary of Skylab, America's first space station, launched on 14 May 1973. It was part of an initiative to reuse the hardware Nasa developed to land on the moon. It was launched into space on the last of the giant Saturn V rockets to ever make it into orbit. In 1974, after three Skylab crews had inhabited the space station, NASA ran out of rockets and money. All future investment was being channelled towards the space shuttle program, which NASA believed would launch its first mission in 1979.

So Skylab was abandoned. However, NASA had intended that the second shuttle mission would carry a specially designed booster that would lift the space station to a higher orbit where it could await refurbishment. The trouble was, the sun had other ideas. The very solar activity that Skylab had studied so fruitfully now turned against it. An unexpected rise in solar activity and other radiation slamming into Earth heated our atmosphere so much that it expanded. This increased the drag on Skylab and began to pull it out of orbit.

By late 1977, it was estimated that Skylab would re-enter in mid-1979. With the space shuttle rescue mission slated for July 1979, the race was on. In December 1978, NASA gave up. Delays meant that the shuttle program would be years late. Nothing could prevent the 85-ton space station from crashing to Earth. Making matters worse, in 1978 a nuclear-powered Russian satellite fell into northern Canada, generating public dismay. Although Skylab had no nuclear material on board, the world was starting to realise what goes up must come down. (5/13)

Orion Crack Repair Under Scrutiny in Loads Testing (Source:
Engineers at KSC put the first space-bound Orion capsule through its first test in November 2012, pressurizing it to check its integrity. The test was halted after technicians heard audible cracking sounds, and inspections showed three small cracks in the aft bulkhead on the lower half of the Orion spacecraft's pressure shell. The cracks materialized in three adjacent radial ribs of the aluminum bulkhead. The cracks were about a half-inch long, but the fractures did not penetrate the spacecraft's pressure vessel.

Engineers designed structural braces to resolve the problem, and they are now putting the repaired capsule--set to fly in orbit in 2014--through static load tests. The testing began May 3 and will run through June inside KSC's O&C Building. The pressure shell of the Orion spacecraft, comprised of welded olive-green aluminum-lithium metal panels, is being put through the tests to verify the capsule can withstand loads it will encounter during launch, re-entry and splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

NASA opted to install "doublers" and custom brackets over the cracked area to ensure the craft can sustain loads from pressure, launch and landing. The structural aids are similar to repairs often used on airplanes. NASA and Lockheed Martin added more than 1,600 strain gauges to measure the effects of the loads testing on the spacecraft, which sits in a 20-foot-high test fixture at KSC. The loads test, divided into eight phases, will first impart forces and stresses the spacecraft will experience during launch. The re-entry and landing portion of the test occurs last. (5/13)

How Chris Hadfield Brought Space Travel Back to us Earthlings (Source: The Telegraph)
In space, nobody will hear you scream, but everybody wants to see your tweets. That appears to be the over-riding message from the phenomenal success of Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield. The former Army test pilot has become a global celebrity after his pithy insights into the more mundane aspects of life in the zero gravity environment of space have been lapped up by the public. Using the social media site Twitter, he has provided a running commentary of the trials and tribulations of being the 35th commander of the International Space Station.

Despite the popularity of the images he regularly sends back, it has been his 60 or so videos posted onto YouTube by the Canadian Space Agency that have been the real success. In them he has taught the world about why a candle burns with a round flame in zero gravity, why tears do not fall in space and how astronauts shave. He has conducted mini-experiments that would appear mundane back here on Earth - such as wringing out a soaking wet cloth - which have fascinated and delighted viewers in equal measure. (5/12)

Will Competing Plans Hurt Our Future in Space? (Source: Florida Today)
President Barack Obama had grand plans for NASA three years ago. He touted a “different” vision for the agency that would spur competition among private aerospace firms to develop a replacement for the space shuttle. That plan, known as the Commercial Crew program, was designed to hold down costs and advance U.S. space interests. It seemed like an approach that would please lawmakers, including free-market-minded Republicans concerned about runaway spending and national security.

But Commercial Crew has been a tough sell, politically. Lawmakers reluctantly have provided enough money for it to limp along, but not nearly enough to meet some of the ambitious deadlines the Obama administration originally set. And they question whether aerospace companies are being given too much flexibility in developing a new vehicle to carry U.S. astronauts to the space station. The first crewed mission to the space station has been delayed until at least late 2017 — and that's only if Congress approves NASA's full funding request for the next three years, an unlikely scenario.

John Logsdon, former director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, said the president outraged many lawmakers, notably Republicans, by not consulting with them before scrapping a program, called Constellation, to return to the moon. So lawmakers crafted their own plan: a Space Launch System (SLS) that would develop a heavy-lift rocket for the asteroid and Mars missions — on their terms. Click here. (5/12)

NASA Announces Summer Learning Opportunities For U.S. Students (Source: SpaceRef)
NASA has unveiled plans for its 2013 Summer of Innovation project, which challenges middle school students across the United States to share in the excitement of scientific discovery and space exploration through unique, NASA-related science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) opportunities. Summer of Innovation leverages the expertise and reach of NASA's 10 field centers, national academic and industry partners and smaller, non-traditional collaborators to keep students engaged in STEM activities during the summer school break. Click here. (5/13)

EchoStar Taps ILS To Launch Heaviest Commercial Comsat to Date (Source: Space News)
EchoStar, after leaving long-time supplier International Launch Services (ILS) for Europe’s Arianespace consortium for a multilaunch deal, is returning to ILS for the launch--in late 2015 or early 2016--of a communications satellite that, at 6,920 kilograms, will be the heaviest commercial spacecraft to date. The satellite in question likely is the TerreStar-2 mobile communications satellite, built by Loral.

The twin TerreStar-1 was launched in 2009 as a solo passenger aboard Arianespace’s Ariane 5 rocket and weighed in at 6,910 kilograms. U.S. satellite television broadcaster Dish Networks plans to develop a hybrid satellite-terrestrial wireless broadband service in the United States. The Dish effort in recent months has been helped by the regulatory roadblocks encountered by LightSquared. (5/13)

UP Aerospace Returns to Flight on Jun. 21 with SpaceLoft XL Launch in New Mexico (Source: Pat Hynes)
We have a launch date. On June 21, 2013, student experiments from Camino Real Middle School, La Academia De Delores Huerta and New Mexico State University will be among the five schools with experiments headed to space from Spaceport America. We had a year-long delay on this flight because of a licensing issue. New Mexico Space Grant and NASA have been major investors in the program that bought the rocket and supported the education program to provide annual access to space for student experiments.

NASA wanted to expand their support through the Flight Opportunities Program, to enable more flights from the spaceport. And that's when it happened. A short term delay turned into more a twelve month delay. Click here. (5/13)

Moonwalkers Sell Right Stuff in $1 Million Space Auction (Source: Bloomberg)
Owning something flown on the Apollo lunar missions has always been challenging. However since last September, when the U.S. house passed a resolution granting astronauts clear title to the items they carried into space, it has become a lot easier. Previously, confusion over whether NASA held title kept some fliers from putting their items on the block out of fear of government intervention. It was a gray area -- sometimes NASA contested title, others it didn’t.

In 2011, for example, the agency stopped the sale of a 16 mm movie camera Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell had carried to the moon. (Mitchell later donated the item, which he had valued between $60,000 and $80,000, to the Smithsonian.) Around the same time, NASA interfered with Heritage Auction’s $388,375 sale of a 70-page flight checklist James Lovell Jr. had with him on his ill-fated Apollo 13 mission.

Amherst, New Hampshire-based RR Auction has just put 858 lots up for its May 16 - 23 Aviation and Space Artifacts auction, expected to fetch upwards of $1 million. At least 85 are from Apollo 11, the first manned lunar landing and the most coveted source of space memorabilia. Click here. (5/12)

Hadfield: Lunar Return Focus Would Merely 'Titilate' (Source: BBC)
Space station commander Chris Hadfield said that those calling for a quick return of manned missions to the Moon are seeking "titillation". His comments were in response to suggestions that the International Space Station (ISS) served little purpose. "We will go to the Moon and we will go to Mars; we will go and see what asteroids and comets are made of," he said. "But we're not going to do it tomorrow and we're not going to do it because it titillates the nerve endings. We're going to do it because it's a natural human progression."

"It's a process - we're not trying to make a front page every day and we're not planning on planting a flag every time we launch. That's just a false expectation of low-attention-span consumerism... We are leaving Earth permanently," he said with zeal. "It is a huge historic step and we are trying to do it right and it takes time, it takes patience and it takes tenacity - and we're going to do it."

His argument is that the construction and utilisation of the ISS will lead to the development of technologies that will eventually enable humanity to leave Earth and settle on other worlds. But that process will be a slow and incremental one. And he has this to say to those who want things to move much faster: "It's just an uninformed lack of patience and lack of understanding of complexity and a desire to be amused and entertained that builds a false set of expectations." (5/13)

How YOU Can Help Grow a Mars Garden (Source: SEN)
With NASA looking forward to manned missions to Mars within a couple of decades, thoughts are turning to how astronauts there might sustain themselves. Ferrying food supplies from Earth will be enormously expensive and if colonies are developed then their residents will surely need to become as self-sufficient as possible. Some scientists are already devoting research into what plants might be cultivated on the Red Planet. It turns out that despite the thin and unbreathable atmosphere and lack of a protective shield against radiation, the soil itself is fit for crops.

One UK scientist who is investigating the potential for gardening on Mars is Dr Louisa Preston, of the UK’s Open University. After gaining her degree in geology, Louisa switched to astrobiology. Now she has joined forces with Canadian artist Vanessa Harden to design a Martian garden. They envisage sending robots to Mars to set up space greenhouses where seed pills containing seeds, clay and nutrients could be scattered and then nurtured even before the first human residents arrive. Click here. (5/13)

Hadfield Covers Bowie's Space Oddity on ISS (Source: Guardian)
He's been delighting space enthusiasts for months with his tweets from the International Space Station, but to make his farewell, Commander Chris Hadfield went a whole giant leap better. On Sunday night, he posted a cover version of David Bowie's Space Oddity, recorded 230 miles above the earth. The video, complete with him strumming an acoustic guitar on the space station, was his parting act and came after a request on Reddit. He returns to earth on Monday. Click here. (5/13)

Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser Heads to Dryden for Drop Tests (Source:
Sierra Nevada has shipped their Dream Chaser ETA (Engineering Test Article) to the Dryden Flight Research Center in California. The vehicle will be prepared for a series of drop tests, a key Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) milestone. (5/13)

Branson: Space Tourism Won't Hurt Environment (Source: Business Standard)
British billionaire Richard Branson said that rocket-powered space tourism flights by his firm Virgin Galactic would have only a minor impact on climate change. "We have reduced the (carbon emission) cost of somebody going into space from something like two weeks of New York's electricity supply... To less than the cost of a economy round-trip from Singapore to London," Branson said. (5/13)

South Texas Leads Nation in Private Space Exploration (Source: Alice TX)
SpaceX and other private space exploration companies have eyed Texas because of its pro-business regulatory environment and low taxes as well as its location in proximity to the equator, which allows rockets to be launched faster, and NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston. Commercial space operations in Texas, and specifically South Texas, would have significant economic implications. The development of a spaceport in Brownsville would promote local jobs and encourage tourism to the region. Successful implementation could allow for more local manufacturing of rocket materials and reduce transportation costs. (5/13)

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