May 19, 2013

Spaceport Georgia (Source: Ledger-Enquirer)
Georgia is ideally situated, in terms of both geography and infrastructure, to locate a commercial spaceport. Our southern latitude is important because spacecraft get an additional boost from Earth's rotation the farther south they launch. Also, launching spacecraft over the ocean, rather than heavily populated land areas, reduces the risk. Where can you find a southeastern coastline? Georgia. These geographical assets are further enhanced with barge access to the Atlantic, a superior interstate system, and the world's busiest airport nearby.

Combine these benefits with a population of 85,000 aerospace workers in the state and an outstanding university system to train and enhance the next generation workforce, and Georgia presents a highly attractive package for space entrepreneurs. Few people today realize that in 1960, when NASA was looking for a site to launch rockets, Georgia was on the short list for many of these reasons. New work to obtain spaceport property and do the things necessary for it to become a reality has already begun.

If successful, one need only look at the area surrounding Kennedy Space Center to see what it could mean for Georgia. Imagine the high-tech companies that have located near the center and the jobs that have been created, both in the space industry and those necessary to support that increasing population. Add to that the tourists who visit the Space Coast every day and the additional tourists who come to the area for each launch. Elon Musk said that whoever gets this complex will be getting the Cape Canaveral of commercial space. The economic potential is simply astounding. Click here. (5/18)

Hale Tells Senators Public-Private Union is the Way (Source: Florida Today)
Wayne Hale went before the U.S. Senate last week and pointedly summed up the state of America’s space program. After working decades in the government-run space shuttle and space station projects, he told senators that NASA’s seeding of commercial programs are the start of a solution to the biggest obstacle to space exploration. “The most singularly vexing problem with spaceflight is the high cost of getting to low-Earth orbit,” Hale told the committee, noting that the problem dogged the industry since its start.

Getting over that, Hale said, is done the same way that other major technological problems were solved: public-private partnership. “So we are in a ‘chicken or the egg’ paradox,” Hale testified. “Space business needs low-cost transportation to become profitable, while potential private transportation services need established business to justify the cost of construction. This is not the first time that America has been in this situation. Both the early railroads and fledgling air transportation industries found themselves becalmed in similar straits. In both these cases, and others, the federal taxpayers stepped in to provide critical resources to help new industries develop.

With commercial systems under development for NASA, Hale warned: “Poised on the cusp of these new systems, we run the risk of being penny-wise and pound-foolish as we make the same mistake that doomed the space shuttle to much higher cost operations: starving a spacecraft development program in the name of saving a few pennies for today’s budget bottom line, resulting in the compromised systems that, if they fly at all, will not be cheap enough to enable business in space.” (5/18)

The Torah of Space Exploration (Source: Huffington Post)
We humans are naturally curious creatures -- we are born to explore. A mission to Mars excites us because we simply don't know what we'll discover, or how exactly it will add to our knowledge, or what new technologies will arise as a result. Even if we don't immediately sense its benefits, it still has value, because the journey of learning is its own reward. That's the same message we get on Shavuot, our celebration of Torah, because the study of Torah, too, doesn't always provide an immediate return on its investment. Instead, we study Torah lishmah, for its own sake.

Why? Because Torah is not designed to train us how to build a boat. It is designed to make us long for the open seas. Jewish learning is never supposed to give us a final and definitive answer. Instead, it is supposed to inspire us, and to push us to explore beyond what we already know. (5/17)

What Governments Can Learn From Chris Hadfield (Source: Time)
The manned space program was once like Green Bay Packers tickets — the thing just sold itself. You’ve got the spacemen, we’ve got the eyeballs. Workplaces came to a stop and TVs were rolled into classrooms not just for an Al Shepard or a John Glenn, but for Pete Conrad and Dick Gordon going up aboard Gemini 11. Know about that one? Of course you don’t. But everyone did back then. Things are a little different now. Quick: How many people are currently aboard the International Space Station? Anybody?

The thrill would inevitably fade a bit after the Apollo 11 landing, but nobody expected it to fade to black—which it effectively has. Part of the problem has been the sales pitch. The Apollo program was followed by Skylab—the first American space station—and NASA chose the dreariest possible metaphor to describe it: no longer were we embarking on voyages of discovery like Magellan’s or Columbus’s, this time we were going to establish a little  colony—like Jamestown! There’s heroism in such work, sure. But excitement? Not exactly.

NASA hasn’t even tried to get much public relations mileage out of the current space station, though it’s a breathtaking if not terribly useful machine. Over the past nine years, the rest of the manned space program has drifted from a return to the moon and a trip to Mars, to a return to the moon alone, to a visit to an asteroid or a gravity-neutral Lagrange point, to the latest head-scratcher: capturing an asteroid and towing it to the vicinity of the moon so we can visit it. What Hadfield did—what any smart advertiser does—was sweep away any ancillary clutter and get straight to the point he wanted to make. Click here. (5/19)

L.A. Hobbyists Seek $1.5 Million Prize in NASA Mars Robot Challenge (Source: Pasadena Star-News)
When NASA takes the next big step in Mars exploration - retrieving a rock sample and bringing it safely back to Earth - it might have to thank a few dedicated hobbyists who are doing the hardscrabble work to develop a robot that can drive itself. Fourteen teams, some of them just lone builders working in their spare time, are competing in the NASA Sample Return Robot Challenge, now in its second year, with a $1.5 million prize at stake.

Each team is working on an autonomous robot that can recognize objects in a grassy field and go pick them up, without relying on human control or Earth-based technology such as GPS. No one really expects the teams to succeed, at least not yet. "We did set the bar very high," said Sam Ortega, who oversees the competition from Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.

The robot builders will gather June 5 at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, and are unlikely to get past the first of two stages. That's if the robots meet some strict guidelines, such as an 80-kilogram maximum weight. Last year, only one team even managed to reach the first stage. NASA is seeking cutting-edge technology from blue-collar citizens and companies, rather than its own engineers, in hopes of finding the revolutionary approaches that come from limited resources. (5/18)

Space Florida and Kennedy Space Center Host 'Egg Drop' (Source: America Space)
While it has been said, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” and “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch,” 233 Florida students opted to not take that advice as they had their eyes on the prize—a single unbroken egg—Saturday, May 18, as they competed in the fourth annual Planetary Lander Egg Drop Competition at Strawberry Crest High School located in Dover, Florida.

The competition was hosted by Space Florida and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center to inspire students from all grade levels to pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and to foster critical thinking through designing and building their own “landers,” designed to cushion and protect an egg. The event boasted designs from students in elementary, middle, and high school teams across several Florida counties.

Ten elementary school teams, 19 middle school teams, and 15 high school teams took part in the competition, in which their designs were judged for creativity, durability, originality, planning, and, of course, whether their egg “payload,” dropped from a height of 20 feet, landed intact without cracking or breaking. Click here. (5/18)

Why Sign Up for a One-Way Mars Trip? Three Applicants Explain the Appeal (Source: NBC)
A one-way trip to Mars sounds like something you'd wish on your worst enemy — so why would more than 78,000 people from around the world pay up to $75 for a chance to die on another planet? "I can say I have an ulterior motive," said David Brin, who has written more than a dozen science-fiction novels — including "The Postman," which was turned into a Kevin Costner movie in 1997. "I'd get a lot of writing done, and it might be memorable."

As a master of hard science fiction, the 62-year-old Brin knows better than most applicants what the first Red Planet settlers would face if they're sent off in 2022, as the Dutch-based Mars One venture has proposed. "This may sound crazy, but it kind of reminds me of 'The Hunger Games,'" said Kayli McArthur, an 18-year-old student who's one of the youngest Mars One applicants. "It's cool that it would be televised, but that's not my whole thing."

On the other end of the age spectrum, 71-year-old psychiatrist Sanford Pomerantz is a little surprised that it's taking this long to get something like Mars One off the ground. "I thought by now we would have colonized Mars," said Pomerantz, who's currently the oldest applicant on Mars One's list. Click here. (5/18)

KSC's MLPs Would Support Liquid and Solid Fuel Rockets, Including Liberty (Source:
KSC’s Ground Systems Development and Operations (GSDO) program has noted how they expect to transition their three Mobile Launch Platforms (MLPs), with MLP-1 set to retire, MLP-2 to be dedicated to a liquid fueled vehicle – such as Atlas V, and MLP-3 to be used by a Solid Rocket Motor vehicle – such as ATK's Liberty rocket. ATK is understood to be close to announcing details of a realigned version of that rocket, currently known as Liberty II.

Editor's Note: With Liberty's first stage serving as NASA's initial SLS strap-on boosters, ATK is able to to keep it's development alive despite Liberty having lost NASA's early Commercial Crew solicitations. One key to Liberty's long-term business case may be the rocket's eligibility for launching military payloads under the Air Force's EELV program. (5/18)

From Atlas V to Falcon X – Commercial Suitors Wanted for Pad 39A (Source:
A level of interest has already been mooted by several parties, ranging from ULA's Atlas V through to SpaceX’s future monster Falcon X concepts. Sources claim that Space Florida will likely obtain the use of the Shiloh site located at the very North end of KSC, providing environmental reports come back favorable. In that event, Space Florida may be willing to provide funds to SpaceX to build a Falcon Heavy complex at the Shiloh site.

More intriguing is the interest in potentially hosting a Super Heavy version of the Falcon, a notional family of rockets called Falcon X, Falcon X Heavy and Falcon XX – vehicles that would utilize the preliminary future engine that was initially referred to as the Merlin 2, but has since moved towards an engine called Raptor.

These vehicles were mentioned as having expressed interest in Complex 39A in the long-term future, citing potential scenarios where Space Florida held full control over the complex within the next 10 years, which – it was noted – would be below the time frame SpaceX is envisioned to be looking at actually building their own Super Heavy Lift Vehicle. The ULA have also expressed interest – again, providing the economics are acceptable – in potential options at Complex 39. (5/18)

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