May 22, 2013

Global Award Winners for the 2013 International Space Apps Challenge (Source: NASA)
The results from 2013 International Space Apps Challenge are incredible. More than 9,000 hackers, designers, and explorers in 83 cities and from all corners of the world made this the largest hackathon in history. An unbelievable 770 solutions were submitted, and thousands of people worked together to address challenges and create immeasurable amount of enthusiasm and investment in exploration.

Of those solutions, 134 were nominated for global recognition. Over the past few weeks we have reviewed each and every one of them, a truly inspirational process. A panel of judges consisting of representatives from NASA and other governmental and non-governmental organizations evaluated the top solutions, and today we are announcing the six best in class winners. Click here. (5/22)

Florida Entrepreneur Gives Shuttle Truss New Uses (Source: Spaceport News)
A truss design devised to help workers process space shuttles continues to find new uses as a space shuttle engineer-turned-entrepreneur adapts it to everything from a solar-powered electric generator to a mobile cellphone tower. The structure, which is constantly being redesigned into smaller packages that unfold to larger sizes, also is envisioned for Mars or other space destinations where it could be deployed to connect modules for astronauts.

Jim Fletcher, who worked for United Space Alliance during the space shuttle era, began working on the truss 10 years ago and started a company two years ago called CPI Technologies dedicated to producing them. He is working closely with the Florida Solar Energy Center and the Space Coast Energy Consortium to refine the design since it is clean and renewable energy.

The design began life as an extendable work platform that would reach over the shuttle’s cargo bay. “We were trying to come up with a way to reach out and retrieve something while the shuttle was out at the pad so we wouldn’t have to roll it back to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB),” Fletcher said. (5/17)

Moon or Asteroid? Congress Debates Best Pit Stop to Mars (Source: Space News)
NASA’s plan to lasso an asteroid for astronauts as a deep-space dry run for a future mission to Mars has some members of Congress wondering if the space agency would be better off setting its sights on the Moon instead. Some members of Congress favored sending astronauts back to the Moon instead. “To me there is no better way for our astronauts to learn how to live and work on another planet than to use the Moon as a training ground,” Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) said. “It is difficult to determine what advantages this [asteroid mission] may offer,” he added.

Editor's Note: Take a guess how these members of Congress would react if China declared their intent to capture an asteroid and gain expertise to exploit its resources. Rather than being dismissive of NASA's plans, they would probably view the asteroid mission as demonstrating a strategic capability for in-space operations, while also supporting future commercial asteroid mining and planetary defense needs.

Atlantis Takes Flight at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (Source: America Space)
With less than a month to go before the doors open on what could be one of the most exciting space exhibits ever, Space Shuttle Atlantis is one step closer to being ready to make her grand entrance. This past week, at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, Atlantis’ payload bay doors were open; in doing so the concept behind the structure’s design was clearly validated.

Space Shuttle Atlantis looked like a small spacecraft in a large building when she was towed in to her new home back in November of last year. The new $100 million exhibit has 90,000 square feet of exhibit space and is funded without tax payer money (revenue from ticket and other sales is what empowers the Visitor Complex to accomplish its mission).

Now? There is a large spacecraft in a small building, one which has been built around her. She is now within arm’s reach of the general public, with the cargo bays open and the newly installed glass balcony partitions separated by only a few feet. The port side wing (left) was only seven feet above the finished floor when she was raised to 36 feet off the floor, then tilted to an angle of 43.21’. Ironically 3-2-1, as in lift-off, is also the area code for Brevard County—home of KSC. (5/22)

Local Leaders Busy Promoting NASA to Feds (Source: Galveston Daily News)
The eight-dozen advocates representing the Citizens for Space Exploration at Capitol Hill are preparing for a long couple of days. The group of local elected officials, college students, space industry business representatives and Galveston County/Galveston Bay business leaders have about 350 office visits scheduled during the next two days. The group met Monday night to strategize.

The mission is to push for the continued funding of NASA’s space exploration missions and hold off cuts.
It’s a tough sell in this town. While many in Congress say they support manned space flight, it’s not a priority for many.  It’s always a challenge for this group to remind those who control the budget that there are benefits of space exploration in everyday life. Those walking the Hill Tuesday and Wednesday will do what they can to point out the many benefits of the U.S. space program, which has contributed to medical research and to the creation of new environmental products. (5/21)

U.S.-Soviet Model Urged For U.S.-China Space Cooperation (Source: Aviation Week)
As China prepares for another launch to its Tiangong-1 mini-space station next month, political scientists see the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP) as a model for bringing China into “the family of space-faring nations.” The ASTP was a symbolic gesture that encouraged an eventual Cold War thaw. The docking had little technical significance, but it laid the groundwork for a thaw in U.S.-Soviet relations that extended into strategic arms control and ultimately led to the merger of the two superpowers' space station programs.

But China, the only other nation to orbit its own crews, is blocked by U.S. law from even visiting the station. The U.S. and China are forbidden to cooperate in civil space on human-rights grounds, by language Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) attached to NASA's appropriations bill. Military space cooperation between the two nations is actually easier, to the extent that the Pentagon's Africa Command has been using Chinese-owned Apstar-7 for commercial communications links.

“U.S. restrictions on working with China in space are coming across as the U.S. is a bit of the mean girl in the international space community, as though we think we can just decide who is in the clique and who is not,” said Joan Johnson-Freese, a political scientist at the U.S. Naval War College, who stressed that she was expressing her own opinion as an academic. Click here. (5/20)

Kiwis Spend Almost $2 Million on Tickets to Space (Source: Showroom)
Kiwis have spent more than $1.8 million on space travel to embark on flights with the world’s first commercial space service. New Zealanders are able to secure their tickets with the Virgin Galactic service through its travel partner House of Travel. Interest in these history-making flights is expected to increase as Kiwis learn more of the opportunity to aboard a space-bound aircraft.

Eight Kiwis nationwide have purchased tickets for the rocket-powered flights, which will see would-be astronauts view the planets and stars from above the Earth’s atmosphere, while feeling the unique sensation of zero gravity. House of Travel Chief Executive Officer Mark O’Donnell couldn’t be happier for the New Zealand-owned company to have the opportunity to take Kiwis to space. (5/22)

Jacksonville Company Wins Contract for Stennis Rocket Test Stand (Source: Jacksonville Business Journal)
Sauer Inc. of Jacksonville has won a $6.5 million NASA task order to renovate the B-2 space rocket test stand at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. Sauer expects to break ground in late spring and complete the project in 10 months. The B-2 Test Stand at Stennis was originally built to test Saturn rocket stages that propelled astronauts to the moon. It is being completely renovated to test NASA’s new Space Launch System’s core stage in late 2016 and early 2017. (5/21)

Giant Test Stands Will Rise at Marshall as Space Launch System Grows (Source: Huntsville Times)
NASA engineers are building on the historic foundation of rocket testing in Huntsville - literally - as they prepare for critical stress tests on the core of Space Launch System, America's next deep-space rocket. Two large new test stands are being designed for Marshall Space Flight Center, and one of those stands will be built atop the bedrock-deep foundation of the stand Wernher von Braun used to test the massive F-1 Saturn V engines.

These new tests won't shake the ground across Huntsville as those Saturn V engine tests did, because NASA does its engine testing now in the vast open space of the Stennis Space Center in south Mississippi. But the tests in Huntsville will be critical to the new rocket meeting its tight flight schedule, and the testing program itself is a complicated choreography. (5/21)

There's Still Science on Space Station (Source: Motherboard)
During his five month sojourn in space, Hadfield himself conducted more than 130 experiments. He and his crew of five flight engineers – Russian cosmonauts Pavel Vinogradov, Alexander Misurkin, and Roman Romanenko; and two NASA astronauts, Chris Cassidy and Tom Marshburn – set a record by spending 71 hours in one week on scientific research.

One experiment called InSPACE—an acronym for “Investigating the Structure of Paramagnetic Aggregates from Colloidal Emulsions"—has engineering implications on Earth. At the heart of this experiment are fluids called magnetorheological suspensions, fluids containing ellipsoid shaped particles that change the physical properties of that fluid in response to magnetic fields.

These fluids are classified as smart materials because they can transition into a solid-like state by forming a criss-cross microstructure in the presence of a magnetic field. Sort of like the one of Earth. These fluids are already used as vibration dampening systems that can be turned on or off (such as those used in high-end car suspensions), but the data gathered on the ISS will help engineers use the material to build building and bridges that can better withstand earthquakes. (5/22)

Could 3-D-Printed Food Fuel a Mission to Mars? (Source: Washington Post)
NASA can send robots to Mars, no problem. But if it’s ever going to put humans on the Red Planet, it has to figure out how to feed them over the course of a years-long mission. So the space agency has funded research for what could be the ultimate nerd solution: a 3-D printer that creates entrees or desserts at the touch of a button. Yes, it’s another case of life imitating “Star Trek” (remember the food replicator?). In this case, though, the creators hope there is an application beyond deep-space pizza parties. The technology could also be used to feed hungry populations here on Earth.

Texas-based Systems and Materials Research Corp. has been selected for a $125,000 grant from NASA to develop a 3-D printer that will create “nutritious and flavorful” food suitable for astronauts, according to the company’s proposal. The project — the details of which NASA plans to finalize this week — was presented at the Humans 2 Mars Summit in Washington earlier this month. At the presentation, Anjan Contractor, an engineer at SMRC and the project manager, explained how the idea originated: he had used a 3-D printer to print chocolate for his wife.

The chocolate experiment led the company to think about other kinds of food that could be printed. A space-food printer doesn’t actually exist yet — it’s still a concept, which the company hopes to develop by the end of the year using NASA’s grant money. The space agency’s current astro-food system “is not adequate in nutrition or acceptability through the five-year shelf life required for a mission to Mars, or other long duration missions,” NASA spokesman David Steitz said in an e-mailed statement. (5/21)

Branson Announces Plans for Christmas Launch From New Mexico (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
Virgin Group billionaire Sir Richard Branson may be dreaming not of a white Christmas, but a space-y one. Branson, in remarks last week during a trip to Dubai, said the first public Virgin Galactic flight would happen Dec. 25. Asked about Branson's remarks, a publicist for Virgin Galactic sent a company statement noting that the start date for carrying paying passengers has always hinged upon safety. Other factors are the successful completion of its test-flight program and the FAA issuing a key license. (5/21)

Space Companies Warn Against Excessive Government Oversight (Source: Daily Breeze)
Aerospace executives on Tuesday praised the newfound autonomy they have enjoyed from NASA in sending spacecraft to the International Space Station, but warned against excessive government oversight of the burgeoning industry for launch vehicles and crew capsules. During a panel discussion Tuesday at the Space Tech Expo in Long Beach, representatives of various aerospace companies commended NASA for allowing the private sector to lead the way on the critical program.

"Before, NASA controlled all aspects of development, including design, testing," said Garrett Reisman, who heads SpaceX's Dragon space capsule program. "Now NASA says, 'Here are our main requirements and you have to figure out how to do that.' ... These commercial principles are really key to our success, whether it be cargo or crew." Reisman said there is a risk that the space agency would revert to its old way of doing business.

Returning to NASA's traditional role of controlling every step of development represents "the biggest threat to the success of the program," said Reisman, a former astronaut. Boeing Vice President John Mulholland said his company has benefited from NASA's reduced oversight on the Boeing crew capsule known as the CST-100. This relative autonomy has allowed Boeing to made decisions quickly without having to wait for NASA to give direction. (5/21)

Panel has Doubts on Proposed Future of NASA Programs (Source: Galveston Daily News)
Back to the moon? Or snag an asteroid and send astronauts there? Or should NASA go for it all and plan an all out mission to Mars? Those are the decisions being contemplated by Congress as it eyes not only NASA’s every-three year reauthorization legislation, but also its 2014 fiscal year budget. As NASA’s top officials promote President Barack Obama’s vision for missions that include unmanned spacecraft to lasso a small asteroid and bring it to a near-moon orbit for manned experiments, many on Capitol Hill have their doubts.

“Why would some NASA officials ignore their own experts… and forge ahead haphazardly with this asteroid retrieval mission?” U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-MS, chairman of the House subcommittee on Space, asked a panel of experts during hearings on NASA’s plans for missions beyond low-earth orbit Tuesday on Capitol Hill. The decision left most on the panel stumped, too. Douglas Cooke called the directive announcement a “backwards” way of approaching the mission. “It is not apparent that the administration’s asteroid retrieval proposal was developed based on consultation with stakeholders in the broader space community,” he said. He prefers a lunar mission.

But Louis Friedman, co-founder of The Planetary Society and the co-leader of the Keck Institute for Space Studies Asteroid Retrieval Mission Study at Caltech, said the technologies that would come from the proposed mission would advance the U.S. space program and serve as an inspiration for the next generation of space travel. “This mission may be one of the most exciting and interesting one in the history of exploration, certainly at least since the Apollo project,” Friedman said during his hearing testimony. (5/21)

What the Mission to Lasso an Asteroid Means for Mars (Source: Galveston Daily News)
“Many of the technical details are yet to be determined, but essentially it allows us to meet the president’s goal of reaching an asteroid by 2025,” NASA spokeswoman Rachel Kraft said. “The mission will also teach us a lot of information that we need to get to Mars ... We will redirect it to a stable orbit in trans-lunar space... This is basically an orbit where the asteroid would be stable, so we are not in danger of it going toward Earth or being dislodged. It would stay in that system and make it possible for humans to visit.”

Part of the logic behind this is this initiative allows NASA to align ongoing activities across several directorates, human exploration and operations led by William Gerstenmaier; space technology led by Michael Gazarik and NASA’s science mission directorate led by John Grunsfeld, Kraft said. “It takes advantage of a large swath of NASA expertise.”

Since 2010, NASA has been following a flexible path to send people to Mars. That path comes from President Obama’s Augustine Committee. They specified that path as an option if NASA’s budget were increased by $3 billion per year. NASA never obtained that budget increase. In April 2010, President Obama selected an astronaut rendezvous with an asteroid by 2025 as a target on the flexible path to Mars. This new 2013 NASA asteroid mission reduces danger to astronauts because mission duration will be measured in days or weeks instead of months. (5/21)

With New Mini-Satellites, Special Ops Takes Its Manhunts Into Space (Source: WIRED)
In September, the U.S. government will fire into orbit a two-stage rocket from a Virginia launchpad. Officially, the mission is a scientific one, designed to improve America’s ability to send small satellites into space quickly and cheaply. But the launch will also have a second purpose: to help the elite forces of U.S. Special Operations Command hunt down people considered to be dangerous to the United States and its interests.

For years, special operators have used tiny “tags” to clandestinely mark their prey — and satellites to relay information from those beacons. But there are areas of the world where the satellite coverage is thin, and there aren’t enough cell towers to provide an alternative. That’s why SOCOM is putting eight miniature communications satellites, each about the size of a water jug, on top of the Minotaur rocket that’s getting ready to launch from Wallops Island, Virginia. (5/21)

Private Space Industry Can't Get to Mars Without NASA (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
While the Mars rover Curiosity is discovering the building blocks of life on the Red Planet, many are equally excited about another development: Commercial companies have finally discovered profit in space. This is no small feat, considering the enormous risk and technical hurdles. With years of experience building government-designed rockets and communications satellites, private companies took the first cautious steps by funding research labs that hitched rides on the NASA space shuttle.

In fact, I was the first private astronaut working on techniques to manufacture new medicines in space on three shuttle flights in 1984-85. Now companies like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic are building their own rockets, making profits by launching satellites and sending supplies to the International Space Station. SpaceX founder Elon Musk has already boasted plans to build a new rocket that could send citizen colonists to Mars several years ahead of NASA's schedule, and for only $500,000 per ticket. That's dirt cheap. Click here. (5/22)

Witnesses Debate Strategic Stepping Stones to Mars (Source: House Science Committee)
The Subcommittee on Space held a hearing to examine possible options for the next steps in human space flight and how these options move the U.S. closer to a human mission to Mars and beyond. Witnesses debated whether the Obama administration’s proposed asteroid rendezvous mission is a better precursor for an eventual manned mission to Mars compared to other missions, such as a return to the Moon. Click here. (5/21)

China Space Program Ramping Up Capabilities, Pentagon Says (Source:
China’s growing space prowess shows no signs of slowing, the U.S. Department of Defense said in its annual report to Congress on military and security developments involving the People’s Republic of China. The Pentagon has been carefully monitoring China’s space activities, and pointed out that last year, the country conducted a total of 18 space launches and expanded its space-based intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, navigation, meteorological and communications satellite constellations. Click here. (5/22)

Volusia Town Hears Pitch for Spaceport, But Questions Remain (Source: Daytona Beach News-Journal)
Oak Hill wants more details before it takes a stand on the development of the "Shiloh" commercial spaceport on the city's southern doorstep. Space Florida is seeking community support on plans to construct the public-private launch facility on 150 acres of land. While no specific site has been chosen, property south of Oak Hill, but north of Haulover Canal on the Volusia-Brevard county line is being discussed.

Many Oak Hill residents still remember when family and friends lived at Shiloh, before the federal government came in during the 1950s and took over the property along the road to Playalinda, either by purchase or eminent domain, to build a space center at Cape Canaveral. Today, a couple of old cemeteries remain on the property and federal officials say the area is rich in historic and environmental resources.

Local fishermen, boaters, birdwatchers and others who frequent Canaveral National Seashore and the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge fear that closures to the area for commercial launches -- like those that took place during shuttle launches -- would prevent public access to the waterways and beaches. Oak Hill's neighbor to the north, Edgewater, took up the matter at its May 6 City Council meeting and voiced unanimous support for the proposal. (5/21)

Photos Show Efforts to Preserve Historic Apollo Rocket Engines (Source: WIRED)
Starting this Friday, you can watch the conservation of historical Apollo Saturn V engines that were recovered from the bottom of the ocean. That is, if you live near or are planning to visit Hutchinson, Kansas. Those of us who aren’t going to the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center anytime soon can check out these cool images of the preservation efforts, supplied by the museum. A team organized by Jeff Bezos picked up the artifacts, which blasted off from Florida and carried U.S. astronauts to the moon, after they spent more than 40 years lying on the ocean floor. The Bezos team still doesn’t know precisely which Apollo mission these particular engines came from. Click here. (5/21)

NASA Banking on Solar Electric Propulsions’s Slow but Steady Push (Source: Space News)
The list of technologies NASA says it needs for a crewed mission to Mars notionally envisioned for the 2030s includes large-scale electric propulsion systems that dwarf those used today aboard many satellites. “The type of solar electric propulsion that is flying now, at the 4 kilowatt or 5 kilowatt level, is very useful for doing things like station keeping,” said David Manzella, an engineer with the solar electric propulsion group at NASA’s Glenn Research Center near Cleveland. “But it doesn’t provide enough thrust to move heavy payloads in short times,”

Neither would the first in a series of scaled-up solar electric systems NASA is working on now, which are being paid for by the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. Just as NASA envisions sending astronauts to a relocated asteroid before leaping on to Mars, it has also planned an intermediate step between the small, electric attitude control systems of today and the massive space tugs of tomorrow: a system that generates between 25 kilowatts and 30 kilowatts of power, and that would be first flown in space between 2016 and 2019, Manzella said. (5/20)

Despite DC Budget Woes, NASA Still Deserves Support (Source: Galveston Daily News)
The Citizens for Space Exploration, a multistate grass roots organization established to keep NASA’s exploration programs funded is in Washington, D.C., this week, making its best case to the 113th Congress. They’ll remind lawmakers of how much our investments in space exploration improve our lives, our well-being and our future. Sadly, though, this has become a sort of annual booster shot whose effectiveness wears off too quickly as the annual federal budget process bogs down in partisan acrimony.

Even with the heroic efforts of citizen advocates like this, NASA’s funding has gone steadily backward in recent years as a result of continuing resolutions, omnibus bills and sequestration that delay, dilute and ultimately cripple multiyear programs. Nonetheless, this kind of advocacy is essential and it must be done every year, again and again, as long as NASA is required to annually justify the programs they are charged with. Without them, we would truly be lost in space.

There is, however, a different feeling about all of this, this year. While Washington tries to decide if America can afford to lead the world in space exploration for at least another year, the space industry itself is adapting to make sure America stays in the race. Call it Space Race 2.0. The newest players have catchy names like Virgin Galactic, SpaceX, Sierra Nevada and Blue Origin. Some are more traditional like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, ATK and Orbital Sciences. (5/21)

Space Research Leaves Some Landless in India (Source: Deccan Chronicle)
India’s premier space agency has not kept its promise made ages ago to a few hapless earthlings while taking away their lands for building its rocket-launching pad at Sriharikota. ISRO in 1971 had acquired over 3,500 hectares of farmlands and houses at Sriharikota for building the Satish Dhawan Space Center. It promised the landowners monetary compensation for taking away their properties. There are still many who complain they got nothing yet. (5/21)

Aldrin on Why We Should Go to Mars (Source:
To send humans back to the moon would not be advancing. It would be more than 50 years after the first moon landing when we got there, and we’d probably be welcomed by the Chinese. But we should return to the moon without astronauts and build, with robots, an international lunar base, so that we know how to build a base on Mars robotically.

We’ve learned, with the robots Spirit and Opportunity on the surface of Mars, that you can’t control them adequately from the Earth. What we’ve done in five years on Mars could be done in one week—that’s a significant advance—if we had human intelligence in orbit around Mars. It’s much, much easier to send people there for a year and a half and then bring them back, before sending them back later to permanently land on Mars. (5/21)

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