May 3, 2013

Some Aren't Fans of NASA's Proposed Budget (Source: Galveston Daily News)
Despite Johnson Space Center Director Ellen Ochoa’s claim that the area’s NASA center faired well in President Obama’s 2014 fiscal year budget proposal, the space-based business community and those in Congress aren’t necessarily over the moon about the request.

NASA is seeking $17.7 billion, $55 million less than in the current budget. Of that, there’s a request for monies so NASA can focus on a mission to capture a near-Earth asteroid and bring it into the moon’s orbit for testing. Estimates are that NASA’s new asteroid initiative would cost about $2.6 billion during the next several years. Ochoa notes that the asteroid plan is one that would take advantage of systems NASA already has in development, including Orion, SLS and the Space Station.

Still, the concept of lassoing an asteroid, as does the budget’s priorities in general, has plenty of skeptics. “This is the same budget that’s been beaten down by the Senate and House for the past three years,” Bob Mitchell, the president of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership, said. “The idea of roping an asteroid is purely political.” Mitchell, whose group in conjunction with Citizens for Space Exploration, will be in Washington later this month for a congressional NASA advocacy effort, said part of the trip will be to convince U.S. representatives and senators to refocus the NASA priorities. (5/3)

NASA Said to Face Soaring Costs Without Budget Approval (Source: Bloomberg)
The U.S. would have to extend a contract with Russia and pay “significantly more” to send crews into space if Congress doesn’t approve the National Aeronautics and Space Administration budget request for next fiscal year, agency Administrator Charles Bolden said. NASA needs full funding to develop a domestic industry to transport U.S. crews to and from the International Space Station and low-Earth orbit beginning in 2017, Bolden said.

Anything short of that would probably force the agency to renegotiate a contract with the Russian Federal Space Agency, known as Roscosmos, he said. NASA pays about $70 million for U.S. astronauts to have a seat on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Having to renegotiate the contract “will allow the Russians to begin to believe that we are not committed to reliance on American industry and we’re not committed to an American capability to get our own astronauts into space,” Bolden said. “They’ll name their price, and my guess is it will be significantly more than $70 million.” (5/3)

NASA Mulls Missions for Donated Spy Satellite Telescopes (Source:
NASA is sorting through a variety of possible uses for a pair of powerful spy satellite telescopes that fell into the agency's lap last year. In November, NASA asked scientists to suggest missions for the telescopes, which were donated by the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and are comparable in size and appearance to the famous Hubble Space Telescope. More than 60 serious proposals came flooding in, the most promising of which were presented in early February in Huntsville.

"There was a lot of excitement in the scientific community when these were transferred to NASA, because they are world-class, Hubble-class telescopes, optics," said SALSO project manager George Fletcher. The two scopes were originally built to carry out surveillance missions under a multibillion-dollar NRO program called Future Imagery Architecture. But cost overruns and delays killed the program in 2005, and NASA announced in June 2012 that the NRO had bequeathed the instruments to the space agency.

While the telescopes' 8-foot-wide (2.4 meters) main mirrors are comparable to that of Hubble, the NRO instruments are designed to have a much wider field of view. The ideas presented fall into seven broad categories: 1) Mars-orbiting space telescope; 2) Exoplanet observatory; 3) General-purpose faint object explorer; 4) Advanced, Hubble-like visible light/ultraviolet telescope; 5) Optical communications node in space; 6) Geospace dynamic observatory; and 7) Research of Earth's upper atmosphere. (5/3)

Stott Removed From Excalibur Almaz Civil Suit (Source: IOM Today)
A civil lawsuit filed in Texas against Chris Stott, boss of ManSat, has been dropped. Mr Stott was one of a number of parties named in the civil suit filed in Houston, by Donna Beck who is seeking damages for negligence, fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, Texas Securities Act violations and breach of contract. But Ms. Beck has now dropped him from her amended petition, stating: ‘I now believe that Chris Stott is an honourable man, and that he is innocent of any wrongdoing.’

In a short statement, Mr Stott spoke of his relief. He said: ‘I believe Ms Beck’s release speaks for itself. I’m just relieved this is all over.’ Ms Beck is continuing to pursue her claim against Isle of Man-based space exploration company Excalibur Almaz. It was reported in September that Ms. Beck was suing Houston patent attorney Art Dula, his companies Excalibur Exploration Limited, Excalibur Limited, Excalibur Almaz Limited and Excalibur Almaz USA Inc, and Excalibur directors J. Buckner Hightower and Christopher Stott.

Ms Beck has now filed an amended petition, following discovery, alleging that Arthur Dula, Buckner Hightower and their several related corporate entities misled both Mr Stott and her. Her complaint against Mr. Dula, Mr. Hightower and the Excalibur related entities remains unresolved. She alleges Mr. Dula defrauded her and her late husband out of $300,000 by being induced to purchase an investment in Excalibur Exploration Limited, with the ‘fundamental false representation’ that the company had the technical expertise and associations to develop a business to fly the first commercial prospecting space flight to an asteroid. (4/30)

Space Travel One of Many Topics at Lincoln Space Law Conference (Source: Journal Star)
The legal impact of lower-cost access to space is one of five topics up for discussion and debate at the seventh-annual Lincoln Space and Cyber Law Conference. The event is hosted by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s first-of-its-kind Space, Cyber and Telecommunications Law program. At the conference, Frans von der Dunk, professor of space law at UNL, said presenters will put the issues out there and look forward to an interesting discussion among students and other presenters with a high level of interest in the topics. (5/1)

Is a Spaceport Coming to Alabama? (Source: WNCF)
The Alabama Senate passed a bill that could bring what's called a Spaceport to Alabama. Senator Gerald Dial of Lineville, who sponsored the bill says he wants Alabama to be the center for space travel in the southeast. Huntsville has long been known for its' space exploration and NASA related programs. As a result, the city has seen tourism and economic opportunity increase. Now, Senator Dial wants even more space activity in Alabama. He's behind a bill that would work to get Alabama a Spaceport, a launching site for missiles and rockets.

"We can become in Alabama what Atlanta has become in airport, we can become that in spaceport," says Dial. Other elected officials are also backing the space authority bill including Lt. Governor Kay Ivey who says a spaceport could increase economic opportunity for the state. But not everyone is in favor of space tourism. Some people we spoke with say lawmakers should focus on other issues.

"I think it's a pointless endeavor," says Montgomery resident Rey Rodriguez Diaz. "Space tourism is getting a whole bunch of people to pay to go into space but what is there to see in space? There's stars and the moon and you can see all that on a good camping trip to the mountains." "For those who want to be scientists or astronauts, yes I can see that," says Malcolm Berry of Alabama State University. "But as of right now, in order to get children up there, we have to help them here first." (5/3)

SpaceX and the Business of Space (Source: Business Spectator)
We are at a key juncture in the future of human aviation and the future of spaceflight is now no longer just a government affair. Once upon a time, the race to explore the final frontier was a tussle between rival countries and governments. Now companies with some rather deep pockets have stepped into the fray, launching their own space endeavours.

A new dynamic has emerged, where businesses are working alongside government agencies like NASA to explore space for the benefit of mankind and possibly for profit. It’s a necessary partnership though, as it seems as if the governments have put space exploration on the back-burner; preferring to use their funds towards matters more grounded on planet earth.

Under President Obama’s bold and controversial new space policy, NASA abandoned the troubled Constellation program to develop the next generation of spacecraft and booster vehicles to replace the aging space Space Shuttle fleet. Instead it offered seed funding and the possibility of lucrative service contracts to entrepreneurial commercial spaceship manufacturers like  SpaceX, to provide workhorse transport vessels to and from the ISS. The idea is to let NASA focus on flying to Mars and so-called "near-Earth objects. (5/3)

KSC Has Lead Role in Asteroid Mission (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Kennedy Space Center will have a leading role in NASA’s plans to capture an asteroid and launch astronauts to explore it, the center’s director said. “It does everything that needs to be done as far as developing the technologies and the skills that we need for exploration beyond planet Earth,” said KSC Director Bob Cabana.

“Testing out our spacecraft on a real mission instead of a pure test flight I think is very exciting. The team here at Kennedy, we’re ready to get on board and make this happen. I’m very excited about this mission.” The asteroid exploration mission is expected to stretch across three of the agency’s directorates and impact planning for a number of areas at Kennedy, Cabana said. (5/3)

NASA's Budget Proposal Features $2.3 Billion for KSC Initiatives (Source: Parabolic Arc)
NASA's overall budget proposal features $2.3 billion for KSC projects and programs, including the Launch Services Program, Commercial Crew Program and Ground Systems Development and Operations Program. Modifications for processing, ground support equipment and launch facilities for the Space Launch System rocket, or SLS, are already far along and the proposal includes money to keep making the changes to complete the 21st Century Space Launch Complex concept.

The budget proposal includes about $99 million for continued modifications to the VAB, plus about $14 million for Launch Complex 39B which is deep into its modifications schedule to accommodate the rocket as well as those from commercial companies. The Launch Services Program, or LSP, is slated for about $77 million under the proposal. (5/3)

Volusia County Backs Shiloh Space Effort (Source: Daytona Beach News-Journal)
The Volusia County Council officially endorsed the efforts of Space Florida to try to bring a commercial spaceport to federal land in southern Volusia County Thursday, after hearing three hours of comments from nearly 60 speakers. Slightly more than half the speakers asked the council to support the resolution, many holding signs that read "Wanted: commercial space jobs." Slightly less than half voiced concerns ranging from worries over a loss of jobs in the fishing and tourism industries to concerns about the environment and public safety.

The couple of dozen who asked the council to vote against the resolution said they support bringing space jobs to the region, just not in the proposed location. Among those speaking in favor were officials with local chambers of commerce, students and staff from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and the local Republican party. (5/3)

Commercial Crew Office Plans Presentation at Air Force Museum (Source: FSDC)
On Monday night May 6, the Air Force Space & Missile Museum docents meeting is hosting a presentation on the commercial crew program.  The guest speaker is Trent Smith from NASA’s Commercial Crew office. The meeting is at 7:00 p.m. at the museum’s History Center outside the South Gate to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Although this is a docents’ meeting, it is open to the public and free of charge. Click here for directions. (5/3)

Habitable Planets May Be ‘Very Different from Earth,’ Astronomer Says (Source: Space Reporter)
Sara Seager, a professor of Planetary Science and Physics at MIT, says that the habitable planets may be “very different from Earth.” Seager notes that this new view is likely to “increase the future chances of discovering an inhabited world.” Thinking outside of the box when it comes to locating habitable planets can be difficult for scientists since it’s only natural for them to search for life on planets that look like a planet that already contains life — the Earth. (5/3)

Iridium Loses Customer to Inmarsat, Nabs One from Orbcomm (Source: Space News)
Mobile satellite services provider Iridium lost a big maritime customer to competitor Inmarsat in late 2012 and now has apparently snatched a big machine-to-machine (M2M) customer from rival Orbcomm with a multiyear agreement with heavy-machinery manufacturer Caterpillar, Iridium announced May 2. Iridium CEO Matthew Desch declined to put a value on the Caterpillar deal but said the machinery builder will be using mainly Iridium for new M2M installations on all Caterpillar products.

But Desch called the transaction “a watershed agreement” for Iridium, whose M2M business has been its fastest-growing in the past couple of years. M2M subscribers increased by 31 percent, and M2M revenue by 23 percent, in the three months ending March 31 compared to the same period a year ago, McLean, Va.-based Iridium said. In an illustration of how different the model is for M2M compared to high-end satellite telephone use, M2M subscribers now account for 41 percent of Iridium’s total subscriber base, but 18 percent of its revenue. (5/3)

Arianespace Readies Vega Rocket for Second Launch (Source: America Space)
Arianespace is ready to launch its second Vega lightweight rocket from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, late Friday evening. The 98-foot-tall, four-stage vehicle will carry three payloads—including Estonia’s first satellite—and will inaugurate a series of five Vega Research and Technology Accompaniment (VERTA) missions to demonstrate its flexibility and ability to transport multiple spacecraft into orbit. After several delays, launch is presently scheduled for 11:06:31 p.m. local Kourou time on Friday. (5/3)

X-51A Waverider Achieves Hypersonic Goal On Final Flight (Source: Aviation Week)
The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) Boeing X-51A Waverider demonstrator successfully achieved sustained, scramjet-powered, air-breathing hypersonic flight above Mach 5 in its final test flight on May 1. Although the Air Force is not yet commenting on details of the flight, the X-51A is thought to have experienced positive acceleration to speeds in excess of Mach 5 and run for the full duration of the planned powered phase of the test.

Based on targets established for the previous test attempt, this could have been as long as 300 sec., followed by an unpowered gliding descent of around 500 sec. prior to impacting the sea in the Pacific Test range west of California. If these times and speeds are confirmed, they will represent new records for sustained, air-breathing hypersonic flight. (5/2)

Inmarsat Profits Pinched by Sudden Drop in U.S. Government Business (Source: Space News)
Mobile satellite services operator Inmarsat on May 2 reported a 2.4 percent increase in revenue for the three months ending March 31 but said a “sudden and pronounced deterioration” in its U.S. government business caused a drop in gross profit. London-based Inmarsat said the U.S. government issues related to the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration may continue for the rest of the year. (5/2)

Lights Out for Sea Turtles at Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: USAF)
All 45th Space Wing organizations, tenants and residents are reminded that sea turtle nesting season officially begins on May 1 and continues through Oct. 31. The beaches at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station are prime nesting habitat for loggerhead, green and leatherback sea turtles. Artificial lighting negatively affects nocturnal sea turtle behavior of both adults and hatchlings.

Disorientation occurs when sea turtles crawl toward inland light sources rather than the ocean. To minimize injury or death to sea turtles protected by the Endangered Species Act (ESA), all nonessential lighting must be extinguished between 2100 and 0600 hours during nesting season (May 1- Oct 31). Exterior lighting that is not mission-, safety-, or security-essential will be extinguished during this time frame. (5/2)

Chinese Scientist Freed After Felony Case Collapses (Source: Virginian-Pilot)
A felony case against a Chinese scientist – which a Virginia congressman had characterized as a potential espionage case – collapsed today in federal court. In a plea agreement with Bo Jiang, a former contract worker at NASA Langley Research Center, prosecutors dropped felony charges of lying to federal investigators. Jiang pled guilty to a single misdemeanor count of misusing government office equipment and was sentenced to time served – about eight weeks. He was to be released from Chesapeake City Jail this evening.

The agreement requires Jiang to leave the country within 48 hours. Jiang had been in custody since March 16, when he was stopped while preparing to board a China-bound flight at Dulles International Airport outside Washington. He was charged with providing false statements to the investigators who searched his baggage because he failed to fully disclose all of the electronic gear he was carrying with him. (5/2)

Navy Readies Wallops Site for Landing Practice (Source: Virginian-Pilot)
The Navy and NASA have formalized an agreement for Norfolk-based planes to practice carrier landings at the Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. In coming weeks, the Navy will begin installing lighting at the airfield to simulate the deck configuration aboard an aircraft carrier. It will also construct concrete pads and install utilities at a workstation where Navy landing signal officers will grade the touch-and-go landing maneuvers. (5/2)

Cassini Sees Debris from Meteoroids Colliding with Saturn’s Rings (Source: Slate)
Space is a dangerous place to be; tiny rocks fly around at high speed, and a collision with one can ruin your whole day. The bigger a target you are, the more at risk you are, of course, and things don’t come much bigger than Saturn’s rings. At 300,000+ kilometers across (180,000 miles), they present a juicy target for meteoroids-—heck, from above they even look like a bulls-eye!

The Cassini spacecraft has been orbiting Saturn since 2004, and has had a long, long time to look at the rings. It’s inevitable it would see these collisions, and now a new study has found nine such collisions from the years 2005, 2009, and 2012. (5/2)

Houston Museum to Top Historic NASA Jet with Mock Space Shuttle (Source: Collect Space)
They say that everything is bigger in Texas and that certainly goes for Space Center Houston's newly-announced space shuttle exhibit. Space Center Houston, which serves as the official visitor center for NASA's Johnson Space Center, revealed plans on Thursday to display its full-size space shuttle mockup atop the historic jumbo jetliner that ferried the real orbiters after their return from space and delivered them to their museum homes.

NASA transferred ownership of its original Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA), a modified Boeing 747 jet, to Space Center Houston on Thursday, setting in motion the visitor center's plans to pair the replica shuttle it received last June with the airplane that landed in Houston five months later. (5/2)

Medical Standards for Commercial Spaceflight (Source: NASTAR)
New concerns are arising over the health effects and restrictions for future space travelers. Health standards for private space travel have not been determined yet. Plenty is known about how space travel impacts trained astronauts, but questions remain about effects on untrained travelers with preexisting conditions. Researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) visited the NASTAR Center to probe this important question.
The researchers selected a group of future suborbital spaceflight participants to train on the PHOENIX Centrifuge at the NASTAR Center. The centrifuge simulated G-forces the passengers would encounter on a suborbital flight. Participants were asked to fill out a medical history questionnaire and undergo a physical exam by their primary care physician prior to training. Participants underwent six runs on the centrifuge, varying in acceleration, Gs and length of time, over a course of 48 hours.

Participants’ health issues included hypertension, diabetes mellitus, coronary artery disease and hyperlipidemia. Researchers collected each participant’s blood pressure, heart rate, initial blood pressure, continuous heart rate and EKG record. After analyzing the data, the researchers concluded that individuals with well-controlled medical conditions were able to endure acceleration forces and reentry profiles of spacecrafts. (4/25)

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