May 7, 2013

Orbital Lands Palapa E Satellite Contract (Source: Space News)
Satellite fleet operator Indosat of Indonesia has selected Orbital Sciences Corp. to build the mixed C- and Ku-band Palapa E telecommunications satellite to be launched in 2016 into Indonesia’s 150.5 degrees east longitude orbital slot. The contract has been in negotiations for nearly two years and was delayed in part because one or more Indosat shareholders wanted to delay the capital investment. Palapa E will replace the Palapa-C2 satellite, which was launched in 1996 and is already past its expected service retirement date. (5/7)

Editorial: The "S" Word: The Beginning, Not the End (Source: Space News)
Some fully embraced sequestration, and others have run about like the proverbial Chicken Little exclaiming that it will ruin the nation. Its actual magnitude is nowhere near enough to help solve the immense economic issues the United States faces. Over the next 10 years, we would have spent $47 trillion without sequestration, and a little less than $46 trillion with it.

Even if we totally eliminated the more than $500 billion for the Department of Defense (DoD), we still would be going into debt to the tune of more than $500 billion per year. So sequestration, though it might be painful, is just a first step. And how intelligently we handle this minor first step might presage how intelligently we will make the remaining reductions in spending that are necessary.

Seemingly ignoring sequestration cuts, the president’s 2014 budget proposal includes around $520 billion for the DoD. We all suspect that this will not make it through Congress, and we will end up closer to $470 billion — or even lower in the out years. We should be able to field a solid military for $450 billion to $500 billion a year, but to do this we need to let the military leaders figure out where and how to make cuts in a strategic fashion. (5/6)

Google Lunar X Prize Seeks Experts for Panel of Judges (Source: Space News)
The Google Lunar X Prize is looking to assemble a panel of experts to help judge the $30 million competition to land a privately funded rover on the Moon. Judging panel applications are being accepted through May 17, with the seven to nine selected individuals to be announced in mid-June, according to Julie Hendricks, a spokeswoman for the competition.

Hendricks said applicants should have “experience and expertise” in one or more of the following areas: launch operations; mission operations; robotics; law and/or business relating to space; spacecraft engineering; and satellite communications. (5/7)

SpaceX Moves Grasshopper Testing to Spaceport America (Source: SpaceRef)
Governor Susana Martinez today announced that Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, or SpaceX, has signed a three-year agreement to lease land and facilities at Spaceport America to conduct the next phase of flight testing for its reusable rocket program. The company will be a new tenant at Spaceport America, the state-owned commercial launch site located in southern New Mexico.

"I am thrilled that SpaceX has chosen to make New Mexico its home, bringing their revolutionary "Grasshopper" rocket and new jobs with them," Governor Martinez said today. "We've done a lot of work to level the playing field so we can compete in the space industry. This is just the first step in broadening the base out at the Spaceport and securing even more tenants. I'm proud to welcome SpaceX to New Mexico."

SpaceX has completed its first series of successful, low-altitude tests of the "Grasshopper" vehicle in McGregor, Texas and is proceeding to the next phase of development that includes testing in New Mexico. With Grasshopper, SpaceX engineers are creating technology that will enable a rocket to return to the launch pad intact for a vertical landing, rather than burning up upon reentry in the Earth's atmosphere. (5/7)

Virgin Galactic Hires NASA Space Shuttle Vet, Private Jet Pilot (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial spaceline, announced today that pilots Frederick “CJ” Sturckow and Michael “Sooch” Masucci have been selected to join its commercial flight team. As Virgin Galactic clears its final flight test program milestones with powered flight tests now under way, the necessary addition of new pilots will enable the company to meet the test schedule demands and prepare for subsequent commercial operations. (5/7)

European Vega Rocket Lifts Off From French Guiana (Source: EuroNews)
The European VEGA rocket launched from the Guiana Space Centre in Kourou early on Tuesday morning to put satellites into orbit. The launcher was originally due to head skywards on Saturday morning, but was delayed because of bad weather. “It’s rather specialized in science, whether it’s the sciences of the earth or the sciences of the universe. This is a launcher that is needed to improve knowledge. It’s also improving competitiveness,” said Jean-Jacques Dordain, Director General of the European Space Agency (ESA).

This is the launcher’s second flight, after making its maiden voyage last year. A satellite to map land cover and vegetation changes was due to go into orbit first. That was due to be followed by an Earth observation aircraft for Vietnam and a micro satellite developed by students in Estonia. (5/7)

Will it be Texas or Florida for SpaceX's Commercial Launches? (Source: Florida Today)
At a public meeting in Brownsville, residents will weigh in on a new private launch complex SpaceX has proposed building on the Gulf Coast near Mexico, which the company says could become its “commercial Cape Canaveral.” The Texas discussion comes five days after the Volusia County Council voted 6-1 to support a commercial spaceport Florida hopes to develop at the north end of Kennedy Space Center and the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, offering SpaceX an alternative to other states.

“Given the enthusiasm which Texas is showing SpaceX, it is essential that Florida show it to wants to be a player in commercial space,” said Dale Ketcham, Space Florida’s chief of strategic alliances, of the Volusia vote’s importance. While a draft environmental review of the Texas launch site is already complete and will be discussed at today’s meeting, Florida is just getting started on its own review.

NASA has not agreed to give the state the land it owns near the Brevard-Volusia county line, but says it supports efforts to attract commercial launches. “KSC is committed to working closely with the state of Florida in enabling commercial space operations from KSC,” Center Director Bob Cabana wrote to the FAA. The state will soon solicit bids from contractors to perform the environmental study, and the FAA is expected to select one by late summer, Ketcham said. (5/7)

Defense Contracts Plunged 67% in January as U.S. Cuts Loomed (Source: Bloomberg)
Pentagon contracts plunged 67 percent last month, a sign the military is reining in spending before automatic budget cuts set to begin in March. The awards tumbled to $12.1 billion in January from $36.3 billion announced in December. These reductions follow a drop in fourth-quarter defense spending that contributed to the first reported decline in the nation’s economy since 2009.

The slowdown coincides with the military winding down two wars and preparing to absorb $487 billion in reductions over a decade. Washington’s deadlock over the automatic cuts, which would further slice the budget, has forced defense officials to postpone routine spending, said Dan Jacobs, chief executive officer of the Federal Market Group, a Warrenton, Virginia-based consulting firm. (5/6)

NASA Astrophysicists Seek Ideas for the Next 30 Years (Source: Nature)
Why plan for 10 years out when you can plan for 30? One NASA advisory group is going for the long haul: Between now and December it intends to draw up “a compelling, 30-year vision” for NASA’s astrophysics division. This might seem like overkill, given that astronomers already perform “decadal surveys” every 10 years to prioritize future missions.

In fact, the latest decadal survey came out just three years ago, with a midterm review due to start two years from now. The new, so-called roadmap isn’t meant to replace the decadal survey process, says NASA’s Paul Hertz, head of the astrophysics division. “What the roadmap does is it looks out 30 years and provides a vision of what astrophysics might do,” he told a virtual town hall meeting on 6 May.

In other words, more of a wish list than a prioritizing document. Chryssa Kouveliotou, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, is heading up the roadmap under the auspices of a NASA advisory council subcommittee. In late February, her team put out a call for astronomers to submit a one-page abstract of what they considered the biggest science and technology goals and challenges for NASA astrophysics in the next three decades. Oh, and the deadline was just one month later. (5/6)

Space Shuttle Enterprise's New York Exhibit Reopening July 10 (Source: Collect Space)
Space shuttle Enterprise, NASA's retired prototype orbiter, will reopen on public display July 10, just shy of one year since its exhibit in New York first opened. Enterprise's new "Space Shuttle Pavilion," located at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in Manhattan, replaces its original display home that was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. The replacement structure is now under construction around and above the prototype shuttle and is expected to be completed over the coming weeks. (5/6)

Branson Confident of Year-End Space Target (Source: TVNZ)
Billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson remains confident Virgin Galactic will blast its rocket-powered SpaceShipTwo into space by the end of the year. "By the end of this year, Virgin Galactic will be up, up and away, and into space," Sir Richard told reporters. "It's literally the start of commercial space travel."

"People will one day be able to go into space and become astronauts, and enjoy that experience that only a handful of people have been able to do. And through being able to send people into space, point-to-point travel at incredibly fast speeds will come about, hopefully in my lifetime," he said. "Having just spent 22 hours on a plane coming to Australia, it would be extremely welcome, and we're going to do it with the aim of doing it in a couple of hours," he said. The company would also seek to launch satellites into space at a much lower cost than in the past, greatly reducing the cost of telecommunications. (5/7)

SpaceX Bill Hits Delay in Hearing by Senate Committee (Source: Brownsville Herald)
A bill that would temporarily close access to Boca Chica Beach for possible rocket launches hit a hiccup Monday in a hearing before the Texas Senate Committee on Administration. House Bill 2623 was discussed at Monday’s hearing but a vote was delayed because more information was needed and not all committee members were at the hearing, according to the audio from the hearing held in Austin.

One of the committee members said he needed to hear more information regarding the timeframe the beaches would be closed plus other matters. “I think it is pretty unprecedented to close Brownsville beaches for anything,” said Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston. “I would like to slow down and get legal opinions and make certain we are not setting a precedent in waiving the public’s right (to access beaches).” (5/6)

Baikonur Launches Along "Northern Trajectory" to Resume in Late June (Source: Interfax)
The Resurs-P Earth observation satellite is due to be launched from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, on June 23, a spaceport representative said. "That will be the first launch along the so-called "northern trajectory" this year. Kazakhstan approves each one of these missions individually. So far it has granted consent to three of the four "northern trajectory" missions requested by Russia in 2013," the source said. Russia wishes to launch three Earth observation satellites, Resurs-P, Kondor and Kondor-E, and the Meteor-M-2 weather satellite. (5/7)

India Plans Five Launches, Including Mars Mission, in 2013 (Source: Times of India)
India's space agency is planning to have a total of five rocket launches in 2013 from its rocket launch pad at Sriharikota. This will include a mission to Mars later this year. Four of the launches are expected to happen between June and December, including the launch of communication satellite G-Sat 14 using heavier rocket - Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) - powered with a domestic cryogenic engine. (5/6)

Europe’s Workhorse Sounding Rocket Grounded until Fall (Source: Space News)
Europe’s principal sounding-rocket program, Texus, has been grounded following suspected defects in the launch tower guide rails that help aim the rudderless vehicle to assure its payload lands in a specified area, Swedish and German program managers said.

Operated from northern Sweden’s Esrange Space Center and supported by the Swedish Space Center and the German Aerospace Center, DLR, Texus was unable to perform its 51st flight as scheduled in mid-April following the 50th flight on April 12. That mission’s payload landed within the permitted landing zone but more than 20 kilometers from its planned drop point. (5/6)

Rep. Lamar Smith: A Critical Investment (Source: Space News)
Great civilizations have always expanded frontiers by exploring the unknown. For so many reasons it is vital that America continues to lead in space exploration and development. The space community understands how research in space technology, both on orbit and on the ground, benefits our daily lives. We know the importance of ongoing missions, whether unmanned on Mars, fully manned on the international space station, building the James Webb Space Telescope or progress in designing systems and programs for mankind’s next giant leaps. 

The work, the challenges and the discoveries are ongoing. Each day brings new opportunities and new problems to solve. But the challenge often comes in communicating our message to the public, who too frequently do not recognize the importance of this work. Occasionally it takes a dramatic event [like the recent meteor impact in Russia] to demonstrate the importance of space research and exploration.

Technology to find and track NEOs continues to improve, but with new solutions come new problems. Improved technology enables us to see more potential threats from space, but we still lack the technology to do anything about them. This is the kind of problem and opportunity that repeatedly presents itself in the world of space science and research. Click here. (5/6)

Google’s Chief Internet Evangelist on Creating the Interplanetary Internet (Source: WIRED)
When some future Mars colonist is able to open his browser and watch a cat in a shark suit chasing a duck while riding a roomba, they will have Vint Cerf to thank. In his role as Google’s chief internet evangelist, Cerf has spent much of his time thinking about the future of the computer networks that connect us all. And he should know. Along with Bob Kahn, he was responsible for developing the internet protocol suite, commonly known as TCP/IP, that underlies the workings of the net.

Not content with just being a founding father of the internet on this planet, Cerf has spent years taking the world wide web out of this world. Working with NASA and JPL, Cerf has helped develop a new set of protocols that can stand up to the unique environment of space, where orbital mechanics and the speed of light make traditional networking extremely difficult. Click here. (5/6)

Angara Rocket Launch Delayed to 2014 (Source: RIA Novosti)
The launch of Russia’s new Angara carrier rocket has been delayed by at least a year, Defense Ministry officials said on Monday. The light-class Angara is to be launched in mid-2014 and its heavy-class version toward the end of the same year, Deputy Defense Minister Yury Borisov said. The light-class Angara was previously due to be launched in 2013. (5/6)

Russia Confirms Plans to Send Sarah Brightman to Space (Source: RIA Novosti)
Russia’s space agency Roscosmos said on Monday it has reached an agreement with US-based Space Adventures Ltd. company to proceed with the plans to put British singer Sarah Brightman on a space flight to the International Space Station (ISS) in October 2015. “The sides will discuss in the near future the implementation of this project, including Sarah Brightman’s preparation for the flight and the program of her activities on board the orbital station,” Roscosmos said in a statement. (5/6)

NASA Says Setting Foot on Mars is 'Human Destiny' (Source: AFP)
Setting foot on Mars by the 2030s is human destiny and a US priority, and every dollar available must be spent on bridging gaps in knowledge on how to get there, NASA's chief said. Charles Bolden said that despite hard economic times the United States is committed to breaking new boundaries in space exploration. "A human mission to Mars is today the ultimate destination in our solar system for humanity, and it is a priority for NASA. Our entire exploration program is aligned to support this goal," Bolden said. (5/6)

Bizarre Mars Mountain Possibly Built by Wind, Not Water (Source:
The mysterious Martian mountain that beckons NASA's Curiosity rover was likely built primarily by wind rather than water, as previously believed, a new study suggests. Many scientists suspect that the 3.4-mile-high (5.5 kilometers) Mount Sharp formed primarily from layers of lakebed silt, which is one of the main reasons that the mountain was selected as Curiosity's ultimate destination. But the new study holds that wind probably did most of the heavy lifting. (5/6)

Apollo Test Stand Re-Purposed For SLS (Source: America Space)
One of the test stands at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi which supported the development of the Saturn family of launch vehicles is now being tapped to test engines that are planned for use on NASA’s new heavy-lift booster, the Space Launch System, or “SLS.”

The B-2 stand, as it is known, was used to validate the Saturn’s engines before they were used to prepare for manned missions to the Moon. According to NASA, B-2 has been renovated to test the Space Launch System’s core stage in late 2016 and late 2017. This element of SLS has four RS-25 rocket engines. This element will be placed into the stand where it will be used to conduct propellant fill and drain tests as well as two hot-fire tests. (5/6)

Super Bright Gamma Ray Burst Shocks Scientists (Source: CNN)
On April 27, NASA's Fermi and Swift satellites detected a strong signal from the brightest gamma-ray burst in decades. Because this was relatively close, it was thousands of times brighter than the typical gamma-ray bursts that are seen by Swift every few days. Scientists are now scrambling to learn more. We already knew that when the biggest stars run out of fuel, they don't fade quietly away. Instead, they explode in a blaze of glory known as a supernova. These stellar explosions are often bright enough to be seen by us even though they are in galaxies billions of light-years from our own Milky Way galaxy home.

In very rare cases -- such as GRB130427A (tagged with the date of its discovery) -- astrophysicists are lucky enough to see energetic gamma-rays from hyperfast jets of outflowing material consisting of charged particles created during a massive star's violent death throes. This means GRB130427A's jets must be aimed toward Earth -- purely by chance, of course. For every jet pointed at us, there are hundreds of exploding stars across the universe whose jets point randomly in other directions. (5/6)

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