June 14, 2013

Senate Committee Approves $625B Pentagon Budget for 2014 (Source: The Hill)
The Senate Armed Services Committee voted to approve a $625 billion budget for the Pentagon in fiscal 2014. Committee members voted 23-3 in favor of the spending bill. The budget will now head to the full Senate for a vote. (6/13)

IMF Says Sequester Hurting U.S. Economy, Delaying Recovery (Source: Huffington Post)
As much as half of U.S. economic growth this year has been slashed due to tax increases and indiscriminate federal spending cuts known as sequestration, according to a sobering new forecast by the International Monetary Fund, which urged lawmakers to repeal the cuts.

Risks to U.S. growth are "modestly tilted to the downside," the IMF said in its annual report on the nation's economy, as a reduction of $85 billion in government expenditures this year due to sequestration has dampened demand and investment, just as tax hikes have taken a big bite out of U.S. paychecks and reduced household spending. (6/14)

Merritt Island High students Prepare Satellite for Trek (Source: Florida Today)
Nine Merritt Island High students and recent graduates are preparing their small satellite for a test flight in the Mojave Desert this weekend. The StangSat, as they named the satellite — after the school’s mascot, the Mustang — is scheduled to make a high-altitude flight on a Garvey Spacecraft Corp. Prospector 18 rocket.

NASA mentors guided the students in building the prototype, which is not much larger than the palm of your hand. Thanks to $10,000 in community donations, students and two chaperones traveled to California to prepare the satellite and witness the Saturday morning launch.

Students integrated the “cubesat,” a name that references the satellite’s shape, with a partner satellite built by students at California Polytechnic State University. On Wednesday, both teams presented a launch readiness review to NASA and university personnel, gaining approval for the launch. The Garvey rocket is scheduled to be erected, with all satellites installed, by 5 tonight. (6/14)

Commercial Partners Working to Launch U.S. Astronauts from Space Coast (Source: NASA)
The three commercial space companies working with NASA's Commercial Crew Program (CCP) may have very different spacecraft and rocket designs, but they all agreed on the need for the United States to have its own domestic capability to launch astronauts.

"Today, there are nine humans on orbit," said Ed Mango, CCP's program manager, at a National Space Club meeting June 11 in Cape Canaveral, Florida "All of those folks got there on a vehicle that did not have a U.S. flag on it. We, and the people in this room, and the people at this table, need to fix that."

Mango was joined by partner representatives from Boeing, Sierra Nevada and SpaceX to discuss the future of commercial space. Since the dawn of space exploration, Florida's Space Coast has been the iconic site of launching men and women aboard American rockets. During the meeting, all three partner representatives said they plan to bring the work associated with commercial space activities back to the area. (6/14)

$15 Million Secured to Lure SpaceX to South Texas (Source: Rio Grande Guardian)
State Sen. Eddie Lucio says one of his top accomplishments of the 83rd legislative session came right at the end with little fanfare. The Brownsville Democrat is a member of the Senate Finance Committee. He said he was able to put a rider in the state budget that provides a sweetener to lure SpaceX to Texas.

“One of the things I am particularly proud of is the $15 million I put in the budget as a rider that will set us up for SpaceX. It was done at the very end and I worked with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Tommy Williams on it,” Lucio said. “The rider tells SpaceX that the money is waiting for you but you can’t touch any of it until you commit to set up your program here. We are in competition with Florida for the program and we need to do what we can to help them make the right decision.” (6/13)

Metal Snow On Venus? Metallic Frost On Planet's Peaks Falls From Atmosphere (Source: Huffington Post)
Bothered by the pelting rain this hurricane season? Be thankful you don't live on Venus, where it seems to snow heavy metal! Scientists have never actually seen snow fall on Venus, but they have observed metallic frost capping the planet's mountains. The frost -- believed to be composed of the minerals galena (lead sulfide) and bismuthinite (bismuth sulfide) -- was first observed as mysterious bright patches in radar imaging maps produced by NASA's Magellan Mission to Venus in 1989. (6/14)

Buzz Aldrin Says 'Tang Sucks' (Source: Huffington Post)
Among groups known for their gossip, astronauts have been a pretty low-ranking bunch. Yet two words uttered by Buzz Aldrin at a June 8 awards ceremony have tongues wagging. The words? "Tang sucks." Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, made the comment at Spike TV's "Guys Choice Awards" while presenting an award to edge-of-space skydiver Felix Baumgartner. (6/14)

Canada Gets New Space Agency Chief (Source: CSA)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that General (Retired) Walter John Natynczyk, former Chief of the Defence Staff, will serve as President of the Canadian Space Agency, effective August 6, 2013. (6/14)

Celebrities in Space: What Could Go Wrong? (Source: Grantland)
Who is rumored to be boarding the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo? Ashton Kutcher (he bought the 500th ticket), Tom Hanks, Angelina Jolie, Stephen Hawking, Katy Perry, and Justin Bieber (accompanied by Scooter Braun — hey, I’d want to bring a buddy too). Tickets cost $200,000, and there’s enough space for six passengers plus two pilots per voyage. These intimate flights will start taking place at the end of this year or in 2014 — Richard Branson and his family will go first, which is reassuringly confident of them.

Six people having extreme psychological experiences while unstrapped from their seats and sub-orbiting around all of humankind’s crib has millions of potential bugs in it. There is an entire genre devoted to the crappy things that happen in space: the battles, the exploding abdomens, the sadistic renegade computer GPS devices, the malfunctioning oxygen supplies. It’s amazing that we’ve created such a dark projection and still want to see it for ourselves — that must be our earthly hopefulness showing its face. (6/14)

Russia to Unveil New Piloted Spacecraft at MAKS Airshow (Source: RIA Novosti)
A mock-up of Russia’s new piloted spacecraft will be showcased in August at the MAKS airshow near Moscow, Russia’s space chief said. The new craft, being developed by the Russian spaceship manufacturer RKK Energia, is expected to make its maiden flight in 2018.

Energia won a tender to design and develop the piloted spacecraft in April 2009. It is expected that several modifications of the ship will be made. One will be designed for Earth and lunar orbits, another to repair spacecraft, while a third will remove outdated spacecraft from orbit.

Popovkin said Friday that the Russian Federal Space Agency, also known as Roscosmos, received sufficient state funding to implement a comprehensive space exploration program but lacked “bright ideas” to use the funds efficiently. He added that about 40 percent of Roscosmos’ $4 billion budget was allocated for research into manned spaceflight and the development of piloted spacecraft. (6/14)

House Panel OKs DOD Spending Bill Over Objections (Source: The Hill)
Despite objections by Democrats, the House Appropriations Committee has approved a Pentagon spending bill that bypasses spending caps put in place by sequestration. The $512.5 billion spending plan, which now heads to the House floor, is $28 billion higher than sequester limits allow. (6/12)

Canada Working on Rover for the Moon and Mars (Source: Space.com)
The Canadian Space Agency is experimenting with a rover it hopes to one day use to explore Mars and possibly the moon. The Juno rover is one of the robotics efforts the agency is exploring for when its International Space Station commitment expires in 2020. (6/12)

Lockheed Martin Wins JSC Contractor Award (Source: Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed Martin has been named the Large Business Prime Contractor of the Year by NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC). The award recognizes sustained excellence in meeting or exceeding small business requirements during the nine years the company has held a contract to prepare and process cargo for the International Space Station (ISS). In the last year the contract has exceeded five of seven small business utilization goals by 20 percent or more. (6/13)

Atlas V's Upper Stage Passes Milestone Toward Flying Astronauts (Source: America Space)
United Launch Alliance (ULA) has successfully completed a Preliminary Design Review (PDR) to prepare the Colorado-based company’s Atlas V rocket for use to send astronauts to orbit in commercially developed and built spacecraft. This review dealt with the initial development testing of the Dual Engine Centaur (DEC) upper stage that is being developed as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew integrated Capability or CCiCap. The announcement that the PDR had been completed was posted on ULA’s website on Wednesday, June 12. (6/14)

Distantly Orbiting Alien World May Challenge Planet-Formation Theories (Source: Space.com)
Astronomers have found evidence of an alien planet forming surprisingly far from its host star, a discovery that could challenge the prevailing wisdom about how planets take shape. Researchers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope spotted a large gap in the planet-forming debris disk surrounding the red dwarf star TW Hydrae, which lies about 176 light-years from Earth in the constellation Hydra (The Sea Serpent).

This gap, which was likely carved out by an unseen newborn exoplanet six to 28 times as massive as Earth, sits 7.5 billion miles (12 billion kilometers) from TW Hydrae — about twice the distance from our own sun to Pluto. The gap's farflung location poses problems for the leading planet-formation theory, which holds that worlds grow slowly over tens of millions of years by sweeping up gas, dust and rocks from the protoplanetary disk. (6/13)

Death of Yuri Gagarin Demystified 40 Years On (Source: Russia Today)
After over 40 years of secrecy, the real cause of death of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space, has been made public. Prominent Russian cosmonaut Aleksey Leonov reveals the truth behind the events of that tragic day. For over 20 years Aleksey Leonov, the first man to conduct a spacewalk in 1965, has been struggling to gain permission to disclose details of what happened to the legendary Yuri Gagarin in March 1968. 

Back then a State Commission established to investigate the accident (which Leonov was a part of), concluded that a crew of MiG-15UTI, Yuri Gagarin and experienced instructor Vladimir Seryogin, tried to avoid a foreign object – like geese or a hot air balloon – by carrying out a maneuver that had led to a tailspin and, finally, collision with the ground. Both pilots died in that test flight.

“That conclusion is believable to a civilian – not to a professional,” Leonov said. He has always had a firm stance against the secrecy surrounding Gagarin’s death, and wanted at least his family to know the truth. "In fact, everything went down differently,” he says. According to a declassified report, there is a human factor behind the tragic incident - an unauthorized SU-15 fighter jet was flying dangerously close to Gagarin’s aircraft. Click here. (6/14)

Toxic Mars: Astronauts Must Deal with Perchlorate on the Red Planet (Source: Space.com)
The pervading carpet of perchlorate chemicals found on Mars may boost the chances that microbial life exists on the Red Planet — but perchlorates are also perilous to the health of future crews destined to explore that way-off world. Perchlorates are reactive chemicals first detected in arctic Martian soil by NASA's Phoenix lander that plopped down on Mars over five years ago in May 2008. (6/13)

Drumming Up Support for a Commercial Spaceport (Source: Florida Trend)
Space Florida, the state’s aerospace economic development agency, continues to work for a commercial launch site just north of the Kennedy Space Center. The agency, together with the state, has proposed that NASA carve out 150 acres at the Brevard-Volusia border as a site for a commercial spaceport. The location, called Shiloh, would allow Space Florida and partners to operate separately from KSC and Cape Canaveral, offering more flexibility for launches by private space firms and entrepreneurs.

During a public meeting in Volusia County in April, Space Florida CEO Frank DiBello outlined the proposal and got a generally favorable reaction from local elected officials. Some insist the project is necessary for the Space Coast to compete with other states looking to lure private aerospace firms, such as SpaceX. Others urge caution, raising questions about the potential impact to the adjacent Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Click here. (6/14)

Embry-Riddle Prepares for Space Degree Kickoff (Source: SPACErePORT)
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University's Daytona Beach campus is preparing to kick off its new Commercial Space Operations bachelor's degree program with courses beginning later this year. The university is planning a series of Wednesday lecture seminars for students and faculty during coming months to cover various space-related topics. A new advisory panel has also been assembled to help steer the new degree program's development. (6/14) 

Proposed ITAR Changes a Mixed Bag for U.S. Satellite Industry (Source: Space News)
The U.S. State Department’s proposed reform of rules controlling the export of satellites and space components removes many of the glaringly perverse effects on space commerce but does nothing to make it easier for industry to work with the U.S. Defense Department on hosted payloads, according to industry officials reviewing the proposals.

There also appears to be no material change to restrictions imposed on U.S. satellite owners launching their spacecraft — U.S.-built or not — from the world’s principal commercial spaceports, which are all outside the U.S., officials said. The State Department issued the proposed changes to the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) on May 24.

The modifications are generally intended to remove the armaments label from nonessential space components that, since 1999, have been lumped together in Category 15 of the U.S. Munitions List. One industry official said: “The overall changes are so positive that industry should consider it a win, and we’ll have to keep working” on areas of concern. (6/14)

Lockheed Martin Tests Orion’s Fairings (Source: Parabolic Arc)
NASA is carrying out a series of tests to ensure the agency’s Orion spacecraft can successfully jettison its protective fairings, or covers, during its ride to space. During the first of these tests, two of the three fairing panels separated as planned, but a third didn’t. The fairings are panels that will protect Orion’s service module from the environment around it, whether it’s heat, wind or acoustics.

The testing is designed to demonstrate the fairing system’s separation sequence before Orion launches on its first mission, Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), which remains on track for September 2014. During the flight test, Orion will travel 3,600 miles into space and return to Earth for a landing in the Pacific Ocean. It will allow engineers on the ground to evaluate Orion’s design before humans take their first flight on it. (6/14)

China's Astronaut Food Over the Decade: From Fast Food to Customization (Source: People's Daily)
In 2003, China's first manned spacecraft Shenzhou-5 flew into space. Also from that year onwards, China's exploration of astronaut food began to enter the public view. Over several space journeys during the 10 years, the astronauts' recipe improved its quality, from the original fast food such as dim sum to today's customized choices. Click here. (6/14)

Science and Technology Makes Shenzhou-10 Different (Source: People's Daily)
On June 11, Shenzhou-10 manned spacecraft was successfully launched. It has been 10 years since China sent its first astronaut Yang Liwei into the space. Compared with previous manned spacecrafts, what are Shenzhou-10 manned spacecraft’s differences and advantages? Click here. (6/14)

Aldrin: The Call of Mars (Source: New York Times)
When I view the Moon, there are times when I feel like I’m on a time machine. I am back to a cherished point in the past — now nearly 45 years ago — when Neil Armstrong and I stood on that bleak, but magnificent lunar landscape called the Sea of Tranquility. While we were farther away from Earth than humans had ever been, the fact is that we weren’t alone. An estimated 600 million people back on Earth, at that time the largest television audience in history, watched us plant our footprints on the Moon.

Fast forward to today. Now I see the Moon in a far different light — not as a destination but more a point of departure, one that places humankind on a trajectory to homestead Mars and become a two-planet species. It is time to lay the groundwork for effective global human exploration of space. I am calling for a unified international effort to explore and utilize the Moon, a partnership that involves commercial enterprise and other nations building upon Apollo. Let me emphasize: A second “race to the Moon” is a dead end. America should chart a course of being the leader of this international activity to develop the Moon.

The United States can help other nations do things that they want to do, a fruitful avenue for U.S. foreign policy and diplomacy. A step in the right direction is creating an International Lunar Development Corporation, customized to draw upon the legacy of lessons learned from such endeavors as the International Geophysical Year (whose purpose was to get scientists all over the world to focus on the physics and atmosphere of the Earth), the International Space Station program, as well as model organizations such as Intelsat and the European Space Agency. Click here. (6/13)

FSDC Joins Effort to Keep Spaceflight Vehicles Off Munitions List (Source: FSDC)
The Florida Space Development Council (FSDC), a chapter of the National Space Society, has written to the U.S. Departent of State to voice opposition to proposed export-control rulemaking that would add commercial human spaceflight vehicles to a Department of Defense "munitions list" and thereby place onerous restrictions on their export from the U.S.

The move is part of an ongoing (and mostly positive) effort by the Obama Administration to modify the nation's current ITAR export control policies. Commercial satellites, for example, would be moved from the DOD list to a less restrictive export control list managed by the Department of Commerce. The proposed addition of human spaceflight vehicles to the DOD list would negatively impact efforts by U.S. companies to build a U.S.-dominated international market for such vehicles.

XCOR Aerospace is one U.S. company that would be impacted by the proposed rulemaking. The company, which intends to develop and operate their next-generation Lynx vehicles in Florida, has aggressively pursued international markets for their vehicles and services. Click here to submit your own response to the rulemaking notice, required by no later than July 8. (6/13)

Internal Audit Hits NASA for Station Resupply Payments to Orbital (Source: Space News)
NASA is taking heat from its Office of Inspector General (OIG) for giving Orbital Sciences Corp. more than $600 million to build hardware for six space station resupply missions before the Dulles, Va.-based firm has fully demonstrated that its fledgling Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo tug are up to the task.

Orbital holds a $1.9 billion NASA contract to fly a total of eight resupply missions to the international space station through 2016.  The contract was awarded in December 2008, several months after NASA picked Orbital as a late addition to a Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program that since 2006 had been subsidizing SpaceX in its now-completed effort to develop a competing space station logistics system.

By the end of 2012, according to an OIG report released June 13, SpaceX had been paid a total of $858 million between its $396 million COTS agreement and a $1.6 billion Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract, also awarded in December 2008, that calls for the company to make 12 space station runs. (6/13)

Sierra Nevada Starts Next Phase of Dream Chaser’s Rocket Tests (Source: Galveston Daily News)
As Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser spacecraft continues aerodynamic performance and landing tests at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in California, the company Sierra Nevada completed two tests last week at its rocket test facility in San Diego, Calif.

A motor firing and ignition test was completed in preparation for upcoming motor tests under the current Commercial Crew Integrated Capability contract with NASA. The company will conduct another series of hybrid motor firings to meet the next contracted milestone this summer. (6/13)

Comtech’s Outlook Brightens on New Orders from Military Customers (Source: Space News)
Satellite ground equipment provider Comtech Telecommunications Corp. said new orders from the U.S. government booked so far in 2013 may mean the company has turned the corner after two years of bad news following the loss of a U.S. military contract and the downturn in its international commercial satellite Earth station business.

Melville, N.Y.-based Comtech said it is particularly hopeful that a recent development contract with the U.S. Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command for a new-generation processor will place the company in the ranks of contractors for U.S. protected military satellite communications work. (6/13)

One Giant Leap for Justin Bieber as He Joins the Ranks of the Celebronauts (Source: Guardian)
Bieber in space. The almighty teen sensation has grown weary of our tawdry planet's sham, drudgery and broken dreams and sought momentary respite beyond the suffocating reach of Earth's atmosphere. The star and his manager Scooter Braun – there, presumably, on the off-chance some cheeky extraterrestrial Simon Cowell tries to lure the kid off to break the lucrative teen-pop market in Betelgeuse – are the latest "future astronauts" to sign up for a glimpse of the great beyond with Richard Branson's space tour company. (6/13)

Antitrust Probe Is Latest Challenge to ULA’s Government Market Dominance (Source: Space News)
A U.S. federal antitrust probe of the nation’s biggest rocket manufacturer over its exclusivity agreement with an engine supplier comes amid continuing consolidation of the propulsion industry and government attempts to spur competition in satellite launching services.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is investigating whether United Launch Alliance (ULA) ran afoul of antitrust laws with its exclusivity arrangement with RD AMROSS, the U.S.-Russian joint venture that makes the RD-180 engine that powers ULA’s Atlas 5 rocket. The probe, begun in April, may have been triggered by Orbital Sciences Corp., which is interested in using the Russian-manufactured RD-180, for its Antares rocket.

An April 22 memo from FTC Secretary Donald S. Hall authorized investigators to use "any and all compulsory processes available" to determine whether ULA, RD AMROSS or any of their joint venture partners violated antitrust laws "by monopolizing, attempting to monopolize, or otherwise restraining competition in the provision of space launch services, including entering or maintaining an exclusive agreement relating to the supply of propulsion systems for space launch services.” (6/13)

FTC Case Complicated By Aerojet Acquisition of PWR (Source: Space News)
A complicating factor in the FTC anti-trust case is the fact that engine maker Aerojet has just been cleared by the FTC to buy domestic rival Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, a partner in RD AMROSS along with RSC Energomash of Moscow. The merger, approved with reservations June 10 by the FTC, leaves the United States with just one merchant supplier of liquid-fueled rocket engines. (6/13)

Black Hole Bonanza in 'Next Door' Andromeda Galaxy (Source: Guardian)
Twenty-six new black hole candidates have been discovered in the neighboring Andromeda galaxy. According to the astronomers involved, these could be just the tip of the iceberg. Details of the find will be published in the 20 June issue of The Astrophysical Journal. The discoveries are the culmination of 13 years of observation. Researchers used NASA's Chandra and the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton satellites. Both record the X-ray light emitted by celestial objects. (6/13)

Report Questions NASA Payments to ISS Cargo Hauler (Source: Florida Today)
A watchdog report released today says NASA has took on too much financial risk by paying one of its commercial cargo providers a significant portion of its contract before its systems have been proven. NASA has paid Orbital Sciences Corp. more than $910 million for work on six International Space Station resupply missions even though Orbital has not yet flown its spacecraft, according to NASA Inspector General Paul Martin.

“These actions increased NASA’s financial risk in the event that the system demonstration flight reveals the need for design changes and modifications to Orbital’s rocket system,” the report says. Orbital has a $1.9 billion Commercial Resupply Services contract for eight missions to the station. (6/13)

Buddhists Believe in Outer Space: Shaolin Abbot (Source: Xinhua)
As China's successful launch of its fifth manned spacecraft marks another step in realizing the country's space dream, Chinese monks regularly ponder how space is related to their own life. "Buddhism believes there are aliens. They not only exist, but there are many," said Shi Yongxin, abbot of the Shaolin Temple in central China's Henan Province.

Buddhists believe the existence of many different worlds and their end-results do not exclude other celestial bodies, said Shi in an exclusive interview with Xinhua. According to the 48-year-old monk, those who have a good practice of Buddhism can go to other worlds, including outer space. (6/13)

Russia Promises Manned Launches from Its Own Soil in 2018 (Source: Space.com)
Russia, one of the world's space powerhouses, has been launching its rockets from Kazakhstan since the early days of its space program, but now plans to shift its launches to Russian soil within five years. But some experts question whether such a pace is realistic.

This spring, President Vladimir Putin pledged $51.8 billion by 2020 to place his country back in the top ranks of world space explorers. The centerpiece of that promise is Vostochny, a cosmodrome, or launch site, under construction in eastern Siberia, near the Chinese border. Within five years, Putin promised that an International Space Station crew would launch from Vostochny. (6/13)

India Lines Up Satellite Launches In July/August (Source: Aviation Week)
Four Indian satellites are slated for launch over the next two months, a senior space scientist says, using both Indian and foreign launchers. “Between July 1 and July 26, we hope to loft a navigation satellite and Insat-3D meteorological satellite, followed by the launch of a communication satellite, GSAT-14, and a military satellite, GSAT-7, in August,” the scientist at the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) said. (6/13)

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