June 16, 2013

Seward: Shiloh Launch Site is Right for Refuge (Source: Daytona Beach News-Journal)
Can lightning strike twice in the same place? Lightning struck our region's economy in 1961 when President John F. Kennedy proposed that the United States land a man on the moon. That daring challenge brought unprecedented growth to our region. However, it also left the area vulnerable to sudden shifts of government policy, such as the downturns that followed the end of the Apollo and space shuttle programs.

Fortunately, there is a solution. A new wave of commercial aerospace companies is emerging, scouting locations to set up shop, and seeking skilled employees to hire. Florida needs to raise a lightning rod to attract this fast-growing "New Space" industry.

Shiloh, 150 acres on the border of Brevard and Volusia counties, would provide a unique facility dedicated to commercial launch outside of Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at a geographically advantageous location. A launch complex outside of the current spaceport boundary would attract major aerospace players who wish to operate their own facilities, and bring thousands of direct and indirect jobs. Click here. (6/16)

Henderson: Shiloh Site is Wrong Place for Launches (Source: Daytona Beach News-Journal)
It is recognized that NASA has the right to withdraw lands from the refuge for the benefit of the national space program. This right has been rarely used, and it remains to be seen whether private commercial development is truly part of the national space program. What we do know is that for 50 years, these lands have been managed as part of the National Wildlife Refuge System. As required by Congress, these lands are managed for the benefit of people and wildlife.

We are all confounded as to why this proposed private development is needed here. NASA currently allows commercial launches at Kennedy Space Center, and has recently stated that it would allow the old shuttle launch pad to be used for commercial space flight. Space Florida counters that it doesn't like the Air Force telling it what to do, and finds it difficult for private consultants to get proper security clearance to KSC.

This should give us all pause for concern. People should not get their hopes up that Spaceport Florida will rise from the ruins of Shiloh. This is all about gaining leverage on NASA to gain more flexibility for launches within KSC — where all needed launch infrastructure is currently in place. [Shiloh] is indeed a place worth fighting for, and we will. Click here. (6/16)

In Space, Chinese are Still Far Behind (Source: Florida Today)
Don’t fall prey to the politically-driven hysteria or, in some cases, just sloppy journalism. Yes, the Chinese launched men to a space station in orbit around the Earth. The launch on Tuesday from the Gobi desert, the subsequent docking at the country’s orbiting Tiangong-1 module, and the crew staying there are all important milestones for the Chinese space program.

But, don’t let yourself get caught up in the idea that the Chinese are somehow gaining ground and soon to pass the United States, Russia or their partners in the International Space Station project. Also, don’t get too concerned that the Chinese have their own system to launch an astronaut crew to space and the U.S. does not.

The Chinese achievements are interesting to watch, but they’re decades behind veteran space-faring nations like the U.S. and Russia. Their flight is not to some sprawling orbiting laboratory like the ISS. Rather, they docked their 60s-era Shenzou spacecraft to a tiny, one-module space station that is a little over one-tenth of the size of the U.S. Skylab and Russian Salyut stations of decades past. (6/16)

Rock Found In Mass. Backyard Came From Mir Space Station (Source: WBZ)
Phil Green wasn’t quite sure what he had, when he noticed the unusual rock on the banks of the Merrimack River. His yard backs up to the river and he was on one of his frequent walks, looking for arrowheads. The tide was low, leaving behind exposed mud and smooth granite. And then he noticed something that just didn’t look right. Phil was puzzled by the strange rock, but he placed it in the yard and forgot about it. The rock sat under a tree for six years until a friend started asking questions.

Phil’s sister in law also thought it was from space so she sent it to a friend who works for NASA. That friend confirmed the rock was special, and that it wasn’t actually a rock at all. What Phil had found was a piece of the Russian Space Station Mir. When Mir was de-commissioned, much of it burned up as it re-entered Earth’s orbit. The rest landed in the South Pacific Ocean. Somehow, one palm-sized chunk crashed into the Merrimack River in Amesbury. (6/14)

Central Florida Couple Among First to Pay for Virgin Spaceflight (Source: Florida Today)
Six years after Marc and Sharon Hagle of Winter Park became early buyers of $200,000 tickets to fly on Virgin Galactic, their opportunity to become astronauts feels closer than ever. If schedules hold, a pair of private test pilots could reach space later this year, becoming the first astronauts to cross the frontier from U.S. soil since NASA’s final shuttle crew in 2011.

That would put Virgin Galactic on track to open the world’s first commercial spaceline next year, starting suborbital flights for paying passengers like the Hagles and hundreds of others. “It raised the excitement level, absolutely,” Marc said of the test flight. “Now you can see that it’s just a finite amount of time and we’re doing it.” For the Hagles, both now 64, the space tourism adventure began in 2007 with an anniversary celebrated in simulated microgravity. (6/16)

Are Alien-Hunting Scientists Going to Trigger a Planetary Invasion? (Source: The Verge)
If you could talk to extraterrestrials, what would you tell them? Start mulling over that question, because you'll soon be able to send your very own message into space; a new initiative called Lone Signal promises to be the first continuous, mass experiment in what's known as METI — the controversial practice of Messaging for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. On Monday, the venture will open a web portal allowing anyone to transmit text and photos to distant stars.

Lone Signal plans to direct their dish towards a particular star system for around a month before switching to a new interstellar target — all of them, leaders say, will be realms that carry the potential to supporting life. Their first target is Gliese 526, located 17.6 light years from Earth, which means that — if someone out there is listening — we might receive our first response in around 35 years.

And it's that potential response that, for some scientists, transforms this seemingly innocent public project into a decidedly unnerving one. "My basic concern, shared by many other people, is that we have no knowledge of the capabilities or intentions of an alien technological civilization," said Dr. Michael Michaud, a retired US diplomat. Though Michaud adds that the odds of Lone Signal actually finding intelligent life are probably low, he notes that "we don't know what the consequences of contact might be, and human history is not reassuring." (6/12)

After Years of Autism Challenges, Nick Johnson Lands NASA Gig (Source: Central Kentucky News)
Nicholas Johnson has never been one for crowds. When he was younger, a trip to a restaurant or retail store often would send Nick into loud shrieks and convulsive movements. Once, during a trip to the grocery store when he was about 8, he began rocking back and forth so violently while riding in the cart that he tipped it over in the middle of the aisle.

It’s no wonder that his parents are so proud of how far their son has traveled since he was first diagnosed with severe autism more than 20 years ago. For them, it is like he has journeyed to Mars. Nick, 23, landed a 10-week summer internship at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, working among the country’s top scientists, engineers and technicians that build, launch and monitor instruments that advance our understanding of the universe.

He started last week creating computer databases and building security firewalls for the space agency, and already he’s feeling in his element. “You know the story of the Ugly Duckling? Well, I have been kind of like the ugly duckling all my life,” Nick said in a telephone interview last week. “Now that I’m here at Goddard, I’m turning into that beautiful swan and learning to fly.” (6/15)

Lone Signal, Sending Messages to ET (Source: HobbySpace)
The Lone Signal project, which officially opens on June 18th,  wants to send messages to an extraterrestrial intelligence (METI) using a former NASA radio dish near Carmel, California. Lone Signal is going to start firing off messages on a recurring basis and its first target is Gliese 526, bust under 18 light years from us. Click here. (6/15)

Nixon Legacy: Space Exploration as "Normal" Part of National Life (Source: Space Policy Online)
At a June 13 event at the National Archives, space policy expert John Logsdon described how President Nixon’s policy toward space exploration was rooted in framing it as a “normal” part of national life, not something special – a legacy that has influenced the U.S. space program for the last 40 years.

Logsdon, professor emeritus at George Washington University, joined NASA Chief Historian Bill Barry and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Roger Launius in an event that considered the space program under the presidential administrations of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. Click here. (6/15)

Fifty Years After Valentina (Source": Space Safety)
It’s been fifty years since the first woman in history took off in a tiny Soviet space capsule to spend three days in orbit. Being officially hailed alongside Yuri Gagarin as a symbol of USSR’s victory in the space race and referred to by many in the West as a proof that Russia is more open to opportunities for women, Valentina Thereskhova remains a contradictory hero.

In eastern European media, many astonishing accounts - of limited reliability – detailing her flight can be found, stating that Valentina experienced severe mental break-down during her flight, cried the whole time and didn’t perform most of the tasks she was expected to.

According to those accounts, upon Valentina’s return, the chief designer of the soviet space program Sergei Korolev, who had reportedly never been particularly fond of female space flight and was only pushed to send Valentina up by the Communist party leader Nikita Khrushchev, swore he would never ever send another woman to space. And he actually never did. (6/15)

Garvey to Launch Prospector-18D to Test Nanosats (Source: NewSpace Watch)
Garvey Spacecraft Corp. will launch their Prospector-18D reusable liquid-fueled rocket this weekend in Mojave and it will include a set of student built Cubesats. The flight will only go to an altitude of about 6000 meters but tthe flight will test the robustness of the satellites to prepare them for later launch to orbit. This NASA video describes the project.

Launching June 15 from Mojave, Calif., a Prospector-18D liquid-fueled rocket is to carry a set of small satellites high into the air to test how well they handle the shock, heat and vibration of launch. The satellites, each a 4-inch cube, are packed with sensors and equipment for the test flight that is expected to lead to an orbital mission next year. Advances in the small satellites' design could be used in the future in other spacecraft. (6/14)

Plastics May be Man’s Best Friend During Deep Space Travel (Source: Space Safety)
Space scientists from the University of New Hampshire (UNH) and the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) report that data gathered by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) show lighter materials like plastics provide effective shielding against the radiation hazards faced by astronauts during extended space travel. The finding could help reduce health risks to humans on future missions into deep space.

Aluminum has always been the primary material in spacecraft construction, but it provides relatively little protection against high-energy cosmic rays and can add so much mass to spacecraft that they become cost-prohibitive to launch.

“This is the first study using observations from space to confirm what has been thought for some time – that plastics and other lightweight materials are pound-for-pound more effective for shielding against cosmic radiation than aluminum. Shielding can’t entirely solve the radiation exposure problem in deep space, but there are clear differences in effectiveness of different materials.” Click here. (6/14)

Kentucky Bustling with Entries in Space Marketplace (Source: Courier-Journal)
The terms Kentucky and space typically have not been used in the same sentence. But since the creation of Kentucky Space (kentuckyspace.com) in 2005, this is quickly changing. In the early part of 2004, the Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation (kstc.com) and its partners began to observe what they viewed as the emergence of an entrepreneurial space industry.

It was becoming clear that the expanded access to space, coupled with the rapid advancement of micro technologies and other innovations, were giving shape to a new dynamic space marketplace. There also was a sense that this presented an opportunity for Kentucky to expand its capabilities to pursue an exciting new area of entrepreneurial opportunity and growth; a place where Kentucky might be a leader as opposed to simply one of many chasing an established market. (6/14)

Florida Lawmakers Tour Space Florida Facilities at Cape Canaveral (Source: WJXT)
When the Space Shuttle program ended in 2011, it created a void in space travel. This year $40 million of your tax dollars will be spent trying to fill that void. State lawmakers toured Space Florida facilities at Cape Canaveral on Friday and said your money is being well spent.

The height of the shuttle program's, 15,000 people were working at Kennedy Space Center with the end of the shuttle, thousands of jobs went overseas or were lost all together. Now with the help of state incentives private companies are picking up the slack. Boeing has taken over the giant shuttle facility.

Commercial space flight is still in its infancy. Lawmakers toured existing launch sites and private rocket makers like SpaceX and a Lockheed facility were cameras were banned. Space Florida's job is to find deals that work, close them, and put people back to work. Rep. Matt Hudson sits on an economic development subcommittee. High School science teacher turned lawmaker Mark Danish, said the incentives are a chance for Florida and space to once again be synonymous. (6/14)

A Letter to China's First Space Teacher From U.S. Predecessor (Source: Xinhua)
While China's first space teacher Wang Yaping is orbiting the earth, Barbara Morgan, the world's first astronaut who ever taught in space, was signing her name on a letter to greet the Chinese newcomer. "I wish you could see smiles on my face, I am just really, really happy," Morgan told Xinhua via telephone when she was asked to comment on the launch of China's Shenzhou-10 spacecraft.

To Morgan, distance cannot separate Americans and Chinese, and teaching seems to have no boundary. "All over the world, we are really very exited," Morgan said. "I have written a letter that I hope the Chinese news media will share with astronaut Yaping and all the people of China," Morgan wrote in an email to Xinhua. "I share your sense of pride and joy!" (6/15)

U.S. Expert: China's Space Program Comes of Age (Source: Xinhua)
The successful launch of the Shenzhou-10 spacecraft marks China's coming of age as a strong player in mankind's endeavor to explore the unknown in the universe, said a U.S. scientist. Carolyn T. Sumners, vice president of Astronomy and Physical Sciences at Houston Museum of Natural Sciences, told Xinhua that she was "very impressed" by China's space program, particularly the newly launched Shenzhou-10.

"The mission is so long," Sumners said. The Shenzhou-10, China's fifth manned spaceflight, will stay in orbit for 15 days, the longest mission in the country's history. The craft completed an automated docking with the orbiting Tiangong-1 space module on Thursday and will conduct a manual docking later.

"It took the United States many docking attempts to understand docking. You have to make decisions about can humans do it better or can the machine do it better? I think it is very important to go both ways, just like what China has done," she commented. (6/15)

Huge Earth-Passing Asteroid an 'Entirely New Beast' (Source: Space.com)
A big asteroid that flew past Earth last month belongs to a new category of space rock, scientists say. Asteroid 1998 QE2 and its moon sailed within 3.6 million miles (5.8 million kilometers) of Earth on May 31, making their closest approach to our planet for at least the next two centuries. New radar images captured by the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico are revealing just how unique this binary asteroid is, researchers say.

“Asteroid QE2 is dark, red, and primitive — that is, it hasn’t been heated or melted as much as other asteroids," Arecibo's Ellen Howell said in a statement. "QE2 is nothing like any asteroid we've visited with a spacecraft, or plan to, or that we have meteorites from. It's an entirely new beast in the menagerie of asteroids near Earth." (6/15)

Pentagon, House Chart Stable Funding Course for Space Programs (Source: Space News)
Funding for major U.S. military space programs appears to be on a relatively stable course despite continued uncertainty about the 2013 fiscal year — now nearly two-thirds over — and a constrained outlook for 2014. Of the big programs, GPS 3, the next-generation satellite navigation system slated to start launching in 2015, is targeted for noteworthy reductions in 2013 and in draft spending legislation for 2014. However, even those proposed reductions are modest relative to the size of the proposed program budget for both years.

On June 10, the Pentagon offered a peek at how it initially plans to deal this year with the across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration, which took affect in March. According to a spending plan released by Robert Hale, the U.S. Defense Department comptroller, space programs were largely protected.

Applied evenly, sequestration would shave some 8 percent from all Pentagon spending accounts this year, which in theory would mean a total $300 million to $400 million spending reduction for major military space activities. In reality, Hale’s budget trims about $97 million from major space programs, including about $58 million from GPS 3 and its associated ground system. The budget for the missile warning system known as the Space Based Infrared System was similarly trimmed by about $54 million. Click here. (6/14)

Ailing NASA Telescope Spots 503 New Alien Planet Candidates (Source: Space.com)
NASA's Kepler spacecraft has spotted 503 new potential alien worlds, some of which may be capable of supporting life as we know it. "Some of these new planet candidates are small and some reside in the habitable zone of their stars, but much work remains to be done to verify these results," Kepler mission manager Roger Hunter, of NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., wrote in an update last Friday (June 7).

The latest haul brings Kepler's tally of exoplanet candidates to 3,216. Just 132 of them have been confirmed by follow-up observations to date, but mission scientists expect at least 90 percent will end up being the real deal. The new finds were pulled from observations Kepler made during its first three years of operation, from May 2009 to March 2012, researchers said. The telescope hasn't done any planet hunting since being hobbled by a failure in its orientation-maintaining system last month. (6/14)

Students and Teachers Become Rocket Scientists at Virginia Spaceport (Source: NASA)
More than 120 students and educators will delve into the world of rocket science June 15-21 during Rocket Week at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia's Eastern Shore. Activities during the week will include a RockOn! workshop for 50 university and community college-level participants, and the Wallops Rocket Academy for Teachers and Students (WRATS) for a high school audience. All attendees will participate in a sounding rocket launch scheduled between 5:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. EDT June 20. (6/14)

Video Takes You Through the Known Universe (Source: LA Times)
Astronomers have put the known universe in a box on your computer screen – the 120 million light-years of it within our grasp, at least. With a mellifluous French-accented narration, some light piano music and sweeping computer animation, the video could become a stoner classic. It also happens to be the most detailed modern cosmography of all that is visible in the sky – and a great deal of what is not.

At nearly 18 minutes long (that’s less than one side of Pink Floyd’s "The Dark Side of the Moon"), the video is not the stuff of the MTV generation and certainly not ready for prime time. But odds are it will reach cult status among astronomers, planetarium addicts and the cosmically inclined. Click here. (6/14)

NASA’s Morpheus Prototype Planetary Lander Making Comeback After Crash (Source: Aviation Week)
The development team for NASA’s Morpheus prototype precision planetary lander is prepping for a late July return to Kennedy Space Center, where engineers plan to resume the free-flight test campaign that was abruptly suspended last August with a fiery crash of the test vehicle.

The liquid oxygen/methane-fueled replacement test vehicle and launch pad are being substantially enhanced with the addition of redundant inertial measurement units (IMUs) and a flame trench to address the loss of guidance data and a buildup of destructive vibro-acoustic forces identified as the most likely cause of the Aug. 9, 2012, crash.

If this summer’s three-month campaign achieves all of its goals, Morpheus will close out a graduated series of test objectives at Kennedy by rising 500 meters above a simulated lunarscape at the north end of KSC’s Shuttle Landing Facility. Morpheus would then fly a 1-km trajectory using laser guidance supplied by its equally experimental Autonomous Landing Hazard Avoidance Technology (ALHAT) system to dodge a network of boulders and craters to achieve a soft landing. (6/15)

Texas Tourism May Go Suborbital (Source: Austin Business Journal)
Only about 500 people have traveled to space, and few have traveled to space commercially. You can expect that to change — and Texas could be involved in a big way. The last decade has seen the first leisure travelers go to space. Since 2001, seven individuals have purchased eight orbital flights — one passenger flew twice — for up to $35 million per flight.

Austin software and gaming mogul Richard Garriott was one of them. The development of suborbital reusable vehicles — commercially developed reusable space vehicles that can carry humans or cargo — offer a slew of space experiences (weightlessness, view from space and of the curvature of the Earth) combined with the rare opportunity to cross the threshold of space at a price point significantly lower than commercially purchased orbital flights. Click here. (6/14)

Tesla Bill Fails in Texas (Source: Jalopnik)
Native Texans will tell you that on every odd-numbered year, the stalwart Texas Legislature convenes to do what they do best: fail to really accomplish anything at all. Tesla learned that the hard way this week, as the 2013 legislative session ended without a vote on the bills they supported.

You'll recall that Tesla, which sells their cars directly to customers, have had a rough go of things lately in that regard. Most dealers feel threatened by Tesla's eliminate-the-middleman model and have used their considerable political clout to try and squeeze them out in several states, including Texas and North Carolina.

Editor's Note: Elon Musk was pushing hard for this bill to pass in Texas. I suspect some Lone Star lawmakers considered it might be a package deal with SpaceX's consideration of a Texas site for Falcon rocket launches. The bill's failure may make Texas a little less attractive to SpaceX. (6/4)

Space Hacker Workshop Planned in Dallas (Source: Citizens in Space)
Space isn’t just for governments and large corporations. Citizen scientists and hardware hackers will learn how to do “space on the cheap” at a two-day Space Hacker Workshop in Dallas. Participants at the workshop will learn how they can build and fly experiments in space, and even fly in space as citizen astronauts, through the Citizens in Space program.

The Space Hacker Workshop takes place July 20-21 at the Frontiers of Flight Museum at Love Field. The workshop is sponsored by Citizens in Space, a project of the United States Rocket Academy, and SpaceGAMBIT, an international collaboration of citizen scientists operating through makerspaces, hackerspaces, and community groups. (6/15)

NASA Offers Money to Startups That Can Solve Space-Travel Problems (Source: Ars Technica)
NASA has announced plans to fund startups that help the organization's quest to develop new technology for healthcare and medical needs both in space and on Earth, according to an announcement Tuesday from the National Space Biomedical Research Institute Industry Forum. The funding program, named SMARTCAP ACCEL, will give no-strings-attached grants to companies that target a list of areas and fit a certain number of criteria.

NASA is focusing in particular on technologies that address the effects of radiation exposure, inadequate nutrition, bone fracture, or heart health. They're also requesting ideas for routine surveillance. To be suitable for space, proposed solutions have to be operable in a remote setting without a doctor or lab around. They must rely on solar power only and cannot work off gas or use consumables that degrade, according to MedCityNews. (6/13)

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