June 20, 2013

For NASA, Mars Beyond Reach Without Budget Boost (Source: Space.com)
If NASA continues to be funded at its current levels, a manned mission to Mars could be permanently beyond reach, space industry experts say. When asked how soon astronauts could potentially set foot on Mars under NASA's current budget constraints, Thomas Young, the former executive vice president of Lockheed Martin, says the outlook is bleak.

"With the current budget, bear with me, I would probably say never," Young said during a meeting of the U.S. House of Representative's space subcommittee today (June 19). Steven Squyres, the principal investigator for NASA's Opportunity rover now exploring Mars, agreed. Squyres, an astronomy professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., also gave testimony before the House subcommittee.

Young said that if the public and government officials treat a mission to Mars with the importance of the first mission to the moon, it is possible to put boots on the Red Planet in a little more than a decade from now. "Mars is harder; there are a lot of significant issues to resolve before going to Mars," Young said. "But I think that if we had the same national commitment to it [as we did to going to the moon], I would say by 2025, we could land on Mars." (6/19)

Hispasat Profit Down Despite Strong Showing in the Americas (Source: Space News)
Satellite fleet operator Hispasat of Spain on June 20 reported higher revenue but lower profit in 2012 compared to 2011 and said its business in the Americas now surpasses its European revenue. For Hispasat, the American focus principally means Latin America, where revenue increased 13.8 percent in 2012. The region in general, and Brazil in particular, stands in contrast to a generally flat European market for satellite bandwidth. (6/20)

Seven Soyuz Launches from Kourou Spaceport Planned in 2013-2014 (Source: Interfax)
Seven Russian Soyuz-ST launch vehicles will be launched from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana in 2013-2014, European Space Agency Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain told Interfax-AVN at the Paris Air Show in Le Bourget on Thursday. Four of these vehicles will be launched in 2013, Dordain said.

The first of them will go into space on Monday, June 24, and the other three in September, October, and December, he said. The other three Soyuz launches are planned in 2014, he said. The Russian-European program Soyuz-Kourou is working well, he said. (6/20)

NASA and Italian Space Agency Sign Agreement on Exploration of Mercury (Source: NASA)
At a meeting in Rome Thursday, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Italian Space Agency (ASI) President Enrico Saggese signed a Memorandum of Understanding for cooperation on the European Space Agency- (ESA) led BepiColombo mission to Mercury, strengthening mutually beneficial cooperation between NASA and ASI in planetary exploration. (6/20)

Europe Probe's Sole Mission: Find Mars Life (Source: Discovery)
While NASA's Mars rover Curiosity looks for habitats that could have supported microbial life, Europe is designing a sister rover that will take a more direct approach to determining if the planet most like Earth in the solar system has or ever had life. "The goals of the two rovers are completely different," said Vincenzo Giorgio of Thales Alenia, ESA's prime contractor for its two-part ExoMars initiative. "The ExoMars rover is going to be looking for life, drilling two meters below the Martian surface and having all the tools and instruments designed just for that scientific objective," Giorgio said. (6/20)

Europe Braces for Competition From Low-Cost US Launcher (Source: Reuters)
SpaceX is not among the 2,200 companies exhibiting at the Paris Airshow, but its cut-rate Falcon rocket, which has already shaken up the U.S. satellite launch industry, is raising eyebrows in Europe. The privately owned, California-based firm is preparing for the first of about 30 satellite launches, aiming to reverse a long decline in the U.S. commercial launch business.

The business has largely been going to France-based Arianespace, a public-private European partnership that last year reported revenue of 1.3 billion euros. The company is projected to bring in nearly that much again this year, its newly appointed chief executive, Stephane Israel, told reporters at the biennial air show.

SpaceX is not Arianespace's only competition. Russia markets a variety of rockets for space launches, and to some extent so do India and China, although U.S. export restrictions have severely impacted China's ability to sell its services. But it is SpaceX's impeding entry into the commercial launch business that is triggering a makeover in how Arianespace builds rockets and conducts its business. (6/20)

Editorial: Impending Launch Important Milestone for Spaceport America (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
Spaceport America will not sit idle while officials there wait for Virgin Galactic to complete testing and give final approval to the spacecraft that will soon lift paying passengers into suborbital space. Friday marks another big step forward in the development of the nation's first purpose-built commercial spaceport as UP Aerospace Inc. is scheduled to launch SpaceLoft 7 from Spaceport America sometime between 7 and 10 a.m.

This will not be the first launch from Spaceport America for the company, but it will be the first time that launch will be funded by NASA's Flight Opportunities Program. And, the experiments conducted on the suborbital flight could be significant. The FAA [with Embry-Riddle support] will test its new Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B), a commercial tracking device for use in air traffic control. Current plans will require all aircraft and other flight vehicles operating within U.S. airspace to be equipped with ADS-B by 2020. (6/20)

Virginia Suborbital Launches: One on Thursday, Two More on Monday (Source: Washington Post)
A rocket carrying students’ experiments has been launched from NASA’s Wallops Island Flight Facility in Virginia. NASA says more than 100 university students and instructors were at Wallops when the Terrier-Improved Orion sounding rocket was launched at 5:30 a.m. Thursday. The rocket carried the experiments to an altitude of 73 miles. It then landed in the Atlantic Ocean and the payload was recovered.

On Monday, two rockets are scheduled to be launched 15 seconds apart from Wallops. The launches will support a joint project between NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency to study a global electrical current that sweeps through the ionosphere. (6/20)

Shotwell: The Case for Commercial Rockets (Source: Popular Mechanics)
SpaceX does have a lot of government business, but we execute in a commercial fashion. When SpaceX developed the Falcon 9 launcher, we spent about $400 million. NASA did a cost study that showed if the government had built that system, it would have cost $4 billion. The space industry is rife with disconcerting facts for our taxpayers.

I want Americans to get more engaged on the engineering side. I think we need to get back to that place where American ingenuity is a no-brainer. I feel like we're far behind and it bothers me. It's a personal focus for me to make sure that people understand what engineering is and not be afraid of it, because I think fear is what keeps people from doing things. Engineering is one of the coolest professions on the planet—soon to be one of the coolest professions on other planets.

And then there is the economic piece. During these difficult economic times of sequestration and relatively high unemployment, why are we paying the Russians more money than we're paying U.S. companies to develop these capabilities? We're paying the Russians $70 million a seat to carry American astronauts. [That] $70 million is more than 1000 jobs in the U.S. considering an average income of $50,000. Click here. (6/20)

Banking on Satellites in Africa (Source: ESA)
Satellites are making it possible to transfer money between remote locations in sub-Saharan African countries that are otherwise unconnected to the outside world. An ESA project looking at ways to use satellites for services in developing nations where land networks are simply impossible or non-existent gave rise to the Agency’s SatFinAfrica pilot project in 2011. Click here. (6/20)

Electric-Propulsion Satellites Are All the Rage (Source: Space News)
Interest in all-electric-propulsion satellites has reached levels that might lead one to think vast swarms of them will be orbiting the Earth in the coming years. Click here for a rundown. (6/20)

Astrium Services Poised To Bulk Buy Ka-band Capacity from Inmarsat (Source: Space News)
Astrium Services expects to sign a bulk-purchase agreement with mobile satellite services operator Inmarsat in July to secure Ka-band capacity aboard Inmarsat’s three Global Xpress mobile communications satellites, Astrium Services Chief Executive Evert Dudok said June 20.

The agreement will fill a gap in Astrium Services’ bandwidth services offer, which now includes Ku-band capacity leased from commercial fleet operators and Astrium’s own X-band capacity, which is reserved for government and military use and is commercialized on nine satellites. (6/20)

Wormhole Entanglement Solves Black Hole Paradox (Source: New Scientist)
Wormholes -- tunnels through space-time that connect black holes -– may be a consequence of the bizarre quantum property called entanglement. The redefinition would resolve a pressing paradox that you might be burned instead of crushed, should you fall into a black hole. Knowing which hazard sign to erect outside a black hole isn't exactly an everyday problem. For theoretical physicists, though, it reveals an inconsistency between quantum mechanics and general relativity.

Solving this conundrum might lead to the sought-after quantum theory of gravity. Relativity says if you fall into a black hole, you would die via "spaghettification" – a gradual stretching by ever-more intense gravitational forces. But last year, when Joseph Polchinski and colleagues explored the quantum implications of black holes, they hit a problem. Black holes emit photons via something called Hawking radiation, and these are "entangled" with the interior of the black hole and also with each other. This breaks a quantum rule that particles can't be entangled with two things at once.

To preserve quantum monogamy, Polchinski suggested last year that the black hole-photon entanglement breaks down. That causes a wall of energy at the black hole's event horizon that wrecks relativity because anyone falling in would burn up rather turn to spaghetti. Welcome to the black hole firewall paradox. Click here. (6/20)

IT Company Probed Over Russian Sat-Nav Embezzlement (Source: RIA Novosti)
Former executives of M2M Telematics, a subsidiary of the Russian Systema conglomerate, are under investigation over alleged embezzlement of nearly 400 million rubles ($12.3 million) from the Glonass satellite navigation system program, Kommersant daily reported on Thursday. The Global Navigation Satellite System (Glonass), officially launched in 1993, is the Russian counterpart to the US-operated GPS.

A criminal case has been opened on charges of "large-scale fraud committed by a group of individuals on the basis of previous collusion," which carries a penalty of up to ten years in prison. No charges have yet been brought against specific M2M Telematics executives, the paper said. (6/20)

NASA Tests Radio for Unmanned Aircraft Operations (Source: Space Daily)
NASA's communications experts have begun flight testing a prototype radio as part of the agency's contributions toward fully integrating civil and commercial Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) into the National Airspace System (NAS). This particular radio is one of the first steps to provide the critical communications link for UAS pilots on the ground to safely and securely operate their remotely piloted vehicles in flight even though they are many miles - if not continents or oceans - apart. Click here. (6/20)

New Videos Feature NASA, Commercial Mission Concepts (Source: SPACErePORT)
NASA has produced this video to show how an asteroid capture mission would work. Meanwhile, this new video shows the new design concept for Stratolaunch Systems (with likely operations at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport). (6/20)

Why Is Atlas Flying With Russian Engines Again? (Source: SPACErePORT)
ULA is required under its Air Force EELV contract to maintain an inventory of Russian-built RD-180 rocket engines sufficient to support two years of Atlas-5 launch operations. The Air Force's original EELV plan called for RD-180 production to move to the U.S. (West Palm Beach), as part of a deal between Energomash and Pratt & Whitney, but that never happened. I thought that the failure to accomplish this transition was due to Russia's desire to protect its technological secrets within the RD-180 design (it is a superior rocket engine).

However, during a discussion at the NSCFL networking event on June 19, I heard that technology transfer concerns have nothing to do with the delay. Pratt Whitney Rocketdyne (now Aerojet Rocketdyne) apparently has everything it needs to start production of RD-180 engines at its West Palm Beach plant, including technical specifications and tooling. But the end product, while identical to the Russian-built engines, would be significantly more expensive due to U.S. labor costs.

One would think the Air Force might at least want to validate that the company can indeed produce the engine domestically, perhaps by producing some minimal number of them to prove the point. Unfortunately, the Air Force and NASA have lamented the steep rise in EELV costs over the past several years, so this might be an unlikely scenario. One wonders how much more the Atlas-5 would cost if the engines were built in the U.S.A. (6/19)

House Appropriators Want Deep Cut to FAA Space Office (Source: Space Policy Online)
The draft FY2014 Transportation-HUD (T-HUD) appropriations bill would reduce FAA AST's budget from its requested level of $16.01 million to $14.16 million. In total, the bill provides $44.1 billion in discretionary spending, $13.9 billion below the President's request. AST was funded at $16.27 million for FY2012, $15.4 million in FY2013 (after adjusting for the sequester), and the FY2014 request is $16.01 million.

The draft bill would cut AST by $1.85 million (about 12 percent) less than the request or $1.24 million (about 8 percent) less than its current level. Mike Gold of Bigelow Aerospace and COMSTAC said "These cuts are ill-advised to say the least. At a time when we're depending so heavily on commercial space transportation to do this to the FAA-AST will have serious consequences, causing delays throughout the industry and even potentially putting lives in danger."

Editor's Note: Among the cuts that would be imposed on AST are the elimination of spaceport infrastructure matching grant funding, and a sharp reduction in funds for the Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation. (6/19)

Moon Trip Cooler Than Saving a City? (Source: Florida Today)
Witness the genius that is our U.S. House of Representatives. On Tuesday, our space program pitched a surprisingly affordable plan to do something practical for Americans: Intercept an asteroid to spare millions some day from death by fireball or tsunami. On Wednesday, a House subcommittee responded with a bill to outlaw NASA from trying.

Members of the so-called House Committee on Science, Space and Technology instead want to focus all the money on sending astronauts back to the moon. It’s a nifty mission, with a mega-rocket, space capsule and launch tower already absorbing billions of dollars at Kennedy Space Center. On the moon, astronauts could monkey-wrench any Chinese landers before possibly hopscotching to Mars in 2033.

What Americans really want, polls show, is video of astronauts planting a flag on the Red Planet and squeezing water from specially chosen rocks our rovers and geeks at CalTech are working so hard to analyze today. Now that’s worth taxpayers’ dollars. (6/20)

Space Start-Ups Launch Crowdfunding Efforts (Source: Florida Today)
Tapping popular interest in space exploration and science fiction, space startups are increasingly seeking funding from a new source: You. Through crowdfunding campaigns and other donations, companies and foundations are offering the public the chance to take pictures from space, develop a space elevator, even save the world from a cataclysmic asteroid strike.

“Space is and should be accessible,” said Tim DeBenedictis, founder of San Francisco-based Southern Stars, which raised money to launch a tiny satellite from Cape Canaveral. “It’s no longer something that we just did in 1969. It shouldn’t be something that only billionaires can afford. It should be something that really belongs to everybody.” Click here. (6/20)

House Plan Cuts $1 Billion From NASA's Budget (Source: Florida Today)
A NASA spending plan rolled out Wednesday by a House subcommittee would cap the agency’s budget in 2014 and 2015 at $1 billion less than it is receiving this year. NASA’s development of heavy-lift rockets and next-generation crew capsules for deep space missions would get more than President Barack Obama is requesting. Investments in development of commercial U.S. spacecraft for round trips to the International Space Station would get less.

Deep cuts in planetary science, robotic exploration of Mars, and Earth science would be made. The bill would prohibit funding the administration’s proposed strategy to robotically retrieve an asteroid and then send astronauts on a sample-return mission. Instead, NASA would be directed to launch human expeditions to the moon as a steppingstone to Mars.

Witnesses at a House Space Subcommittee hearing on NASA’s 2013 Authorization Bill said the agency is being asked to do too much with too little. The ranking member of the full House Committee on Science, Space and Technology agreed and said the proposed spending plan is a mess. (6/20)

Follow Florida's Aerospace Industry (Source: Enterprise Florida)
Florida ranks 2nd among states for aviation, aerospace, and space establishments, with more than 2,000 aviation and aerospace companies employing some 87,000 workers. Florida's industry leadership is driven and supported by the presence of virtually every major defense contractor, a 50 year legacy of space launch at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, Florida's many U.S. military installations, its incredible air transport infrastructure, and its high quality workforce. Click here. (6/20)

Volusia Residents Invited to Meeting About Possible Launch Site (Source: Daytona Beach News-Journal)
State Sen. Dorothy Hukill and Volusia County Councilwoman Deb Denys are sponsoring a community meeting on Tuesday night in New Smyrna Beach for residents to ask questions about plans to try to lure a commercial spaceport to Volusia County. "We want to have a good conversation," said Hukill, R-Port Orange. Those who attend will be encouraged to ask questions of the representatives of Volusia County and Space Florida who will attend and get those questions answered, Hukill said. "If we don't have the answers, we'll find them."

Denys, who represents Southeast Volusia on the County Council, said the meeting is informational only. "There are a lot of people in the community that have questions and concerns," Denys said. She hopes the meeting will help address those concerns. The meeting takes place from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Brannon Center, 105 S. Riverside Drive, New Smyrna Beach. (6/19)

Moon, Mars, or Asteroids, Which is Best Destination Solar System Development? (Source: NASA Watch)
The Moon! No, Mars! No, Asteroids! Here we are in the second decade of the 21st century and in the NASA, space advocacy, and commercial space worlds one of these three destinations are being touted (largely to the exclusion of others) for their value to science, human exploration, and economic development, but which one of them is the most valuable, the most deserving, of our attention?

This argument is taking place today in the vacuum of space policy that we currently live in without any unifying principles or policy to inform our decisions. Without a guiding policy and sense of purpose that encompasses more than narrow interests and singular destinations it is exceedingly likely that the human exploration and development of the solar system will continue to be an expensive and futile exercise.

We must develop a firm moral, technological, and fiscal foundation for this outward move that will attract capital investment, spur technology development, and encourage innovation in a manner that people can understand, believe in, and thus financially support. (6/19)

House Hearing Reveals Concerns About NASA Authorization Bill (Source: Space Politics)
The draft bill “doesn’t contain funding commensurate with the tasks NASA has been asked to undertake,” said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), ranking member of the full committee. “In fact, it gives NASA additional, unfunded mandates while maintaining deep sequestration cuts over the life of the bill.” If the bill became law, she said, “it would not help the challenges facing the agency.”

“This is not a bill ready for markup. This is a flawed draft, starting from its funding assumptions, and I cannot support it in its present form,” she concluded. “I also predict that, if passed by the committee, this bill would be DOA in the Senate.” (6/20)

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