June 29, 2013

NASA Space Shuttle Runway Gets New Life as Commercial Spaceport (Source: Space.com)
The famous seaside space shuttle runway here at NASA's Kennedy Space Center may have a second life soon as a launch and landing spot for a whole new type of space mission: tourist flights. The 15,000-foot-long (4,600 meters) Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) has been unused for spaceflights since the 30-year space shuttle program retired in 2011. But now NASA is handing over operation of the facility to Space Florida, the aerospace economic development agency for the state of Florida, to put the runway to new uses.

Space Florida hopes to recruit commercial space companies to perform launches and landings from the Shuttle Landing Facility. The organization has reached out to suborbital launch company XCOR Aerospace, as well as orbital spaceship builders Sierra Nevada Space Systems, Boeing and SpaceX, and has high hopes many of these companies will establish operations at Kennedy Space Center.

NASA itself may prove to be a customer of the facility when it starts launching its new heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System, and Orion spacecraft, in coming years. Under the new arrangement, NASA is no longer shouldering the everyday cost of running the Shuttle Landing Facility — Florida is — so if NASA uses the facility it will have to pay for it like any other customer. (6/28)

Tooling, Processes Coming Together For ‘Affordable’ Space Launch System (Source: Space News)
Although NASA’s heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS) will not fly often, it will fly affordably and safely, William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s top human spaceflight official, said here during a June 21 tour of the Michoud Assembly Facility, where the rocket’s core will be built.

Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations, was on hand not only to tour Michoud but also to mark the start of operations for the facility’s new Vertical Weld Center, a three-story machine — built by Boeing, Futuramic Tool and Engineering Co. of Warren, Mich., and PaR Systems of Shoreview, Minn. — that will weld aluminum alloy panels together to form the cylindrical segments of the 8.4-meter-diameter SLS core stage. Click here. (6/28)

Space Shuttle Atlantis Exhibit Opening with Support from Souvenirs (Source: Collect Space)
It would not be a proper Florida theme park attraction if you didn't exit through the gift shop. But the souvenir station that awaits guests inside the new "Space Shuttle Atlantis" exhibit, opening Saturday (June 29) at NASA's Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, is not your typical trinket stand. The new Shuttle Express shop is helping to underwrite the preservation and presentation of a national treasure.

Though NASA owns the visitor complex and the new $100 million "Space Shuttle Atlantis" exhibit – as well as the $2 billion retired spacecraft that the facility showcases – the space agency paid for none of it. Editor's Note: Also important was financing arranged through Space Florida, which also financed the Apollo/Saturn V Center over a decade ago at the Visitor Complex. (6/28)

Michoud, a Public-Private Model for NASA (Source: WWLT)
NASA has selected an economic development agency called "Space Florida" to operate and maintain the historic landing facility at the Kennedy Space Center. A similar public-private partnership has been in place at NASA's Michoud Assembly Center in New Orleans for the past several years. Boeing and Lockheed are now building rockets and crew capsules next door to a movie sound-stage and a growing number of high tech commercial ventures now leasing space from the space agency.

NASA contractors, combined with the other various commercial and government entities at Michoud now employ about 2600 workers. That's about the same number once employed at the facility, assembling external tanks for the Space Shuttle program. But Michoud remains firmly in the middle of the latest space race to Moon, Mars  and beyond. Much of NASA's new rocket system is being built there. (6/28)

Marshall Modernizing with Repair and Replace Strategy (Source: Huntsville Times)
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center is changing by using a "repair by replacement" strategy on some of its buildings and a straightforward teardown plan for others. Of its current 4.6 million square feet in facilities, it tore down 270,000 square feet from 2000 to 2012 and will take down another 360,000 square feet this year. The center will take down another 300,000 square feet by 2019. (6/28)

Ten Billionaires are Betting on Private Spaceflight: Smart or Squandered Money? (Source: Houston Chronicle)
None of these men, obviously, are stupid. There’s either a legitimate business opportunity here, namely space tourism and other commercial activities in space, or these wealthy men seeking the exclusivity that space offers innovators and investors. If it’s the former, they’re going to get richer. But if it’s the latter? They’re going to spend a lot of money on a gamble that may, or may not pay off. Either way, I’m glad to have fresh money and fresh ideas in the space game. We will all benefit if they take us places we’ve never been before. Click here. (6/28)

XCOR Aerospace Plans Suborbital Flights from KSC by 2015 (Source: Florida Today)
A fledgling space tourism company intends to begin flying suborbital test flights out of Kennedy Space Center by 2015. Andrew Nelson, chief operating officer of XCOR Aerospace, said they’ll start with a work force of about 20 to 30 and hopefully build to 150 or more. The number of jobs created will depend on the flight rate out of the 3-mile-long shuttle runway.

Nelson said that tickets to ride are being sold for $95,000. More than 300 already have been sold, including about 60 to carry payloads. Asked why they chose KSC, Nelson said the Central Florida tourism market was a big reason. With 30 million tourism visitors a year, there’ve got to be a few million who want to fly to space,” he said.

The local work force with its knowhow also was a big attraction – as was the Space Coast’s history. “The DNA. It is the history. This is human spaceflight,” Nelson said. “If you want to do it, you have to do it from here.” XCOR has been negotiating with Space Florida, the state’s aerospace economic development agency, in order to set up test and flight operations at the Shuttle Landing Facility. (6/28)

Kenya Repurposing Satellite Dishes for Space Exploration (Source: Voice of America)
The construction of a huge radio telescope in South Africa is giving a boost to the science and space industries in Kenya.  The country’s top space physicist says telecommunication companies are leasing out their now-obsolete satellite dishes for use in the new project.

Several African countries are working to build a large radio telescope known as the Square Kilometer Array, or SKA. The core station will be in South Africa, while other countries across the continent - Ghana, Mauritius, Botswana and Kenya - will host nodes that will operate together. Professor Paul Baki, head of pure and applied science at the Technical University of Kenya, is looking for land to build on in the east African country.  Baki says Kenya's node of the SKA needs about one square kilometer of land that is free from electronic interference. (6/27)

Planetary Resources Plans Zooiverse Collaboration With More Crowdfund Cash (Source: Planetary Resources)
If the ARKYD Kickstarter funding initiative raises $1.7 million by Sunday, Planetary Resources will partner with Zooniverse to create Asteroid Zoo, a program to allow students, citizen scientists and space enthusiasts to find potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs) at home and help train computers to better find them in the future. 
Modeled after Zooniverse’s popular Galaxy Zoo and other astronomy projects, Asteroid Zoo will allow the public to search through terabytes of data collected by Catalina Sky Survey (CSS) for undiscovered asteroids in a fun, game-like process from their personal computers. (6/27)

Sally's Sidekick (Source: Air & Space)
I’m not usually a fan of celebrating NASA anniversaries—too much looking backwards and pining for the good old days. But I was at the head of the line to salute this month’s 30th anniversary of STS-7, which carried Sally Ride as the first American woman in space. And it got me reflecting on Sally’s legacy as we approach the one-year anniversary of her death last July.

I was pleased to work with her on several occasions, both inside and outside of NASA and never dreamed we would have such a fruitful partnership—given that initially I couldn’t stand her. Click here. (6/27)

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