July 1, 2013

Ad Astra Rocket Company Reaches Important Design Milestone (Source: SpaceRef)
After more than a year of planning and preparation, a team of Ad Astra engineers and physicists, along with NASA engineers participating as part of a technical interchange, completed the company's first formal preliminary design review of the VF-200 engine. The 200 kW "proto-flight" is the company's first engine planned to be tested in space. The review was conducted on Wednesday, June 26, 2013 at Ad Astra's research facility near Houston.

The PDR incorporates the collective engineering knowledge gained over several years from the VX-200 experimental program as well as multiple conceptual design studies carried out by the Ad Astra team. All major VF- 200 subsystems were reviewed, with special focus being placed on the thermal steady-state rocket core design. The thermal steady state - the capability of the rocket to maintain a stable temperature for extended periods of time - is to be initially tested in early 2014 with long- duration plasma firings, using Ad Astra's existing facilities and the VX-200SS (steady state) device. (7/1)

Planetary Resources Raises $1.5M for Crowdfunded Space Telescope (Source: Space News)
Aspirant asteroid-mining company Planetary Resources raised more than $1.5 million in 33 days to launch a small space telescope into low Earth orbit in 2015, setting the stage for thousands of people to photograph asteroids, stars and their own self portraits from orbit. Planetary Resources began a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign May 29 seeking to raise at least $1 million by June 30. The company hit that goal June 19, then raked in another $505,366 in the final 10 days of the campaign, including $100,000 from Richard Branson.

The money raised on Kickstarter will be used to build an Arkyd-100 space telescope, a 15-kilogram pathfinder spacecraft Planetary Resources plans to use as the basis for future asteroid-prospecting models. According to Kickstarter, 17,614 people donated money for the crowdsourced Arkyd-100. To entice donors without deep pockets to contribute, Planetary Resources said the spacecraft will display “selfies,” or pictures people take of themselves, against the backdrop of the Earth from orbit — and then photograph the selfie. The crowdsourced telescope is on the hook for 14,919 space selfies, according data from Kickstarter. (7/1)

Differences in FAA/AST Funding Presage NASA Funding Battle (Source: Space Politics)
The Senate Appropriations Committee passed a pair of FY-14 appropriations bills on Thursday, including one that funds the FAA. The Senate bill includes $17.011 million for the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation. That’s significantly more than what the House’s version of the same appropriations bill provided for the office: $14.16 million, a level below 2012 and 2013 and low enough to raise concerns by some in the industry.

Neither House nor Senate appropriators have gotten to the appropriations bills which fund NASA (and NOAA), but are expected to do so some time in July. The gaps between the House and Senate for FAA suggest we may see similar gaps for NASA. Bill Nelson, for example, has suggested that the $16.8 billion in fiscal year 2014 in a draft NASA authorization bill is far too low, and indicated that not only would the Senate version of the authorization bill give NASA more, but that Senate appropriators would also follow suit.

The potential for that gap can be seen in the budget allocations given to the two appropriations subcommittees, in effect the pots of money they have to spend. The House allocation, released in May, is $47.2 billion, while the Senate allocation, released last week, is nearly $52.3 billion. So it shouldn’t be a surprise if Senate appropriators offer significantly more to NASA than their House counterparts when they get to their CJS bills, but what that eventually means for NASA given the bigger issues about spending, and the prospects for another round of sequestration, remains to be seen. (6/29)

Kansas Cosmosphere Impresses Visiting Billionaire Space Tourist (Source: Wichita Eagle)
Charles Simonyi flew into Wichita on Sunday, met his friend Alex Kvassay at the Colonel James Jabara Airport, and together they quickly headed to Hutchinson. Simonyi, a Hungarian computer software executive who helped create Microsoft Office applications such as Word and Excel, is a space tourist, traveling there on a Russian craft. He’s a billionaire and now heads his own corporation, International Software, out of Seattle.

On Sunday, he was interested in seeing Hutchinson’s Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center. “I heard so much about it, it was on my bucket list,” Simonyi said. He received the VIP tour from the Cosmosphere’s chief executive officer, Dick Hollowell, and Jim Remar,president and chief operating officer. “It was an impromptu visit,” Remar said Sunday afternoon. “Obviously, he is very passionate about space exploration. We hope it inspires him to become a friend of Cosmosphere. He was amazed at the artifacts we have and the whole story we tell. He was very excited.” (7/1)

NASA Developing Prototype Asteroid-Mapping Radar at KSC (Source: Space News)
What began as an innovative radar communications project in the dry California desert is migrating to the swamplands of central Florida with a new focus on mapping nearby asteroids, orbital space debris, water on the Moon and even rover-trapping sand pits on Mars.

The Ka-Band Objects Observation and Monitoring Project, nicknamed KaBoom, is built around a collection of small radar dishes transmitting in the high-frequency Ka-band region of the electromagnetic spectrum. Ka-band transmissions allow for higher bandwidth, but unlike lower-frequency transmissions, the signals are far more susceptible to attenuation and the resulting loss of intensity due to water in the atmosphere, of which there is no short supply in rainy Florida. Click here. (7/1)

SSTL Signs Contract for Collaborative Mission with Kazakhstan (Source: SpaceRef)
A contract was signed today between Sir Martin Sweeting, Executive Chairman of Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) and Mr Amanzhol Jaimurzin, General Director of JV Ghalam LLP, for the collaborative design and development of the Kazak Science and Technology satellite system. Ghalam LLP is a joint venture between JSC "National Company Kazakhstan Garysh Sapary" (KGS) and EADS Astrium.

Under the contract, SSTL and the Ghalam team will jointly develop the "SSTL-50KZ" platform using heritage SSTL platform design and payload equipment including an SSTL EarthMapper payload designed for global commercial wide-area imaging, as well as flying a number of jointly-developed equipments and payloads, a novel imaging instrument, and a new on-board computer. (7/1)

Lockheed Martin Launches Lockheed Martin International (Source: SpaceRef)
Lockheed Martin International (LMI) is a new organization responsible for strengthening international customer relationships and industrial partnerships, and growing the company's global business. Patrick Dewar has been named Executive Vice President of LMI and will continue as a corporate officer. LMI will work with global Lockheed Martin customers to deliver the company's products, technologies and services to meet their national security and citizen services needs. The LMI organization is headquartered in London and Washington, D.C.; has corporate offices in Ottawa, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Singapore and Canberra; and regional offices in Tel Aviv, New Delhi, Tokyo and Seoul. (7/1)

Quantum Mechanics Enables 'Impossible' Space Chemistry (Source: New Scientist)
Quantum weirdness can generate a molecule in space that shouldn't exist by the classic rules of chemistry. If interstellar space is really a kind of quantum chemistry lab, that might also account for a host of other organic molecules glimpsed in space.

Interstellar space should be too cold for most chemical reactions to occur, as the low temperature makes it tough for molecules drifting through space to acquire the energy needed to break their bonds. "There is a standard law that says as you lower the temperature, the rates of reactions should slow down," says Dwayne Heard of the University of Leeds, UK.

Yet we know there are a host of complex organic molecules in space. Some reactions could occur when different molecules stick to the surface of cosmic dust grain. This might give them enough time together to acquire the energy needed to react, which doesn't happen when molecules drift past each other in space. Click here. (6/30)

Sounding Rockets Still Astronomy's Unsung Workhorses (Source: Forbes)
Visions of sounding rockets streaking through a bluish-black New Mexico sky conjure the earliest days of Cold War rocketry. But since the late 1950s, sounding rockets have given astronomers a steady stream of quick, minutes-long glimpses at astrophysical targets that to this day remain out of reach of either ground-or space based observatories. To that end, at a cost of about a million dollars per launch, NASA’s Astrophysics Sounding Rocket Program (ASRP) continues to support small groups of observing programs. Click here. (7/1)

Astronaut In Space Drives Robot on Earth, a First (Source: Space.com)
NASA transformed the International Space Station into a command center for a robot on Earth this month for a first-of-its-kind test drive of the technology and skills needed to remotely operate robots on the moon, Mars or an asteroid. During the June 17 space technology test, NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, a space station flight engineer, remotely controlled a K10 rover at Ames Research Center. The robot was commanded to simulate deploying a polyimide-film antenna in a specially built "Roverscape" at the NASA center. (7/1)

Dry Run for the 2020 Mars Mission (Source: Space Daily)
A film director looking for a location where a movie about Mars could be shot might consider the Atacama Desert, a strip of land on the coast of South America west of the Andes that is one of the harshest landscapes on the planet. Due to the accidents of its geography, Atacama is the driest place on Earth. Some scientists believe there was no rain to speak of in part of the Atacama between 1570 and 1971. With little moisture in the air its salt lakes, sand dunes and lava flows broil or freeze and are blasted by ultraviolet radiation.

The conditions make the Atacama a splendid place to test instruments for future Mars missions. NASA's ASTEP program aims to advance the technology and techniques used in planetary exploration. This month, under the auspices of ASTEP, a Carnegie-Mellon University rover named Zoe set out into the Atacama. It is scheduled to spend the next four weeks traveling between waypoints with interesting geology and analyzing soil samples.

"If you're practicing to find life on Mars, you don't want to go to a lush environment," says Alian Wang, PhD, research professor in the earth and planetary sciences at Washington University in St. Louis and a participant in NASA's ASTEP program to advance the technology and techniques used in planetary exploration. (7/1)

CASIS to Fund Dept of Veterans Affairs Anti-Cancer Research (Source: CASIS)
The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), the nonprofit organization managing research onboard the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory, today announced the funding of an unsolicited proposal with the Department of Veterans Affairs for approximately $300,000 to utilize the ISS discovery platform to evaluate known and novel anti-cancer drug therapies.
Through this funding, Dr. Timothy Hammond of the Department of Veterans Affairs seeks to investigate a yeast-based assay that is used in developing drug therapies on the ground. Previous investigations on the U.S. Space Shuttle showed changes in this assay in space. Hammond seeks to demonstrate that these changes can be used for discovery and evaluation of drugs such as cancer therapeutics. Initial experiments studying existing drugs may reveal new uses for these drugs--while optimizing the experimental methodology and paving the way for future experiments. (6/25)

"Shields to Maximum, Mr. Scott" (Source: Space Daily)
Only some of the collisions that may occur in low earth orbit can be reproduced in the laboratory. To determine the potential impact of fast-moving orbital debris on spacecraft - and to assist NASA in the design of shielding that can withstand hypervelocity impacts - researchers have developed a numerical algorithm that simulates the shock physics of orbital debris particles striking the layers of Kevlar, metal, and fiberglass that makes up a space vehicle's outer defenses.

Supercomputers enable researchers to investigate physical phenomenon that cannot be duplicated in the laboratory, either because they are too large, small, dangerous - or in this case, too fast - to reproduce with current testing technology. Running hundreds of simulations on the Ranger, Lonestar and Stampede supercomputers at the Texas Advanced Computing Center, the researchers have assisted NASA in the development of ballistic limit curves that predict whether a shield will be perforated when hit by a projectile of a given size and speed. (7/1)

China to Put Second Spacelab in Orbit by 2015 (Source: Space Daily)
China will go forward with development and construction of space labs and plans to launch its second, Tiangong-2, in 2015, an aerospace official said. The plans are in line with China's overall outline for the country's manned space program, Wang Zhaoyao, director of China's manned space program office, said. (6/28)

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