July 18, 2013

$20M Loan OK’d for Spaceport America (Source: Albuquerque Journal)
Spaceport America got a green light Wednesday to take out a $20.8 million private loan to build two visitor centers in southern New Mexico, a move supporters described as an important business step for the commercial space flight venture. Members of the state Board of Finance, including Gov. Susana Martinez, voted 7-0 to authorize the loan, which spaceport officials said could be completed within 30 days. Construction of the visitor centers could begin soon after.

“We’re thrilled,” spaceport Executive Director Christine Anderson told the Journal after the vote. “This was critical for the success of our business model.” However, several Board of Finance members expressed concern Wednesday about the possibility state funds will have to be used to pay back the loan if the spaceport’s visitor estimates prove to be overly optimistic. Already, $209 million in state money has been appropriated to pay for construction of the main Spaceport America facilities. (7/18)

Profile on Planetary Resources Chief Miner (Source: Silicon Valley Business Journal)
Before he was strategizing ways to mine precious resources from asteroids, Chris Lewicki was serving as a NASA flight director in the space agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. His focus has shifted from Mars rovers to honing the asteroid mining plans for the startup Planetary Resources, where he serves as president and chief engineer.

Though the company is based in Seattle, Planetary Resources has attracted investment from Silicon Valley heavy hitters like Google Co-Founder Larry Page, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt and venture capitalist Ram Shiram. Click here. (7/18)

How to Plan Your Space Vacation (Source: Silicon Valley Business Journal)
It's vacation season, and if you're aching to get away —far, far away—a few space companies could help. Several companies are blazing a path in the space tourism industry, making sure that when you're ready for that trip to Mars, you're paying them good money to get there. Here's your space vacation checklist. Click here. (7/17)

City Council Takes Next Step Toward Ellington ‘Spaceport’ (Source: Houston Chronicle)
Houston City Council on Wednesday approved $718,900 for consultants to help obtain a spaceport license for city-run Ellington Airport. Reynolds, Smith and Hills, Inc. will help the city submit an application to the FAA’s commercial space division to obtain a Spaceport Launch Site Operator’s License for Ellington. Houston Airport System director Mario Diaz has said the license could be obtained sometime next year. (7/17)

Orbital Announces Second Quarter 2013 Financial Results (Source: Orbital)
Orbital Sciences Corp. reported its financial results for the second quarter of 2013.  Second quarter 2013 revenues were $333.1 million, compared to $371.3 million in the second quarter of 2012.  Second quarter 2013 operating income was $26.3 million, or 7.9% operating margin, compared to $26.1 million, or 7.0% operating margin, in the second quarter of 2012.

Net income was $16.3 million, or $0.27 diluted earnings per share, in the second quarter of 2013, compared to net income of $14.6 million, or $0.25 diluted earnings per share, in the second quarter of 2012.  Orbital's free cash flow* in the second quarter of 2013 was $6.9 million compared to $18.9 million in the second quarter of 2012. (7/18)

Air Force Considers Oil Drilling Off Coast at Vandenberg (Source: LA Times)
The U.S. Air Force will consider leasing land on Vandenberg Air Force Base for private companies to extract offshore oil and gas from the central California coast. The proposal would allow oil companies to use onshore equipment with new extended reach “slant drilling” technology to access deposits several miles offshore. Sunset Exploration and Exxon Mobil recently asked the Air Force to revisit their proposal to use the technology to build an oil and gas drilling project on the base near Lompoc, officials said.

Over the next several months, the military will study whether the new type of drilling is compatible with the base’s space and satellite-launching missions and determine if it is “economically, environmentally and politically feasible,” the Air Force said in a statement. (7/17)

Intern Spends Summer Readying Rocket for Liftoff at Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: Florida Today)
Natascha Trellinger is in the midst of a dream internship at America’s rocket ranch. An aerospace engineer embarking this fall on a doctoral program at Purdue University, Trellinger is spending her summer prepping an Atlas V rocket for launch Friday with an advanced U.S. Navy communications satellite. (7/18)

NASA Amendment Would Weigh Marshall Closure (Source: Space News)
U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the House Science space subcommittee, is expected to introduce an amendment to the NASA authorization bill July 18 calling for a commission to consider closing NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. The amendment would establish a Center Realignment and Closure Commission that would be given six months to evaluate “[c]onsolidating all rocket development and test activities of the Marshall Space Flight Center and Stennis Space Center in one location” and recommend a location promising the greatest cost savings. (7/17)

Space Coast Airport Seeking FAA Spaceport License (Source: SPACErePORT)
After the recent passage of a state law establishing the Space Coast Executive Airport as a "spaceport territory," officials at the Titusville Cocoa (TICO) Airport Authority are taking steps with Space Florida to acquire an FAA spaceport license for the facility. Last year, the airport was selected by Rocket Crafters Inc. to be its new home for a family of suborbital spaceflight vehicles that will ultimately provide point-to-point high speed suborbital transport services. The would-be spaceport is situated south of Titusville, across the Indian River from Kennedy Space Center.

Rocket Crafters is expected to make a $72 million investment at the airport and would occupy a new 400,000 square-foot facility there, according to a July 2012 news report. With the spaceport designation, plans were announced recently to name the operation in honor of Neil Armstrong. It would become the third FAA-licensed spaceport in Florida, joining Cecil Field in Jacksonville and the Cape Canaveral Spaceport (which comprises both Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station). (The proposed Shiloh launch site could technically be within the Cape Canaveral Spaceport boundary).

The TICO authority was among the organizations that competed to take over management of KSC's Shuttle Landing Facility, but Space Florida was instead selected by NASA for the task last month. Nevertheless, there is strong potential for Space Florida to contract with TICO to provide some services that will be necessary to operate the Shuttle Landing Facility when NASA hands the keys over to Space Florida. (7/18)

How Did Gold Form on Earth? Thank Collision of Exotic Stars (Source: Florida Today)
The gold glinting on your wedding band was likely born in a cataclysmic merger of two exceedingly exotic stars, astronomers report Wednesday. Dying stars billions of years ago cooked up most of the lighter elements in the universe, the oxygen in the air and calcium of our bones, and blasted it across the cosmos in their final explosive moments. We are stardust, as the singer Joni Mitchell put it.

But some of the heaviest atoms, including gold, defied this explanation, requiring an even more exotic origin. A team led by Harvard astronomer Edo Berger now reports that gold is likely created as an aftereffect of the collision of two "neutron" stars. Neutron stars are themselves the collapsed remains of imploded stars, incredibly dense stellar objects that weigh at least 1.4 times as much as the sun but which are thought to be less than 10 miles wide.

While ordinary stars explode about once every century in our galaxy, Berger says, explosive collisions of two neutron stars happen only about once every 10,000 years. And it appears they spew out gold and other heavy elements in the week after their merger. "Call it the golden glow," Berger says. "In this case, we were able to observe it for the first time and see how the merger seems to be producing (the) heavy elements." (7/17)

With Time Running Out, House and Senate Still $1.4 Billion Apart on NASA (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Congress has fewer than three weeks of legislative days left before the federal government’s new budget year begins Oct. 1, and the House and Senate still have more than $1.4 billion worth of differences to settle, when it comes to NASA.

The two chambers’ efforts to craft NASA’s 2014 budget are almost moving in lockstep. The House Appropriations Committee on July 17 approved a $47.4 billion commerce, justice, science spending bill that included $16.6 billion for NASA — 6.3 percent below what the White House requested for the agency, and 6.6 percent below 2012. The bill, which assumes across-the-board sequestration cuts will continue at least through 2014, has not been scheduled for a floor vote. Meanwhile, Senate appropriators have approved $18 billion for NASA for 2014 as part of a $52.3 billion bill the full committee is set to take up July 18.

The Senate legislation ignores sequestration, which in 2013 left NASA with a $16.9 billion top line — about a 5 percent cut, compared with 2012. If the full Senate Appropriations Committee approves the bill July 18, Congress -- which begins a four-week recess Aug. 6 and rarely holds votes on Mondays and Fridays -- would have 18 legislative work days to pass the dozen spending bills that set the government’s 2014 budget. Money provided by the current appropriations law, The Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013 (H.R. 933), runs out Oct. 1. (7/17)

NASA Blasts House Spending Bill (Source: Space News)
Breaking with its tradition of not commenting on pending legislation, NASA took to the blogosphere July 17 to blast the $16.6 billion NASA budget a House Appropriations subcommittee marked up last week. The bill, which the full House Appropriations Committee is marking up this morning, would roll back NASA’s budget to its lowest level since 2007. Adjusted for inflation, it’s the lowest since 1986, as the Planetary Society recently pointed out. (7/17)

NASA Invites New Collaborative Partnerships with Industry (Source: SpaceRef)
NASA has released a synopsis requesting information from U.S. private enterprises interested in pursuing unfunded partnerships. The aim is to advance the development of commercial space products and services. The Collaborations for Commercial Space Capabilities synopsis describes a potential opportunity for existing and new companies and non-profit organizations to access NASA's spaceflight expertise for mutually beneficial space exploration goals. (7/17)

Curiosity Mars Rover Passes Kilometer of Driving (Source: Space Daily)
The latest drive by NASA's Curiosity Mars rover brought the total distance that the rover has driven on Mars to more than 1 kilometer. One kilometer is about 0.62 mile. The drive covered about 38 meters (125 feet) and brought the mission's odometry to about 1.029 kilometers (3,376 feet). The drive was completed in the early afternoon of the rover's 335th Martian day. (7/18)

Mexico's Satmex Expands Satellite Fleet (Source: Space Daily)
Mexico City (UPI) Jul 17, 2013 - Boeing will help Mexican satellite network operator Satmex to modernize and expand its Latin American services with the commissioning of a new satellite. Satelites Mexicanos S.A. de C.V., known as Satmex, is a major regional provider of fixed satellite services in the Americas that cover more than 90 percent of the population. (7/17)

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