August 13, 2013

Posey Talks Policy at Space Club Luncheon (Source: SPACErePORT)
Congressman Bill Posey (R-FL) had a lot to say as the featured speaker at the National Space Club (FL Committee) luncheon on Aug. 13. Posey's involvement in space goes way back to his employment at the spaceport during the Apollo program, and later as a Representative and then Senator in the Florida Legislature, where he was appointed to the state's spaceport authority board. Most recently in Congress he championed legislation to allow external investment in federal spaceport infrastructure, and introduced the new SOARS Act aimed at improving the commercial space transportation regulatory process.

At the Space Club luncheon, Posey said he's supporting NASA KSC in its move toward determining that commercial launches from NASA launch pads or property will not rely on Air Force range safety authority. This would be a declaration that such launches (Commercial Crew, Cargo and others) are not covered under the 1963 Webb-McNamara agreement between NASA and the Air Force.

Rep. Posey also said he supports ongoing efforts at KSC and in Washington to improve NASA's ability to make underutilized infrastructure available to commercial users, including the LC-39A, the Shuttle Landing Facility, VAB, and other facilities. On the topic of Shiloh, he suggested that no launch program will have had a greater impact on the local environment than Apollo, yet the environment (and now the Canaveral National Seashore) thrived alongside the space program. From these comments, he seemed to discount the arguments of environmental groups that Shiloh's development should be halted because of its environmental impacts. (8/13)

ATK Joins Stratolaunch Project (Source: Space Daily)
ATK announced Tuesday that it has won a contract from Orbital Sciences to provide rocket motors for an ambitious air-launch system. ATK will provide solid propulsion for the first and second stages of Orbital's Air Launch Vehicle being developed for Stratolaunch Systems. ATK said it will leverage its experience developing large solid motors for the Space Shuttle and Titan 4 for this project.

The rocket will be carried aloft by a giant aircraft currently under development and launched from the air. Stratolaunch, backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, partnered with Orbital earlier this year to develop the launch vehicle after ending its original partnership with SpaceX. Editor's Note: Another early partner in the venture, Huntsville-based Dynetics, has left the Stratolaunch team. (8/13)

Masterson Industries Gains Investors for Microgravity Materials (Source: Masterson)
Masterson Industries, a new breed of materials company, has closed an investment from Cottonwood Technology Fund and Pangaea Ventures Fund III LP. This investment will be focused on commercializing Masterson’s Microgravity Enabled Materials technology and quickly bringing its products to market.

Masterson Industries, LLC was formed in 2012 and is focused on the commercial production of Microgravity Enabled Materials (MEMs) with specific application to existing industrial demand.  MEMs are materials with properties unique to manufacture/production in microgravity and generally either cannot be produced in a standard 1g environment or are of very poor quality when produced in a 1g environment. (8/13)

Air Force: Space Fence Shutdown To Save $14 Million Annually (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Air Force expects to save about $14 million a year by shutting down a key component of its Space Surveillance Network. The Air Force confirms plans to shut down the aging Air Force Space Surveillance System, also known informally as the Space Fence. But the statement also touts the capability of a next-generation system whose future has been in doubt in recent weeks, suggesting it will go forward after all.

The service faces “resource constraints” because of the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration, according to the release. A final decision on whether to remove equipment from nine sites that comprise the current Space Fence will be made in several weeks. But an Aug. 9 memo from Air Force Space Command to Five Rivers Services, the contractor that operates the Space Fence, asked for photographs of the closed sites, plywood on windows and weekly updates emailed to Air Force staffers.

To make up for the lost capability, Space Command is looking at modified operating modes for some of these other assets, specifically the Perimeter Acquisition Radar Characterization System in North Dakota and the space surveillance radar at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Those sites will provide greater accuracy than the Space Fence had. (8/13)

Florida-Based Space Fence Assets Remain Key Despite Larger System Shutdown (Source: Space News)
T.S. Kelso, senior research astrodynamicist at the Center for Space Standards & Innovation, a research arm of orbit-modeling software provider AGI, warned about depending too heavily on the space surveillance radar at Eglin Air Force Base in Northwest Florida.

Deployed in the early 1960s, the Space Fence includes three very-high-frequency (VHF) radar transmitter sites and six receiving stations. Experts said the system is responsible for approximately 40 percent of all observations performed by the Air Force-run Space Surveillance Network, which includes other ground-and space-based sensor assets.

“With Eglin being the only remaining dedicated space surveillance radar, any outages there would effectively leave us blind—relying solely on the collateral missile warning sites, which are also being considered for cutbacks,” Kelso said in an email. “Any decision to close the [Air Force Space Surveillance System] must be made within this larger context. There are no comparable systems operated anywhere else on the planet to take up the slack.” (8/13)

Musk Proposes Hyperloop for High Speed Transport (Source: CNN)
Elon Musk unveiled his much anticipated plans for the Hyperloop by releasing his 57-page technical white paper titled "Hyperloop Alpha." The Hyperloop is intended to become the "fifth" mode of transportation -- a tube under or over the ground that would transport a dozen or so people in individual pods. The actual size will likely depend on technology, but the idea is to provide exceptionally fast service to the traveling public between cities under 900 miles apart.

Is it too good to be true? Yes, for now. And Musk knows it. But that doesn't make the idea any less relevant. The white paper properly draws attention to the future. Indeed, from a layman's perspective, Musk seems to lay out a plausible path for the applied technology needed to bring the Hyperloop into reality. Recall that steam railroads were almost as pie-in-the-sky before Scottish inventor William Murdoch invented the first workable prototype steam locomotive in 1784.

But the historical reality is that economic hurdles may prove more important than the technological ones. In the longer term, the Hyperloop will have to deliver a service the traveling consumer will want and be willing to pay for before it can create the revolution Musk envisions. (8/13)

For Musk, Hyperloop Proposal is a Political Manifesto (Source: New York)
Musk has a long history of political entanglement — usually with people trying to scuttle his various big-think projects. SpaceX has been a target of regulatory concerns from the get-go, most recently from Texas legislators who opposed letting Musk build an airport for spaceships at a site near Brownsville. Tesla has also clashed with lawmakers in New York and other states who have tried to stop the company from selling electric vehicles directly to consumers. These are the kinds of obstacles no tech CEO wants to face — and yet, because of the scope and scale of Musk's ambitions, he has to climb over them.

For years, government has been a nuisance to Elon Musk. It's slowed him down. It's required him to spend his valuable time lobbying his Twitter followers for support in the New York legislature instead of building rockets. It's required him to explain his mind-bending technical innovations to grayhairs in Congress as if he were speaking to schoolchildren. Over and over, the public sector has convinced Musk that it is hopelessly lost when it comes to matters of innovation, and that anything truly revolutionary must spring from the ambitions of the private sector. (8/13)

Armadillo Aerospace Helping NASA with Morpheus Lander - Return to Florida Soon (Source: CBSDFW)
NASA is working on the next generation of space lander and a company from right here in North Texas is helping. Dozens of tests are putting the Morpheus Lander through the paces at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. While the autonomous planetary lander is able to lift off with the power of green fuel, NASA isn’t spending a lot of ‘green’ to test it.

The Texas connection tracks all the way back to Mesquite. Armadillo Aerospace is once again onboard with NASA. The company also helped create the first model, which unfortunately met an untimely end. The 2012 test model planetary lander crashed and burned just seconds after liftoff. But that was last summer and since then the team has made all kinds of upgrades. Since the big setback, Morpheus has been going gangbusters. The team will soon head back to the Kennedy Space Center to try the test what tripped them up last year. (8/13)

JPL, Masten Testing New Precision Landing Software (Source: NASA)
A year after NASA's Mars rover Curiosity's landed on Mars, engineers at JPL are testing a sophisticated flight-control algorithm that could allow for even more precise, pinpoint landings of future Martian spacecraft. Flight testing of the new Fuel Optimal Large Divert Guidance algorithm - G-FOLD for short - for planetary pinpoint landing is being conducted jointly by JPL engineers in cooperation with Masten Space Systems, using Masten's XA-0.1B "Xombie" vertical-launch, vertical-landing experimental rocket.

NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate is facilitating the tests via its Game-Changing Development and Flight Opportunities Programs; the latter managed at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The two space technology programs work together to test game-changing technologies by taking advantage of Flight Opportunities' commercially provided suborbital platforms and flights. (8/13)

A Black Hole Mystery Wrapped in a Firewall Paradox (Source: New York Times)
This time, they say, Einstein might really be wrong. A high-octane debate has broken out among the world’s physicists about what would happen if you jumped into a black hole, a fearsome gravitational monster that can swallow matter, energy and even light. You would die, of course, but how? Crushed smaller than a dust mote by monstrous gravity, as astronomers and science fiction writers have been telling us for decades? Or flash-fried by a firewall of energy, as a new calculation seems to indicate?

This dire-sounding debate has spawned a profusion of papers, blog posts and workshops over the last year. At stake is not Einstein’s reputation, which is after all secure, or even the efficacy of our iPhones, but perhaps the basis of his general theory of relativity, the theory of gravity, on which our understanding of the universe is based. Or some other fundamental long-established principle of nature might have to be abandoned, but physicists don’t agree on which one, and they have been flip-flopping and changing positions almost weekly, with no resolution in sight. (8/12)

Life on Europa (Source: US News)
Is there life on Europa, Jupiter's moon? Perhaps - but we may not know for years, or even decades, depending on the outcome of NASA budget wars that broke out before Congress went home for its August recess. We know very little about Europa. NASA's Voyager 2 and Galileo spacecraft flew by Jupiter's moon a dozen times and took pictures from space. But the Galileo mission was nearly 20 years ago, and Voyager 2 was in 1979. Still, the pictures Voyager 2 and Galileo sent home were enough to keep scientists guessing about what might lie beneath Europa's fractured, ice-covered world.

In fact, an all-star NASA science team speculates in a new study published in the journal Astrobiology that there are signs of a liquid water ocean under Europa's icy surface that could potentially be a home for microbial life. Newer research, funded by both NASA and the National Science Foundation, has shown that microbes can survive in even the harshest environments – near the edge of underwater volcanoes in the deep oceans or in the iciest of conditions on Antarctica. So if there's a liquid ocean on Europa, there might also be microbial life. (8/12)

What Causes the Sun's Magnetic Field Flip? (Source:
If you're confused about the sun's impending magnetic field flip, don't feel bad — scientists don't fully understand it, either. The sun's magnetic field will reverse its polarity three or four months from now, researchers say, just as it does every 11 years at the peak of the solar activity cycle. While solar physicists know enough about this strange phenomenon to predict when it will occur, its ultimate causes remain mysterious.

During the field flip, the sun's polar magnetic fields will weaken all the way down to zero, then bounce back with the opposite polarity. The shift is closely tied to the activity of sunspots (also known as active regions), said Stanford solar physicist Todd Hoeksema, who runs the university's Wilcox Observatory. "The magnetic field from active regions makes its way toward the poles and eventually causes the reversal," Hoeksema said. But researchers lack a deep understanding of the process. (8/13)

Texas Aims to be Commercial Spaceflight Hub (Source: BBC)
Texas wants to reclaim the mantle of space travel hub it won as the home of NASA by taking advantage of the expanding private-sector spaceflight industry. Ever a business-savvy state, Texas is doing all it can to entice the private spaceflight industry, starting by securing its own space port.

Texas has set the gold standard for attracting commercial spaceflight companies, according to industry insiders. They argue that if Texas keeps doing the right thing with economic incentives and legislation it could take the lead in a rapidly expanding market. Commercial spaceflight offers rich rewards for companies and the states within which they locate. SpaceX, for example, has more than 40 contracted launches on its schedule, including some with NASA to resupply the ISS, which are worth $4 billion. Click here. (8/13)

Welcome to Our 'Killer Space Rock' Neighborhood (Source: Discovery)
In an effort to convey how many large asteroids buzz through the inner solar system (and, presumably, to scare the crap out of us) NASA has created a handy dandy overview of the orbits of all known potentially hazardous asteroids, or PHAs. The result? It’s looking pretty crowded out there. But fear not — well, don’t fear too much — these space rocks are “potentially” hazardous, not “they’re gonna hit us!” hazardous. Click here. (8/13)

University Students Successfully Launch Experiments NASA's Virginia Spaceport (Source: WTVR)
A group of university students from across the country fulfilled their space flight dream, launching experiments they have been working on for the past year on a Terrier-Improved Malemute suborbital rocket. Chris Koehler of the Colorado Space Grant Consortium said, “The goal of the RockSat-X program is to provide students a hands-on experience in developing experiments for spaceflight. This experience allows these students to apply what they have learned in the classroom to a real world hands-on project.” (8/13)

Mars One Applicant: I'd Have A Baby On The Red Planet (Source: Huffington Post)
Maggie Duckworth, an electrical engineer in St. Louis, said she sees the Mars One opportunity as a "stepping stone in human galactic expansion." "We never would have discovered America if people hadn't been risking themselves theoretically falling off the edge of the Earth," Duckworth said. "I'd like to get out there and maybe fall off the edge of Mars and see something new."

When pressed about whether she'd be willing to even have a child on Mars, Duckworth said that she wouldn't rule out the option. "I've never been particularly interested in having children here on Earth, so I wouldn't be exactly be gung-ho about having one on Mars, but I suppose if it came down to it and I had to do it for science, I could be convinced," Duckworth said. (8/12)

Small Satellites & Small Launchers (Source: Space News)
Trends including miniaturization, open sourcing of technology and crowdfunding are converging to make space and space-based experimentation accessible to an ever-widening swath of the population. One of the latest examples is the ArduSat program, which leverages the open-source microelectronic circuitry known as Arduino.

On Aug. 4, NanoSatisfi sent two ArduSat cubesats to the international space station aboard Japan’s HTV 4 cargo flight for a mission designed to enable hundreds of students to perform their own space-based experiments. The mission was financed through a June 2012 crowdsource campaign that sought initially to raise $35,000 but garnered contributions totaling more than $106,000 in 30 days.

That reception is prompting NanoSatisfi to expand its ArduSat program. The company plans to launch a third spacecraft later this year and has “plans for many more launches next year and into the following years,” said Chris Wake, NanoSatisfi vice president of business development. (8/12)

Easily Retrievable Objects Among the NEO Population (Source:
Asteroids and comets are of strategic importance for science in an effort to understand the formation, evolution and composition of the Solar System. Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) are of particular interest because of their accessibility from Earth, but also because of their speculated wealth of material resources.

The exploitation of these resources has long been discussed as a means to lower the cost of future space endeavours. In this paper, we consider the currently known NEO population and define a family of so-called Easily Retrievable Objects (EROs), objects that can be transported from accessible heliocentric orbits into the Earth's neighbourhood at affordable costs.

... Despite the highly incomplete census of very small asteroids, the ERO catalogue can already be populated with 12 different objects retrievable with less than 500 m/s of {\Delta}v. Moreover, the approach proposed represents a robust search and ranking methodology for future retrieval candidates that can be automatically applied to the growing survey of NEOs. (8/12)

Can CubeSats Do Quality Science? For One Group, Yes (Source: NewSpace Journal)
While interest in CubeSats--spacecraft as small as ten centimeters on a side and weighing one kilogram--has grown in recent years, one challenge facing the community of CubeSat developers is whether such spacecraft can perform useful missions, beyond education (many satellites are built by student groups) and technology development and demonstration. For one group at the University of Colorado, it appears that CubeSats can carry out research worthy of publication in scientific journals. (8/11)

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