August 6, 2013

Shelton Orders Shutdown of Space Fence (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Air Force is shutting down a key part of its network for tracking satellites and orbital debris, possibly as soon as Oct. 1, according to an Aug. 1 memo. Gen. William Shelton, commander of Air Force Space Command, “has directed that the Air Force Space Surveillance System be closed and all sites vacated” effective Oct. 1, the memo said.

The letter, signed by Austin Frindt, a contracting officer with Air Force Space Command, was addressed to Five Rivers Services of Colorado Springs, Colo., operator of the current Space Fence tracking system. The Space Fence, a planned replacement for which is on hold pending a Pentagon-wide review, is a line of VHF radars stretching across the southern United States. (8/6)

Don't cut R&D, Pentagon Tells Contractors (Source: Defense News)
Independent research and development projects are easy targets for funding cuts in lean times, but federal defense contractors need to keep investing in that work, says Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall. "As companies try to manage their bottom lines in a time of downturn, there's temptation to cut that," Kendall says. "I have not interacted probably enough with the CEOs on this [to] try to encourage them to protect it." (8/5)

Spring Launch Planned for Defense Weather Satellite (Source: UPI)
A new defense weather satellite that will be used by the Air Force to help make combat decisions will begin preparing for a March 2014 launch. The Air Force took delivery of the meteorological satellite at Vandenberg Air Force Base in El Segundo, California. (8/5)

Florida-Based Zero Gravity Solutions Appoints NASA Vet as Vice President (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Florida-based (Boca Raton) Zero Gravity Solutions has added Dr. Michael Wiskerchen as Vice President, Spaceflight Operations. Dr. Wiskerchen will be responsible for the organization and management of ZGSI’s upcoming International Space Station (ISS) space flight program. He will build upon the Company’s IP and research from six previous NASA-enabled flights to the ISS. Dr. Wiskerchen has spent the last several years developing public/private partnerships involving space-related research and commercial programs on the ISS.

During his time at NASA Dr. Wiskerchen served as program scientist for the space shuttle STS-9 mission (Spacelab 1). He was an integral part of the international team for the operational design of the ISS. More recently he facilitated the formation of the Biotechnology Space Research Alliance, a public/private partnership to stimulate research and commercial utilization on the ISS. (8/6)

Armadillo Aerospace on Life Support (Source: ars technica)
Armadillo Aerospace opened in 2000 and eventually began doing contract work for NASA, but it turned to developing reusable rockets in recent years. “I laid off most of the full-time employees,” Carmack said Friday. “[We have a few doing some] minor part-time hours, and there’s one guy still on there. We still have the building, and I own materials there, and I don’t have the funding to continue development.”

He said that he’d spent over $1 million a year of his own money to fund the company, which will now be cut significantly. “I’m spending [somewhere] in the couple hundred thousand [dollar range], we still have to pay accountants, lawyers, and pay for insurance. We're talking to people and we hope that some money shows up, but if not we'll wind down even further.”

Armadillo has struggled since January 2013, when the company hit a speed bump—a rocket’s main parachute didn’t deploy properly and the rocket got pretty dinged up during a rough landing. (Armadillo also had notable setbacks in 2004 and 2006.) (8/6)

Emerging Space Program Investments Reach $1.8 billion in 2013 (Source: SpaceRef)
Euroconsult's new executive brief, Trends & Prospects for Emerging Space Programs, benchmarks projects, development models, lessons learned and perspectives of countries starting their first or second generation satellite programs. Of the 29 countries assessed in the report, 27 have begun investing in a space program for a total value estimated at $1.8 billion in 2013, including $1.4 billion related to satellite procurement. This is 2.4 times the 2007 assessment. Our estimates show that they should keep their investment levels over the long term. (8/6)

ESA Study Examines Skylon Spaceplane (Source: BBC)
A consortium of companies will try to establish the business case for a reusable space plane in a new European Space Agency study. The concept under investigation is Skylon, a vehicle proposed by the UK firm Reaction Engines Ltd (REL). Skylon would be powered by an air-breathing rocket engine that could enable it to take off and land at a standard runway. Skylon would be an automated plane measuring a little of 80m in length and some 325 tonnes in mass. It would carry about 15 tonnes to low-Earth orbit.

ESA is providing £1m for the study, to be completed by the end of the year. It will look at how a Skylon vehicle might operate in a market for satellite launches from the early 2020s onwards. The research will be led by REL themselves. It will address the economics and some of the outstanding technical issues. The latter includes examining the type of spaceport needed by the vehicle; and the team will visit French Guiana to see how a Skylon could fly out of Europe's existing launch facility in the territory.

A truly reusable space plane has the potential to significantly lower the cost of getting into orbit. Although it would take billions of pounds to develop, such a vehicle offers the prospect of a reduced unit price per mission because of the frequency of use - in the same way as an expensive modern airliner can turn a profit. (8/6)

Mission Criticality of Space Mechanisms (Source: LaunchSpace)
The failure of a single space vehicle mechanism can cause a total loss of mission.  This criticality is compounded by the fact that redundancy in mechanisms is often impractical. Consider this fictitious scenario: After a successful launch and injection, one of the four release mechanisms holding satellite XYZ to the rocket fails to release, thus preventing the spacecraft from deploying from the rocket and resulting in a total loss of mission. 

Many other releases are usually required to fully deploy a satellite; the failure of any one can result in the total loss of mission. So why not just make the release mechanisms redundant, like every other system on a high-reliability space vehicle?  Well, in many types of release mechanisms, redundancy for one or more critical functions, such as a separation nut releasing its bolt, is just not practical. Hence, this critical moving part simply must work correctly the first and only time it is activated for mission success. Click here. (8/5)

Drought Conditions Plague Texas Spaceport Site (Source: 24/7 Wall St.)
Severe drought continues to threaten the water supply of large parts of the Western U.S. According to a group that monitors drought conditions. Most of these urban areas have experienced prolonged periods of “extreme drought,” characterized by the Drought Monitor as likely to involve crop or pasture loss, water shortage, and some water restrictions. Among the nine cities running out of water are Brownsville and three others near Brownsville.

Since 2011, there have been only two weeks in which Brownsville was not in at least a state of low-level drought. There have been extreme drought conditions for past the 23 straight weeks. As of early July, the last substantial rain in the area was April 28. Residents are asked to avoid non-essential water use. Editor's Note: Brownsville is the closest city to SpaceX's proposed spaceport on the Texas coast. (8/1)

Embry-Riddle Hosts Free Online Human Factors Course (Source: AOPA)
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University has opened registration on an online aviation human factors course that is free and open to the public. The Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) is the first of a series of free courses that the university plans to offer. “Our first MOOC covers a particularly timely subject, The Human Factor in Aviation,” Embry-Riddle Worldwide Chancellor John R. Watret said.

The five-week course will focus on the psychological or physiological elements related to aviation disasters. Its instructor is Dennis Vincenzi, department chair of undergraduate studies in the College of Aeronautics at Embry-Riddle Worldwide. Registration opened July 19, and the class begins Aug. 19. Class size is limited to 500 students. For more information, click here. (7/22)

Will the United States Still Lead in Space Exploration? (Source: CFR)
The United States has always been a leader in space exploration. It has landed astronauts on the Moon, launched robotic systems to explore the surface of Mars and the other planets of the solar system, and forged a successful partnership with other countries to assemble, operate, and conduct leading-edge scientific research on the International Space Station (ISS).

Space exploration is an expensive undertaking. It requires substantial investment in intellectual capital and highly advanced hardware. However, more nations are developing the capability to explore space. The Russians and the European Union have been active in the field for decades, and the United States already cooperates with them on several fronts.

In June, a three-person Chinese crew completed a 15-day mission in orbit. While the United States is on course to remain a leader in human space flight and robotic space exploration, there will be many more opportunities to work collaboratively with other nations in the future. (8/5)

China’s Blue Water Space Port (Source: Union of Concerned Scientists)
Next year China will open a new space port on a tropical island in the South China Sea. In addition to supporting a new generation of wider-bodied space launch vehicles that will expand China’s capability to carry larger and heavier spacecraft into Earth orbit and beyond, the opening of the new launch facility on Hainan Island marks a noteworthy shift in the culture of the Chinese space community.

Histories of the Chinese space program speak in reverent terms about the sacrifices of generations of Chinese space scientists and engineers who suffered the deprivations of living and working in facilities built in the remote and inhospitable dessert of western China. Guarded by the military, cloaked in secrecy and imbued with an almost religious sense of political importance, China’s existing space ports were constructed during a more defensive era when outer space was perceived as the ultimate high ground of the old Cold War.

While some observers may continue to see space as an arena for great power competition, many Chinese space professionals hope to expand international cooperation and collaboration. Diverse civil, scientific and commercial space aspirations occupy the imaginations of China’s young and rapidly growing space community. Military competition remains important, but it may no longer be paramount. Plans for the new space port in Hainan embody this change. (8/6)

Russia to Resume Rokot Launches in September (Source: RIA Novosti)
Launches of light-class Rokot carrier rockets will resume in the first half of September following a nine-month suspension due to attempts to fix a glitch in the rocket’s booster, Russian space agency, Roscosmos, said. The glitch was detected during a Rokot launch in January when the rocket’s Briz-KM booster failed to deliver three military satellites into their designated orbits. As a result, one of the satellites was lost. (8/6)

Colorado Aerospace Road Trip Attempts to Extend the Cluster (Source: Denver Post)
It is well-known within the aerospace sector that Colorado’s Front Range is full of major government contractors and hundreds of smaller subcontractors, but the aerospace cluster’s collaboration doesn’t always extend to the state’s southern and western edges.

In an effort to expand the industry’s network beyond the Boulder-Denver-Colorado Springs corridor, the Colorado Space Business Roundtable is sponsoring a week-long networking road trip that kicked off Monday with the goal of introducing the Front Range’s major contractors to its lesser-known sector colleagues in Pueblo, Alamosa, Durango, Grand Junction and Rifle. (8/5)

Russian Meteor ‘Groupies’ May Still Threaten Earth (Source: RIA Novosti)
The giant meteor that exploded over Russia in February, damaging buildings and injuring more than 1,000 people, may belong to a “gang” of space rocks hurtling towards the planet Earth. Researchers in Madrid believe they have identified the orbit that the asteroid was taking.

They found 20 asteroids they believe may be related to the Chelyabinsk meteor. They believe all of the objects may have been formed from one large space rock which came apart up to 40,000 years ago. The most alarming part of their find? The house-sized Russian space rock may have cut a path for others to follow, meaning, one or more of those 20 asteroids may be headed our way. (8/6)

No Tax Dollars Went To Make This Space Viking Photo (Source: NPR)
Scrutinizing the books of government agencies can turn up lavish parties or illicit trips at the taxpayers' expense. But not every investigation turns out that way. And when they don't, the hunt for waste can appear to be a waste itself. Such appears to be the case with a recent inquiry involving NASA and Viking re-enactors. This whole saga began with an idea from Ved Chirayath, a student at Stanford who loves photography. He was talking over what to shoot one day with a colleague, and thought of Vikings.

"I had once seen Dr. Worden give a monthly talk at NASA Ames on sort of the state of all things cool at NASA, and he gave that talk in a Viking costume," Chirayath says. Worden likes all sorts of costumes, actually. He and a few other officials were game with Chirayath's plan for a Viking portrait in the marshes, so Chirayath rounded up some Viking re-enactors from the Internet. An anonymous concerned citizen contacted Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley with a lot of questions about the Viking photos: Were the people on the clock when they were doing this? Was there any taxpayer money involved?

Around the same time, Chirayath got a long telephone call from an investigator with NASA's independent Office of Inspector General. The inspector general won't discuss how much all this cost, but Chirayath did a quick calculation, totaling up the number of interviews, multiplied by the work hours, multiplied by the salary of the investigator and others involved. "I came to a lower-end budget of around $40,000, and an upper end of around $600,000," he says. That's far more than the cost of a professional photo shoot, even if NASA had paid for it, he says. (8/6)

Hawaii Space Exploration: UH Students Reach for the Sky (Source: Honolulu)
Early next year, a rocket called the Super-Strypi will shoot into space, the first object ever thrust there from a Hawaiian launch pad. It’s significant, not just because a successful launch would advance Hawaii in the race to become the nation’s most called-upon and financed aerospace industry. The launch is also important because eight UH faculty members and 20 UH students are working frantically right now to build the launch facility, the satellite payload and the technology to monitor the satellite as it circles the planet in low-Earth orbit.

It will be the first time the state has sent anything into space, and Hawaii students will have played a huge part in getting it there. The project is sponsored by the Department of Defense’s Operationally Responsive Space Office, or ORS, which is the DoD’s answer to ever-fluctuating national security issues. ORS is an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance concept born in 2007 to adapt space capabilities in rapid fashion.

The rocket in the upcoming Kauai launch, officially called the ORS-4 Super-Strypi Responsive Small Launch, will be propelled into space by a relatively inexpensive solid-rocket system designed by aerospace company Aerojet. Luke Flynn, a Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology specialist and the director of HSFL, says it’s not a complicated rocket. “It’s a simple system. It’s easy in terms of guidance. It keeps costs low to develop these things and to launch them into space. And previous versions of the rocket are very reliable.” (8/6)

"Pandora" Virus - Covert Threat From Space? (Source: Space Daily)
It seems that the world is on the threshold of another breakthrough. A huge virus, called the Pandora virus that was discovered accidentally underwater off the Australian coast, has triggered heated debates in the scientific society. What is strange about it and why do many scientists say that it is of extraterrestrial origin? First, the "Pandora" virus is by right regarded as the world's largest virus. Despite that, it is visible with a normal microscope.

Another thing of importance here is that it resembles a bacterial cell. Second, scientists knew nothing about 93 percent of the "Pandora" genes, leading some to suggest it is of extraterrestrial origin. Besides, it has proved to be a very unpretentious and wide-spread substance. The successful virus multiplication cycle is ensured by the fact that its DNA adsorbs its cells and proteins.

The French scientists who discovered the megavirus are sure that after it is carefully studied, biology will make a great scientific breakthrough. Although scientists do not believe it poses danger to humans, it is impossible to rule out the extraterrestrial nature of the "Pandora" virus and to say with absolute certainty that it constitutes no danger to mankind. (8/6)

Florida Entrepreneurs Push Crowdsourcing for NewSpace Ideas (Source: SPACErePORT)
News reports this week revealed the ambitions of two Sunshine State entrepreneurs--neither of them on the "Space Coast--who are having mixed success with plans for innovative crowdsourced space projects. Zechariah Blanchard leads Exosphere, an Orlando-based company that wants to build an open-source vehicle for human spaceflight. Click here for more on his indiegogo crowdfunding initiative.

Meanwhile, Robert Doyle of Lake Helen-based 3 Stags Productions (a film, television and internet production company) leveraged his love for the British Dr. Who television series to successfully attract over $88,000 via Kickstarter to build and launch a microsatellite replica of a TARDIS (a time-travel machine from the TV show). Click here. (8/6)

Lori Garver Leaving NASA for Air Line Pilots Association (Source: Space News)
NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver is stepping down Sept. 6 to take the top staff job at the Washington-based Air Line Pilots Association. Garver informed colleagues of her decision in an Aug. 5 email. “After quite an extensive decision process, I have decided to make a career change. I will be resigning from my position as NASA Deputy Administrator, effective September 6 and have accepted a new position in the private sector outside the space industry,” Garver wrote. (8/5)

Ambitious Crowdsourcing Project Does Not Convince the Crowd (Source: Space Safety)
Zechariah Blanchard, a Florida entrepreneur with passion for science and technology, believes so much that the future of humanity lies in space and in the development of space technologies that he funded a start-up, Exosphere Inc., to make space more accessible to the masses. To reach this goal, Exosphere has started an open source project to design a space shuttle, intended to be funded through a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo.

“Access to space is still extremely dangerous, regulated, and costly. In the current state of the space industry most people will never have the ability to take a trip into space,” says Blanchard. “The Exosphere project intends to change this reality. Within the right environment, engineers, physicists, and enthusiasts alike can work together to develop the technologies that will make humanity a space faring civilization.”

Unfortunately, for Exosphere, this first crowdfunding campaign finished  without reaching its objectives, but Blanchard has already promised a new, better prepared campaign. Many space startup companies nowadays follow the crowdfunding path to finance their projects; however, the campaigns’ success rate probably does not justify the confidence placed in this funding method. Click here. (8/5)

NASA Has High Hopes Mars Rover's Winning Streak Will Continue (Source: Reuters)
The NASA rover Curiosity survived its daredevil landing on Mars one year ago Tuesday and went on to discover that the planet most like Earth in the solar system could indeed have supported microbial life, the primary goal of the mission. "The stunning thing is that we found it all so quickly," lead project scientist John Grotzinger said on Monday during a ceremony at NASA JPL, marking the rover's first anniversary on Mars.

"If you asked me a year ago, 'What are you going to find in the first year?' I wouldn't have ever said we were going to find what we went looking for," added Curiosity scientist Ken Edgett, with Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego. Now scientists hope to learn whether life-friendly niches on Mars are common and whether any organic carbon has been preserved in the planet's ancient rocks. (8/5)

NASA Wants New Framework, Partnerships for Asteroid Initiatives (Source: Space News)
NASA is casting a wide net to flesh out a multipurpose, politically viable asteroid exploration initiative that serves scientists while simultaneously preparing for an eventual human expedition to Mars. It's latest salvo was a purposely ambiguous solicitation for ideas about how to find all asteroids that threaten humanity and what to do about them.

NASA already has been working on the first part of that project. Its Near-Earth Objects (NEO) Observations Program, currently funded at $20.5 million, already has found about 95 percent of the larger asteroids — those with a diameter of 1 kilometer or larger — in orbits that pass near Earth. The agency currently is about halfway the next phase of the program, a 15-year effort to find 90 percent of the asteroids that are as small as 140 meters in diameter. 

The agency also wants to begin work on a potentially complementary program to robotically rendezvous with a nonthreatening asteroid and then relocate it or a piece of it into a stable high orbit around the Moon. The relocated object would then serve as the destination for one of the planned Orion capsule’s early crewed test flights. The Obama administration wants NASA to tackle both aspects of the asteroid initiative and has proposed doubling the agency’s $20 million budget for tracking near-Earth objects. Click here. (8/5)

Sensors Confirmed as Reason for Proton-M Crash (Source: Itar-Tass)
The inter-departmental commission confirmed that the failure of three angular rate sensors had provoked the crash of a Proton-M rocket. The commission found that the sensors had been installed wrong (with 180 degrees turn). “No failure of process discipline has been reported,” Alexander Lopatin stressed. The commission instructed the maker to change the design of angular rate sensors for rockets in order to rule out a possibility of wrong installation. (8/5)

Rogozin: No Clear Policy to Develop Space Industry (Source: Itar-Tass)
Vice-Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said Russia has no clear policy to develop the space industry. “There are no specialists who have experience in strategic planning to develop the space industry and ensure its reliability,” Rogozin said at a special meeting devoted to the Proton-M crash.

At the same time, the Vice-Premier rejected the arguments by those who considered low wages one of the reasons for the crash. “They [wages] will be low when the big number of enterprises works on the same tasks,” he added. Rogozin recalled that the functions of a client, a maker and an operator had not been divided yet. “There are no key political purposes in the space industry: what we want and what global political and pragmatic tasks we set,” the vice-premier said.

“Much has been written, but never has come to anything in the end,” he said. On July 2, Russian President Vladimir Putin set up a special commission to reform the aerospace sector. The commission is led by Vice-premier Dmitry Rogozin. On August 2, the government press service reported that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev issued a reprimand to Roscosmos head Vladimir Popovkin for the improper execution of duties. (8/5)

Rogozin: Proton-M Crashes Due to Lack of Labor Discipline (Source: Itar-Tass)
The Proton-M rocket has crashed due to lack of labor discipline, criminal negligence and the casual attitude from the Russian Federal Space Agency, Vice-Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said. Speaking at a session of the inter-department commission on Monday, Rogozin said, “This is a standard rocket. What’s new in it?” “How can you install sensors wrong? The whole process is regulated,” Rogozin said, adding that the Roskosmos leadership had removed itself from the development of the space infrastructure on Earth and “considers rockets launches the key task”. (8/5)

Central Control: Rogozin Threatens Merger of Space and Aviation Industries (Source: Space Safety)
Rogozin proposed potentially far-reaching changes to Russia’s space industry. Contractors, manufacturers and operators of space systems, all currently under the control of the Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), need to be made independent of one another, according to Rogozin, who also said there should be a “discussion” about the merger of the aviation and space industries. (8/5)

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