September 12, 2013

Texas' Space City Goes Commercial (Source: Galveston Daily News)
Some of the biggest names in commercial space were in Houston last week to address and collaborate on key issues facing this rapidly evolving sector of the space industry. Top executives from Boeing, SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, Paragon, Sierra Nevada Corporation and XCOR Aerospace, plus a host of suppliers and subcontractors, are working together to forge a more affordable and accessible space industry to serve a range of government and private customers.

And they are getting close to delivering. New space vehicles with names like SpaceShip Two, Dream Chaser, Dragon, Lynx and New Shepard will, someday soon, be regularly populating air traffic radar screens at certified space ports around the world. The gathering was co-hosted by the Houston Airport System who is, itself, seeking FAA commercial spaceport licensing for Ellington Airport (EFD), and is looking to engage with these industry innovators on home turf. (9/12)

Let's Fund NASA, Shall We? (Source: The Collegian)
Water filters, lasers, smartphone cameras, cordless tools, shoe inserts. What do all these things have in common? Apart from being things you probably use, whether occasionally or all the time, each of these items are possible because of NASA. It's not just cool gadgets either. In tough economic times, a lot of people think NASA's budget ought to be cut. But more funding for NASA means more advances for us here on the ground. Click here. (9/12)

Indian Mars Mission Likely in October-November (Source: Indian Express)
India’s first interplanetary mission is almost ready for journey to Mars some time between October 21 and November 19, its project director S Arunan said at the unveiling of the Mars Orbiter mission. “If weather permits, October 21 is a nominal day for launch,” he added.

The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), a first for India in many technology segments, is on schedule and the payloads carrying five experiments have been integrated into the spacecraft. Wrapped in multi-layer insulation, akin to gold covering, the spacecraft is undergoing final checks before it will be dispatched to Sri Harikota on September 27. (9/12)

Company Wants To Send Robots Into Lunar Caves (Source: Universe Today)
Ever since (and most likely long before) the first tantalizing glimpses of a lunar lava tube and skylight were captured by Japan’s Kaguya spacecraft in 2009, scientists have been dreaming of ways to explore inside these geological treasures. Not only would they provide valuable information on the movement of ancient lunar lava flows, but they could also be great places for future human explorers to set up camp and be well-protected from dangerous solar and cosmic radiation.

But before human eyes will ever peer into the darkness of a lava tube on the Moon, robotic rovers will roll along their silent floors — at least, they will if Google Lunar XPRIZE competitor Astrobotic has anything to say about it.
Last month, engineer and Astrobotic CEO Dr. Red Whitttaker talked to NASA about why they want to explore a Moon cave and the history and progress of their project. Check it out here. (9/12)

Can Orbital Sciences Be More Than Just A Good Idea? (Source: Seeking Alpha)
If you want to be uncharitable, you could say that Orbital Sciences is a company with a great future in its past. Going beyond the "gee whiz" factor of a company that builds launch vehicles and space systems, this is a company that has shown generally solid progress in revenue growth over the years but has struggled to show consistent free cash flow production or stock price appreciation.

Orbital could be looking at a period where results turn up, though. The commercial satellite business should benefit from a cyclical upswing in orders, and the company's participation in NASA programs tied to the International Space Station (ISS) should begin to pay off in the coming five years. Underlying that is a relatively stable business built around missile defense and military and research satellites. (9/11)

Secure World Foundation Shuttering Brussels Office (Source: Space News)
The Secure World Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to space sustainability, will close its Brussels office because of cost concerns, the organization announced Sep. 9. “We have made wonderful progress in our relationship with European institutions dedicated to sustainable use of outer space,” Michael Simpson, the foundation’s executive director said in a press release. “But Brussels is a very expensive city and the challenges of supporting an office there proved to be more than we could sustain.” (9/11)

Stopgap Spending Bill Carves out Exception for U.S. Weather Satellites (Source: Space News)
The stopgap spending measure the U.S. House of Representatives had been expected to pass this week to keep federal agencies operating past the end of the month would hold NASA’s budget flat through year’s end but allow NOAA to fund two weather satellites programs above 2013 levels. The so-called continuing resolution, or CR, that House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) introduced Sep. 10 would keep the federal government funded at $986 billion through Dec. 15.

That is about $2 billion below the U.S. government’s budget for fiscal year 2013, which ends Sept. 30. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Rogers counterpart in the Senate, told Capitol Hill reporters she would prefer a shorter CR, one that runs through Nov. 28, which is Thanksgiving in the United States. Rogers’ bill makes no explicit mention of NASA, which ended up with $16.86 billion this year, according to the 2013 operating plan the agency released at the end of August. (9/12)

First Proton Launch Since July Failure Delayed for Troubleshooting (Source: Space News)
The scheduled Sep. 17 return to flight of Russia’s Proton rocket carrying SES’s Astra 2E telecommunications satellite has been scrapped following discovery of an anomaly on the rocket, industry officials said Sep. 11. Officials said it was too early to determine how serious the problem is, but that the launch likely would be delayed by at least a week to give Proton prime contractor Khrunichev and Proton commercial sales agent International Launch Services (ILS) time to determine the cause of the problem. (9/12)

Roscosmos Postpones Next Proton Launch Pending Baikonur Cleanup (Source: Itar-Tass)
Russia's Roscomos wants to postpone the next launch of the Proton-M rocket planned for September 17, its deputy chief, Sergei Savelyev, told a commission into the aftermath of the failed last rocket launch from Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. "We ask not to launch the Proton on September 17 until the area where the previous Proton collapsed is cleaned of toxic substances,” Kazakh Minister of the Environment Nurlan Kapparov said. (9/11)

NASA Identifies 3 Potential Asteroid Targets (Source:
NASA has narrowed the list of candidates down to three space rocks for an ambitious mission to capture an asteroid and tow it to the moon, where it can be explored by astronauts. The space agency's plan aims to bring a 23-foot-wide space rock into lunar orbit using a robotic space lasso. Once the asteroid is in a stable orbit around the moon, astronauts can visit as soon as 2021 using NASA's Orion space capsule and the giant Space Launch System mega-rocket.

NASA scientists have identified three of the best candidates from a list of 14 asteroids that could be prime contenders for this kind of mission. "It's mostly orbital constraints that those 14 satisfy," Paul Chodas said. "We did not have the opportunity to characterize the size. We have two to three which we'll characterize in the next year and if all goes well." (9/12)

Space Demilitarization Agreement Threatened by New Technologies (Source: Guardian)
Developments in satellite technologies and cyber-warfare are threatening the internationally agreed demilitarization of outer space, according to legal and security experts. Weaknesses in existing treaties and military exploitation of GPS location systems are compromising the prohibition against space weapons established during the cold war.

"Policy, law and understanding of the threat to space is lagging behind the reality of what is out there," warned Mark Roberts, a former Ministry of Defence official. There have been UN resolutions on the prevention of an arms race in outer space. Every country has voted in favour with the exception of the USA and Israel." The disabling of satellites would have a disastrous impact on society, knocking out GPS navigation systems and time signals. Banks, telecommunications, power and many infrastructures could fail. (9/12)

Wanted: Private Spaceship Builders for Virgin Galactic (Source:
Virgin Galactic looks poised to begin launching paying passengers into space by 2014, but the private spaceship company is going needs more folks with the "right stuff" to make it happen. Enter the Virgin Galactic Career Fair, a weekend event that drew nearly 600 people to the Mojave Air and Space Port on Saturday (Sep. 7) from all over, seeking to build spaceships for Virgin Galactic founder, the British billionaire Sir Richard Branson.

The fair came two days after Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo spacecraft streaked across the Mojave sky on its second supersonic powered flight test, with the company and its subsidiary, The Spaceship Company (TSC), receiving hopeful job-seekers in their hangar at the spaceport. (9/12)

Curiosity's Longest Mars Drive in One Day: 464 Feet (Source: Discovery)
NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory is really beginning to rip up the Martian regolith, traveling 464 feet (141.5 meters) in one day — its longest drive in a single sol (a Martian day) since the mission touched down last year. The one-ton wheeled rover accomplished this feat on Sep. 5 (sol 385 of the mission) in two segments — the first was a long, pre-planned route mapped out by engineers, but the second segment was navigated autonomously by Curiosity itself.

The second segment took the rover over 138 feet (42 meters) of rocky terrain using only the robot’s onboard smarts. To put that distance in perspective, both segments allowed the rover to travel 100 feet further than the length of a football field (which is 360 feet long). After Curiosity’s “smart” trek, mission managers evaluated Curiosity’s performance and then completed the drive on Sept. 8 with a 80 feet (24.3 meter) rove to the crest of a rise nicknamed “Panorama Point.” (9/12)

Russia Launches Three Communication Satellites (Source: Xinhua)
Russia successfully put three satellites into orbit. "The launch was carried out at 3:22 Moscow time (2322 GMT Wednesday) from the Plesetsk Defense Ministry's space center (in Northern Russia)," the Roscosmos said in a statement. A carrier rocket Rokot equipped with the Briz-M booster placed three Gonets-D1M communication satellites into a designated orbit, Roscosmos said. (9/12)

Underwater Astronaut on the Moon (Source: ESA)
ESA astronaut Jean-François Clervoy and ESA astronaut instructor Hervé Stevenin slipped into the roles of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin last week for an underwater simulation of the historic mission to the Moon. Last week the underwater training concept was extended by French deep-diving specialists Comex to simulate gravity on the Moon. Lunar gravity can be simulated by adjusting the astronaut’s buoyancy – our Moon has a sixth of the gravity we feel on Earth.

The Apollo 11 Under The Sea mission repeated Armstrong and Aldrin’s efforts on the Moon 44 years ago – underwater. Initial tests were performed in one of Comex’s pools in Marseille, France before the two moonwalk simulations in the Mediterranean Sea off Marseille on 4 September. Jean-François and Hervé wore a Comex-designed Gandolfi spacewalk training suit based on the Russian Orlan spacesuit. (9/12)

Imagery Firms Pushing for Permission To Sell Sharper Imagery (Source: Space News)
Commercial geospatial-imagery companies on both sides of the Atlantic are urging their governments to ease restrictions on the sharpness of satellite imagery that can be sold on the market, saying the regulations no longer correspond to the state of the technology. These officials’ case was bolstered by a statement by Google’s geospatial technologist who said the company’s “sweet spot” for mapping purposes was imagery with a 30-centimeter resolution, meaning it can detect objects of that diameter. (9/12)

Cows Flee From SpaceX Rocket Test (Source: Science, Space & Robots)
SpaceX shared this video of its recent Grasshopper reusable rocket test. Frightened cows can be seen running away from the rocket around the 15 second mark. The rocket flew to an altitude of 250 meters and then conducted a 100 meter lateral maneuver during the successful test flight. SpaceX says, "No cows were injured during the making of this video." Click here. (9/10)

Frog Blasted in Air During Orbital Sciences Rocket Launch (Source: NBC)
A frog was blasted several feet into the air during last week's NASA rocket launch on Virginia's Eastern Shore. The photograph was taken by NASA during Friday's launch of the LADEE spacecraft, sent to explore the moon. The Atlantic reported launch pads are usually built near marshes and ponds which house frogs, much like the one caught in the blast on Wallops Island. Click here. (9/11)

NASA's Newest Astronauts Could Lead Mission to Red Planet (Source: Space Safety)
Choosing candidates for NASA’s 21st astronaut class proved to be nothing short of daunting,  but now, after the 18-month search, eight men and women from around the country have begun training in Houston with hopes of one day stepping foot on something just a little more foreign than Texan soil.

The applicant pool was the second largest in history and contained more than 12 times the amount of applications received for NASA’s very first call for astronauts in 1959. Ross attributes the high volume of applications to the significant public relations effort put forth by NASA to remind American citizens that the end of the space shuttle program in 2011 was not nearly the end of space research. Click here. (9/11)

SpaceX Delays Static Test of Falcon-9 at Vandenberg (Source:
Wednesday's planned Falcon 9 engine static fire in California was scrubbed, according to a source familiar with SpaceX's launch preparations. The preflight engine static fire, a standard test before all Falcon 9 launches to date, is a chance to test the two-stage rocket, its launch pad and SpaceX's launch team.

It carries added importance for SpaceX's upcoming first launch of an upgraded Falcon 9 rocket, which features more powerful Merlin 1D engines, stretched tanks to add fuel capacity, and a lightweight 17-foot-diameter payload fairing made of carbon fiber with an aluminum honeycomb core. (9/11)

Spaceport Sweden Picks IDEAS for Visitor & Science Center (Source: 4-Traders)
Kiruna, in Swedish Lapland, together with Spaceport Sweden, are proud to announce the partnering with IDEAS, a world leading media and experience design studio, for the development of a Space Visitor & Science Center in Kiruna, Sweden contributing to a world-class year-round destination.

The tourism industry is one of Sweden's fastest growing industries where the national objective is to double the industry revenue, jobs and visitors until the year 2020. As part of the project, a feasibility and concept study has now been initiated to develop a world-class attraction in a Space Visitor & Science Center in Kiruna. (9/10)

Space Farming: The Final Frontier (Source: Modern Farmer)
Last year, an astronaut named Don Pettit began an unusual blog project. Called “Diary of a Space Zucchini,” the blog took the perspective of an actual zucchini plant on the Space Station. Entries were insightful and strange, poignant and poetic. “I sprouted, thrust into this world without anyone consulting me,” wrote Pettit in the now-defunct blog. “I am utilitarian, hearty vegetative matter that can thrive under harsh conditions. I am zucchini — and I am in space.”

An unorthodox use of our tax dollars, but before you snicker, consider this: That little plant could be the key to our future. If — as some doomsday scientists predict — we eventually exhaust the Earth’s livability, space farming will prove vital to the survival of our species. Around the world, governments and private companies are doing research on how we are going to grow food on space stations, in spaceships, even on Mars. Click here. (9/10)

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