September 24, 2013

Ukraine, Brazil Prepare for 2015 Cyclone 4 Launch (Source: Aviation Week)
Brazilian-Ukainian joint venture Alcantara Cyclone Space (ACS) continues preparations for the 2015 debut of a new variant of the Cyclone rocket from a 30-year-old launch facility on Brazil's north-Atlantic coast. At 2.3 deg. N. Lat., Alcantara is even closer to the Equator than Europe's Guiana Space Center in Kourou, where commercial launch services consortium Arianespace manages missions of Europe's heavy-lift Ariane 5, Russia's medium-class Soyuz and Italy's Vega light launcher.

From Alcantara, ACS's three-stage Cyclone 4 rocket—equipped with a restartable upper stage engine and 4-m payload fairing—is designed to put 5,685 kg. (12,500 lb.) into a circular low Earth orbit at 200 km (124 mi.), and a 3,910-kg spacecraft to a 400-km sun-synchronous orbit. For geostationary missions, Cyclone 4 will initially deliver a 1,600 kg into geostationary transfer orbit. The goal, however, is to gradually boost performance to 2,200 kg with per-launch costs ranging from $50-$55 million.

Since breaking ground on the ACS launch pad in 2010, the government-backed venture has spent close to $300 million developing the site, which is now 48% complete. The project is running almost three years behind schedule, however, as funding delays and legal wrangling with local tribes has stalled development of the launch center. In May, Guchenkov says the governments of Ukraine and Brazil jointly approved an increase in total ACS spending for the site, from around $487 million to $918 million. (9/24)

Japan's Epsilon to Evolve for Commercial Market (Source: Aviation Week)
With the successful Sep. 15 debut of its Epsilon rocket, Japan is advancing incremental improvements to the new solid-fueled launcher with commercial customers in mind. “We are taking a two-step development plan to launch a low-cost, high performance Epsilon,” says Yasuhiro Morita. “We are aiming at the commercial market after the establishment of the next-generation Epsilon, and I hope to be very competitive.”

Morita says the prototype Epsilon rocket, known as the E-X, is able to loft 1.2 metric tons to orbit for about $38 million (¥3.8 billion), though the inaugural mission launched this month from Japan's Uchinoura Space Center cost closer to $53 million, a figure he says includes the rocket's intensive test regime.

By 2015, however, JAXA plans to launch an interim variant of the three-stage Epsilon, known as the E-1 Dash, which will incorporate enhancements, including lighter avionics components, to deliver payloads weighing 1.4 metric tons to low Earth orbit for $3.8 million per launch. (9/24)

Government Shutdown Looms, DOD Gets Ready (Source: Military Times)
The Pentagon is preparing for a government shutdown if a fiscal compromise is not reached by the Oct. 1 deadline, releasing a memo listing the steps it will take if the shutdown occurs. "While military personnel would continue in a normal duty status, a large number of our civilian employees would be temporarily furloughed," Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter wrote in the memo distributed to Defense employees. (9/23)

A Week Until the New Fiscal Year—and the Threat of a Shutdown (Source: Space Politics)
A week from today is October 1, New Year’s Day for those who live on the federal government fiscal year calendar. And, for many of them, it could become an unintended, and unwanted, holiday. With no appropriations bills for fiscal year 2014 passed to date, Congress needs to approve a continuing resolution to keep the government funded at 2013 levels.

However, the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate are at loggerheads over a provision in the House CR, passed on Friday, that would defund provisions of the Affordable Care Act, language that would not survive in the Senate. The Senate will debate its version of a CR this week and likely pass it by this weekend, without the Obamacare language but perhaps covering a shorter span: until November 15, instead of December 15 as in the House.

Essential government operations would continue, which would cover at least some NASA operations, for example. It’s also unclear how a shutdown would affect NASA’s Asteroid Initiative Idea Synthesis Workshop, scheduled to begin Monday the 30th and run through Wednesday the 2nd; while run by NASA, it is being held at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, and not on the NASA JSC campus. (9/24)

Shutdown Won't Affect Most Federal Workers (Source: USA Today)
Some 59% of federal employees not working in defense wouldn't be affected by a government shutdown, because they work in law enforcement, are politically appointed, serve in foreign offices or are considered key for safety and protection. At the Pentagon, however, a large number of workers who are not military personnel on duty would face furloughs. (9/23)

Editorial: Real Pain of Sequester Still to Come (Source: Fayetteville Observer)
Sequestration's true pain will begin to be felt in the next fiscal year, which begins in a week, according to this editorial. "While the furloughs ended up being shorter than expected, they could be even worse this year, because the Defense Department will need to cut another $52 billion to comply with sequestration," the editorial warns. (9/23)

Chinese VP Stresses Peaceful Use of Space (Source: Xinhua)
Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao on Monday called for peaceful exploration and use of space so as to serve the interests of people and countries all over the world. Addressing the opening ceremony of the 64th International Astronautical Congress (IAC 2013), Li said space resources are the common wealth of mankind, and various countries enjoy equal rights to use such resources.

It would be a blessing for mankind if space technologies are used for peace; if they are used for war, it would be a human disaster, he said. China is willing to share experiences with other countries in using space technologies to boost economic development, according to the vice president. Adhering to the concept of cooperative space exploration, China will boost international exchanges and cooperation so as to achieve peaceful use of space and common development of humankind, he vowed. (9/23)

Texas University System Proposes Research Partnership with SpaceX (Source: The Monitor)
The University of Texas System proposed Brownsville as the site of the “first designated research unit” for the Valley’s new university in partnership with SpaceX. It remains to be seen if the private space transport company will settle its launch pad at a site outside of Brownsville, but UT System has already offered a suggestion. The proposed program called Stargate would partner SpaceX with the University of Texas at Brownsville’s Center for Advanced Radio Astronomy. (9/23)

Eastern Shore's Space-Age Opportunity (Source: Baltimore Sun)
This week, a commercial "freighter" rocket that began its journey into space last Wednesday about 35 miles south of Ocean City is due to dock with the International Space Station, delivering 1,300 pounds of cargo. It will eventually be loaded up with trash and sent on its way to burn up on atmospheric re-entry over the South Pacific.

Cygnus isn't the first unmanned rocket to be launched out of NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va., which has been in the research rocket business since World War II. But it may be among the most highly anticipated. It was built by a private company, Orbital Sciences Corp., and ushers in a new, big-time space travel era for Wallops. (9/23)

Telescope to Seek Strange, New Worlds from Giant Balloon (Source:
The scientists behind the project call it EchoBeach: a plan to send a giant helium balloon into the skies to study planets in other solar systems. And indeed, it could well be a beachhead for Echo - another ambitious space mission currently under consideration.

Led by physicist Enzo Pascale of Cardiff University in the U.K., the EchoBeach experiment would allow researchers to identify what the atmospheres of distant alien worlds are made of – and do so much cheaper than other space missions. “It will be a 1.5m telescope hanging from a balloon at very high altitude - 40 kilometers (or nearly 25 miles) – in the stratosphere,” Pascale said. “There’s science to be done, very compelling science.” (9/23)

In Jurassic Era, an Earth Day May Have Been Only 23 Hours Long (Source: Washington Post)
Don’t forget to set your clocks ahead two thousandths of second before you go to sleep tonight. Same thing goes for bedtime tomorrow. And every day after that, because that is how much slower the Earth turns on its axis each day now than it did a century ago.

All of those sub-eyeblink slowdowns each century have been adding up, too. For Jurassic-era stegosauruses 200 million years ago, the day was perhaps 23 hours long and each year had about 385 days. Two hundred million years from now, the daily dramas for whatever we evolve into will unfold during 25-hour days and 335-day years.

Google Executives Globetrotting on Taxpayers' Dime (Source: NBC)
A year-long examination of federal government documents shows that a company owned by the founders of Google has purchased millions of dollars’ worth of jet fuel at below-market prices from NASA and the Department of Defense. The records show the company, H211, whose principals are also the principals of Google, used the fuel to fly their private airplanes around the world.

Local officials in Santa Clara County confirm that the company owned by the Google founders, H211, pays no property taxes on the airplanes that are housed at Moffett—a potential loss to local tax rolls of up to $500,000 per airplane per year. Nearly $8 million worth of jet fuel that sold for as little as $1.68 a gallon was put into a fleet of seven different airplanes and two helicopters that are kept on taxpayer-owned land at NASA's Ames Research Center.

The same jet fuel sells for two to four-and-a-half times that amount, up to $8.05 a gallon, at fixed-base operators at nearby airports in the Bay Area. This was made possible under a NASA Space Agreement which has allowed these planes to be housed at Moffett Field since 2007. In exchange, H211 agreed to pay NASA first $113,365.74 a month in rent. That figure later dropped to $108,938.62 a month in rent and NASA was allowed to use the planes for science. (9/24)

Traffic Jam Averted at Space Station (Source: Florida Today)
Easing an orbital traffic jam, NASA and its partners nixed the possibility of back-to-back spacecraft arrivals at the International Space Station today and Wednesday. A Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying a NASA astronaut and two crewmates remains scheduled to dock at the orbiting research complex late Wednesday, about six hours after blasting off from Kazakhstan.

But instead of trying to squeeze in a rendezvous today, an unmanned Cygnus cargo ship on its maiden flight won’t approach the station before Saturday, 10 days after its launch from Virginia, officials said Monday. Orbital Sciences Corp. fixed a software problem that postponed the Cygnus’ planned Sunday rendezvous, but mission managers elected to delay the new vehicle’s arrival to spread out the traffic flow. (9/24)

Ceres: The Smallest and Closest Dwarf Planet (Source:
Ceres is a dwarf planet, the only one located in the inner reaches of the solar system; the rest lie at the outer edges, in the Kuiper Belt. While it is the smallest of the known dwarf planets, it is the largest object in the asteroid belt. Unlike other rocky bodies in the asteroid belt, Ceres is an oblate spheroid. Scientists think Ceres may have an ocean and possibly an atmosphere. A probe will arrive in 2015 to study the object more closely. (9/20)

Next NASA RFP for Commercial Crew Coming Soon (Source: Aviation Week)
Four years into its initiative to develop a U.S. commercial crew transportation system, NASA is nearing an inflexion point in the program as it fights potentially debilitating budget cuts while investing more to see the competitors through to the next stage.

The agency is poised to issue a request for proposals (RFP) for the second phase of development and certification under the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) program, as a step toward awarding Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts in mid-2014. (9/23)

Space Fence Solution: International Collaboration (Source: Space News)
The Space Fence, formally called the Air Force Space Situational Surveillance System (AFSSS), is being shut down. AFSSS, consisting of three transmitters and six receivers placed across the southern U.S. and using radio waves, has kept a watch on what is going on in outer space.

Many may consider outer space to be uninhabited and empty, but the reality is that over the decades it has been filled with millions of pieces of man-made junk that could cause huge harm to functioning assets. We need severral systems to have comprehensive coverage of the space environment. U.S. has the largest network, even though its coverage of the Southern Hemisphere is not adequate. Russia has the second-largest network, followed by the E.U.  
With the U.S. having shut down one of its major space situational awareness networks, major spacefaring powers need to make it a priority to contemplate possible solutions to track satellites and orbital debris on a continued basis. Should there be a consortium of countries to keep the Space Fence up and running under an international agreement? It might be more appealing if such an arrangement were routed through a dedicated U.N.-affiliated agency for space traffic. (9/23)

Why the Space Station Must Trump Exploration (Source: Space News)
Should we continue to support the international space station at $3 billion a year, consuming about half the budget for human spaceflight? Or should we abandon the space station and try to embark on serious space exploration farther from the home world?

While spaceflight has fared well in the budget battles so far, in the future NASA almost certainly will not be able to afford both the space station and serious exploration. This is especially true if we continue to “explore” by building the expensive Space Launch System (SLS), rather than using our limited money to launch smaller components on existing rockets, assembling spacecraft in orbit, and then sending them out into the inner solar system.

Few will like it, but the correct choice is operating the space station for as long as possible. This is critical to the future of human spaceflight, even if it means setting aside lunar bases, Mars missions or even asteroid retrievals for the immediate future. This choice is part of, and should be informed by, a wider choice. What is the ultimate goal of our expensive investment in human spaceflight? (9/23)

The Sun That Did Not Roar (Source: New York Times)
This is the height of the 11-year solar cycle, the so-called solar maximum. The face of the Sun should be pockmarked with sunspots, and cataclysmic explosions of X-rays and particles should be whizzing off every which way. Instead, the Sun has been tranquil, almost spotless. (9/23)

China Would Gladly Join Global Space Roadmapping Group if Asked (Source: Space News)
The head of China’s space program on Sep. 23 said his government is willing to join an existing multilateral effort to chart future space exploration goals and awaits only an invitation to do so. Ma Xingrui, administrator of the China National Space Administration (CNSA), said China has signed bilateral space accords with several dozen nations but has yet to join the multinational International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG).

ISECG, whose members include most other spacefaring nations, is assembling a Global Exploration Roadmap whose goal is to reduce duplication in what most nations agree will be an endeavor too costly for any nation acting alone. China’s spectacular leap forward in space technology in general, and manned space efforts in particular, was one of the principal topics on Sep. 23 during the 64th International Astronautical Congress (IAC).

Asked why China has not signed on as a member of ISECG, Ma said China would welcome full membership on receipt of an invitation. “I don’t see any problem if the organization is willing to invite us,” Ma said during a panel discussion featuring high-ranking officials from the U.S., European, Russian, Japanese, Canadian and Indian space agencies. (9/23)

NOAA, Watchdog Agency Differ on Likelihood of Weather Satellite Gap (Source: Space News)
U.S. government officials differ on the likelihood that the U.S. will suffer a gap in weather satellite coverage in the coming years but agree that an outage would have extremely serious implications for the nation’s weather forecasts. The Government Accountability Office (GAO), predicted a significant gap between the end of operations for the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership spacecraft and the beginning of operations for its successor, the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS)-1.

In contrast, Mary Kicza, assistant administrator for satellite and information services at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said there is a 50 percent chance the country will experience a gap in polar satellite coverage. NOAA and NASA are making significant progress in keeping JPSS-1 on schedule, including completing assembly of all JPSS-1 instruments. (9/23)

Editorial: Unlikely Fight over Launch Complex 39A (Source: Space News)
There should be nothing terribly complicated or remotely controversial about NASA’s effort to lease a mothballed space shuttle launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in Florida to a commercial rocket operator. The universe of credible bidders is tiny to begin with, and the number that actually bid is smaller still — just two, by all accounts. Yet somehow, this seemingly straightforward activity has become the subject of dueling letter-writing campaigns from different corners of Capitol Hill, and a formal bidder protest has put the agency’s selection of a winner on hold. Click here. (9/23)

Lovell: Back to the Moon, Commercially (Source: Space News)
No doubt, America’s space program has gone on to some remarkable achievements: Apollo-Soyuz, Skylab, the space shuttle, the Hubble Space Telescope, Mars rovers and the international space station — a lasting home in space occupied by a global crew 24/7, 365 days a year.

But for many people, including old astronauts like myself, the human exploration of the Moon remains America’s crowning achievement amid the stars. Some in Congress are at this very moment talking once again about forcing NASA to establish a program to sustain a human presence on the Moon. I, unfortunately, am not optimistic as we have been here before. But there is hope.

The private sector is stepping up to meet the challenge: an ambitious startup, the Golden Spike Co., is leading the way in creating commercial models to mount human expeditions to the surface of the Moon for nations, companies and individuals. Until now I have been very doubtful and indeed critical of many existing commercial space ventures that are largely funded by taxpayer dollars. But after several meetings with Golden Spike executives, I became convinced that we truly are on the cusp of a brand new era of commercial lunar space travel. (9/23)

Traffic Jam Delays 1st Arrival of New Private Cygnus Spacecraft (Source:
The first arrival of a brand-new commercial cargo ship at the International Space Station has been delayed until no earlier than Saturday to make way for a new crew launching to the orbiting lab this week. It was initially expected to link up with the station on Sunday (Sep. 22), but a software glitch forced controllers to abort the arrival and wait at least 48 hours for the next attempt.

NASA and Orbital officials said the supply ship will not arrive at the space station until Saturday, in part because a new station crew — Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy and NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins — is launching to the orbiting lab Wednesday (Sep. 25) on a Russian Soyuz capsule. (9/23)

Russia Plans Next Rokot Launch in November (Source: RIA Novosti)
Russia is planning to launch a light-class Rokot carrier rocket with three research satellites from the Plesetsk space center in November, the Defense Ministry said. “The Plesetsk center has started preparations for the launch of three Swarm satellites designed for the study of the Earth’s magnetic field,” Defense Ministry spokesman Col. Dmitry Zenin said.

It will be the third launch of the Rokot this year from the Plesetsk space center in northern Russia. The previous launch was carried out on September 12 to deliver three communications satellites into orbit. The launch followed a nine-month suspension due to attempts to fix a glitch in the rocket’s booster. (9/23)

Moon Is 100 Million Years Younger Than Thought (Source:
The moon is quite a bit younger than scientists had previously believed, new research suggests. The leading theory of how the moon formed holds that it was created when a mysterious planet — one the size of Mars or larger — slammed into Earth about 4.56 billion years ago, just after the solar system came together. But new analyses of lunar rocks suggest that the moon, which likely coalesced from the debris blasted into space by this monster impact, is actually between 4.4 billion and 4.45 billion years old. (9/23)

NASA Announces Advanced Composite Research Partnership (Source: NASA)
NASA has selected six companies from five U.S. states to participate in a government-and-industry partnership to advance composite materials research and certification. They were selected from 20 proposals submitted by teams from industry and academia in response to a call from the Advanced Composites Project, which is part of NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate's Integrated Systems Research Program. The project sought proposals to reduce the time for development, verification and regulatory acceptance of new composite materials and structures. (9/23)

Options for Military Satellite Communications Debated (Source: Space Policy Online)
As the Obama Administration has been stressing for years, the space domain today is “contested, congested and competitive.”  More than 40 countries have space-based assets and more than 1,000 active satellites along with over 21,000 objects of man-made debris are being tracked in orbit. This crowded region is being contested as countries develop technologies that challenge U.S. space capabilities, including China’s highly visible demonstration of an anti-satellite (ASAT) capability in 2007.

The current threats to MILSATCOM systems can be divided into three groups: physical (kinetic or directed energy) attacks, jamming, and cyber attacks. The United States does not need space capabilities greater than its potential adversaries.  Rather the nation needs reliable, resilient space capabilities that enable other weapon systems to be superior to those of an adversary. Click here. (9/23)

Is the Truth Out There? Maybe, But We Still Need Evidence of Alien Life (Source: Guardian)
In a flurry of often uncritical reporting, the University of Sheffield has announced it has found evidence of life beyond Earth, publishing its findings in the online Journal of Cosmology. Particles of material, recovered by a balloon from the stratosphere at an altitude of 27km, included a diatom fragment, a frustule, or "shell" if you like, of this most ubiquitous group of ocean and freshwater-dwelling micro-organisms.

These fragments, according to the study, seeded into the upper atmosphere by a comet and then collected by Earth-bound scientists. Astrobiology is often afflicted by optimism about alien life. People want to believe that we are not alone. But the concern with this new claim is not that it is possibly another example of over-optimism but that it is inconsistent with one of the guiding principles of constructing a scientific hypothesis. (9/23)

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