October 16, 2013

Iridium Completes System Critical Design Review for Iridium NEXT (Source: SpaceRef)
Iridium Communications Inc. today announced that it has successfully completed a Critical Design Review (CDR) of the complete Iridium NEXT satellite network system, demonstrating its design is valid and on schedule for first launch in early 2015. The review represents an important transition from the network design to the fabrication and testing phase of Iridium's next-generation constellation.

The Iridium NEXT satellite network will offer substantially greater bandwidth, improved data speeds, more flexible bandwidth allocation and global coverage, enabling Iridium and its vast ecosystem of partners to support more powerful new devices and applications with enhanced services to meet the changing business needs of its customers. (10/16)

Orbital Moves Cygnus Re-entry Up a Day, Prepares for Another Cargo Run in December (Source: Space News)
Orbital Sciences Corp. is planning to end its first cargo delivery mission to the international space station a little early, with the company’s now-trash-filled Cygnus spacecraft set for destructive re-entry over the Pacific Ocean Oct. 23, a spokesman said.

“It used to be Oct. 24, but in looking at the orbital mechanics of release, the team updated their burn schedule and Oct. 24 became Oct. 23,” Orbital spokesman Barron Beneski said in a phone interview Oct. 16. Space station crew members will close Cygnus’ hatch Oct. 21. Then, around 5 a.m. Eastern time the next day, the craft will separate from the station’s Harmony node and maneuver away from the outpost to perform its deorbit burn.

Neither Orbital nor the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority got locked out of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport as a result of the shutdown, meaning that preparations for the tentative December launch continued while more than 95 percent of NASA’s roughly 18,000 civil servants were on furlough. (10/16)

CASIS Encourages More Applied Research on Space Station (Source: SPACErePORT)
Duane Ratliff of CASIS pointed out at ISPCS that CASIS is seeing substantial interest in using the International Space Station as a platform for testing, demonstrating and qualifying technologies, as opposed to the space-based laboratory's  primary scientific role as a platform for more fundamental 'hard-science' research. He has urged that CASIS and the ISS be used to maximize this kind of "applied research" activity, in part because it can result in near-term product development and technology pay-back. (10/16)

Embry-Riddle Students Test CubeSat on High-Altitude NASA Balloon Flight (Source: ERAU)
A student team from Embry-Riddle’s Prescott Campus recently flew a payload on a NASA balloon launched from the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Fort Sumner, N.M. The High-Altitude Student Platform (HASP) flight gave 12 universities from across the nation the chance to conduct research and experiments.

After floating successfully for more than 10 hours at an altitude of 125,000 feet, the HASP gondola containing the payloads was recovered near Wickenburg, Ariz. Embry-Riddle student lead Zach Henney reports that the team is still analyzing the flight data but the results look promising so far.

The Embry-Riddle payload on the HASP flight was an early engineering model of the EagleSat, a small cube-shaped satellite (CubeSat) the students are developing to fly in Earth orbit in late 2015 through NASA’s highly selective CubeSat Launch Initiative. Among its objectives, EagleSat is designed to determine error rates in electronic parts exposed to space radiation. The Embry-Riddle students plan to launch an advanced EagleSat engineering model on next year’s HASP flight. (10/16)

Meteorite Pulled From Russian Lake (Source: BBC)
Divers working at a Russian lake have recovered a half-tonne chunk of the space rock that exploded over Chelyabinsk earlier this year. The object plunged into Lake Chebarkul in central Russia on 15 February, leaving a 6m-wide hole in the ice. Scientists say that it is the largest fragment of the meteorite yet found. The fragment was then pulled ashore and placed on top of a scale for weighing, an operation that quickly went wrong.

The rock broke up into at least three large pieces as it was lifted from the ground with the help of levers and ropes. Then the scale itself broke, the moment it hit the 570kg (1,255lb) mark. "This chunk is most probably one of the top 10 biggest meteorite fragments ever found." (10/16)

US, Russia May Team to Use Wweapons Against Asteroids (Source: NBC)
When geophysicist H. Jay Melosh attended a meeting of U.S. and ex-Soviet nuclear weapons designers in May 1995, he was surprised by how eager the Cold Warriors were to work together against an unlikely but dangerous extraterrestrial threat: asteroids on a collision course with Earth. After Edward Teller, father of the hydrogen bomb, urged others meeting at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to consider building and orbiting huge, new nuclear weapons for planetary protection, some top Russian weaponeers lent their support.

Ever since, Melosh has been pushing back against scientists who still support the nuclear option, arguing that a non-nuclear solution – diverting asteroids by hitting them with battering rams -- is both possible and far less dangerous. But Melosh’s campaign suffered a setback last month when Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz signed an agreement with Russia that could open the door to new collaboration between nuclear weapons scientists in everything from plutonium-fueled reactors to lasers and explosives research. (10/16)

Millennium Space Tests SeeMe Micro-Satellite Bus (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Millennium Space Systems announced the successful high-altitude balloon test of its new microsatellite bus, developed under the company’s DARPA SeeMe contract. During a 1.5-hour flight to nearly 30 kilometers altitude over California’s Mojave Desert, Millennium engineers exercised key satellite subsystems and operational capabilities. The SeeMe prototype carried a telescope and new technology digital camera developed by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), which successfully captured images of the Earth during the mission, simulating the intended orbital capability. (10/16)

Zero-G Offers Weightless Lab Flight from Space Coast on Nov. 16-17 (Source:
Biomedical research, systems and hardware testing, fluid dynamics, materials science? We can fly that! Zero-G Corp. offers a research flight opportunity with 25 parabolas on Nov. 16-17 at the Space Coast Regional Airport in Titusville. Click here. (10/16)

Shotwell on Talks New SpaceX Launch Sites (Source: SPACErePORT)
SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell was unsure whether the company's schedule for new launch site selection would be consistent with Florida's one-year schedule for an environmental impact study at Shiloh. She indicated that the company remains interested in sites in Texas, Georgia, Puerto Rico, and Hawaii. She said the company would definately expand its presence in Florida, including plans for "landing sites" at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. She said the Air Force's Range Safety officials thus far have been very supportive of the landing site plans.

She also indicated that with the success of their new Falcon-9 v1.1 rocket, previous less-capable versions of the Falcon-9 would no longer be used after the existing inventory is used. When asked whether the Falcon-Heavy rocket represents a threat to NASA's heavy-lift SLS rocket, she believed that it would not. (10/16)

Default May be Worse than Shutdown -- or Sequester (Source: Politico)
Defense companies could be hit harder by a U.S. government debt default than either sequestration or the federal shutdown, with the government potentially unable to pay contractors or members of the military. "Default will only compound the disastrous impacts of sequestration, shutdown and furloughs," said Chip Sheller, Aerospace Industries Association spokesman. (10/15)

Politics Prompting NASA Site Shutdown (Source: USA Today)
The Obama administration's decision to shut down popular science functions, such as NASA's website, the National Science Foundation site, or the Panda Cam at the National Zoo, are the result not of suddenly lacking money to keep a website up, but of political machinations that make science a low priority, writes Hank Campbell. "If the president believes that science is essential, why does he not declare it essential? More than 80% of the federal government is still working, but 97% of NASA is not," Campbell writes. "Because all government workers are still going to get paid, it isn't saving any money." (10/15)

The Bucolic Gulf Coast Island That May Launch Space Tourism (Source: Skift)
Little has changed at this remote South Texas beach over the past six decades since it was a finalist to become what Cape Canaveral, Fla., became: the launch site for the U.S. space program. Unlike neighboring South Padre Island, 5 miles away over the water, Boca Chica has no high-rises, no marinas and no condos. Texas 4 is a two-lane blacktop that runs east from Brownsville and dead-ends where the sun rises over the sand dunes and wetlands. The beach is surrounded by a patchwork of private lots, a state park and a federal wildlife refuge.

It is here that California billionaire Elon Musk is considering building a site to launch rockets carrying payloads to space. “A commercial Cape Canaveral” is how Musk described it to state lawmakers this spring when he identified Texas as “probably” the leading candidate for the launch site. It would be the first commercial orbital launch site in the world.

First, Boca Chica must beat out competitors in Georgia, Puerto Rico and, once again, Cape Canaveral, where government cutbacks in the space program could open more launch space for Musk’s company, SpaceX — the first private firm to ferry cargo to and from the International Space Station. (10/14)

NASA's $1.2 Billion Mistake Proves Something Every Libertarian Knows (Source: Policy Mic)
At a loss of $1.2 billion, NASA has officially shelved the massively expensive J-2X engine program. Development testing wraps up next year, but the problem is that there is currently no use for these super powered rockets. It is one thing to shoot for the stars, but aspirations without an actionable plan are nothing but a dream. There have been many advancements in the private sector that are making space travel far more practical and effective.

The RL-10, another heavy-lift SLS (Space Launch System) engine, is able to accomplish all the tasks that humans are technologically capable of. Most of what we can do is contained in orbit or on the moon, making this added rocket pointless. By the time we actually get around to a successful trip to Mars, this technology will likely have been replaced. Going forward, learning from its partnerships with the private sector is one way NASA can be successful in a time of government cuts.

Fortunately, we live in an age where space travel is no longer limited to the government. Entrepreneurs and scientists like Elon Musk and Richard Branson, both “small ‘l’ libertarians,” have been pioneering space travel in the private sector. Their advances are making it something that the whole human race can potentially experience. (10/16)

Spaceport Ticket-Holder Says More Luxury Accommodations Needed (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
There are still challenges to commercial spaceflight in New Mexico, including building the hospitality industry to serve future space tourists, said an entrepreneur and spaceflight ticket-holder at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight.

Southern New Mexico needs six-star hotels, restaurants and other upscale amenities to serve the wealthy ticket-holders who will take suborbital spaceflights from Spaceport America, Michael Blum said. A southern road from Hatch to the complex, just north of Doña Ana County, is also needed to more easily access the spaceport, he said. "I certainly would not have come to New Mexico without my interest in the Spaceport," Blum said.

He plans to bring about 30 people to the spaceport to witness his suborbital flight once commercial spaceflights begin. Other ticket-holders plan to bring as many as 100 people to celebrate, he said. "I'm going to space," he said. "Less than 600 people have been. It's a big event." Blum and the hundreds of other future fliers will be looking for ritzy places to stay and things to do in the area, from upscale spas to desert horseback rides, he said. (10/15)

Shutdown Impacts Commercial Spaceflight Conference (Source: SPACErePORT)
Although this year's attendance at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS) is only slightly down from last year (~15 people), many government speakers and attendees were unable to participate. Several changes had to be made to the event's agenda to fill blanks left by NASA and FAA officials. (10/16)

India Sails Into Fiji for Space Mission (Source: Fiji Times)
FIJI will be the data collection hub for a space mission to Mars by the Indian Government. An 18-member team of top scientists and engineers from India's International Space Research Organization (ISRO) is in the country to pave the way for India's first-ever satellite mission to the Red Planet later this month. The $69million Mars Orbiter Mission called Mangalyaan will be launched from India and scientists expect the rocket to enter space from somewhere high above Fiji's airspace or somewhere close.

The mission will be monitored from Fiji and other parts of the South Pacific ocean. ISRO scientist and project leader Mirza Mohammed Zaheer said one ship, which would monitor the tracking of the satellite, was in Fiji while another would arrive on Saturday. (10/16)

Rep. Mo Brooks Sponsors Bill to Get NASA Workers Back on the Job (Source: Huntsville Times)
Rep. Mo Brooks introduced legislation to fund NASA for the 2014 fiscal year as part of an effort to get furloughed workers back on the job even as the government shutdown continues. According to a statement tonight by Brooks' office, his legislation is similar to the Pay Our Military Act - which provided paychecks for active duty troops as well as Department of Defense civilians who were sent home when the shutdown began Oct. 1. (10/16)

How Congress Destroyed the Space Program (Source: Washington Times)
Late last month, SpaceX successfully launched its upgraded Falcon-9 into orbit, highlighting again that the most exciting developments in aerospace are not taking place at NASA. Innovations in commercial space dwarf the possibility offered by even the most ambitious NASA programs. While Elon Musk rounds the International Space Station (ISS) and plots colonization missions to Mars, NASA is stuck plotting a solitary trip to an asteroid in the almost fictionally distant 2030s.

What happened, and who is to blame for this travesty? Certainly not NASA. As an institution, it remains one of the greatest repositories of talent in the U.S. The answer is inescapable: Congress. The lack of vision at NASA has never been a consequence of its scientists or administrators. Extremely ambitious plans for missions to Mars, space colonization, interstellar probes, and more have been raised up by the adventurous explorers and scientists of NASA, only to be dashed by Congress.

This skepticism has been compounded by unpredictable and mercurial project management, which has seen multibillion-dollar ventures begun in one administration only to be canceled in the next. Equally devastating is a system of patronage that sees congressional partisans who couldn’t care less about our space program placed in charge of it solely because of the presence of aerospace plants and facilities in their districts. (10/16)

The Weirdest Things Recently Found on Mars (Source: WIRED)
Mars is a crazy place. In recent years we’ve discovered some of the strangest things on the Red Planet: ice spiders, Swiss cheese terrain, and perfectly spiral-shaped lava tubes. And the more we explore our near planetary neighbor, the weirder the things we find get. NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been circling Mars since 2006, provides the clearest and highest-resolution images of the planet’s surface. Click here. (10/16)

Shutdown Not Expected to Stall Upcoming Space Station Activities (Source: America Space)
Despite the disruption caused by the ongoing U.S. Government shutdown, activities aboard the International Space Station (ISS) continue to press on, with several departures and arrivals of visiting vehicles in the next few weeks. On Tuesday, 22 October, Orbital Sciences Corp. will bid farewell to its first Cygnus cargo ship—currently flying its “Demonstration Mission” (designated “ORB-D”)—after three weeks berthed at the Earth-facing (or “nadir”) port of the Harmony node. (10/16)

NASA's China Policy Faces Mounting Pressure (Source: China Daily)
NASA faces the tricky task of navigating national security issues in a field in which Chinese scientists are valuable contributors. Chinese national and former NASA employee Bo Jiang was indicted earlier this year for failing to declare a NASA laptop on a flight to China from Dulles Airport.

He was later cleared when officials failed to find sensitive information on his laptop, save for pornography he had downloaded in violation of agency rules. But Jiang was already under investigation at the time for having previously taken a NASA laptop to China, and had been fired from his position at the National Institute of Aerospace before he was stopped in March of this year for the same offense.

Congressman Wolf also accused NASA of not doing enough to fight supposed espionage tactics on the part of the Chinese government, and in March of this year, had unsuccessfully called for the exclusion of Chinese citizens from a meeting of the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites, citing the 2011 law he helped draft. NASA is under great pressure to safeguard against potential espionage from a number of countries, but must also avoid discriminating on the basis of ethnicity or background. (10/16)

SpaceX Hopes to Fly Astronauts in 2016 (Source: SPACErePORT)
SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell announced that the company hopes to launch its first crewed Dragon capsule in 2016, probably carrying NASA astronauts (as opposed to SpaceX employee-astronauts, as was previously planned. She also discussed the company's plans to bring the Falcon-9R ("R" for reusable) to the New Mexico spaceport next year for tests. (10/16)

A Red Flag on the Red Planet: China’s Mars Ambitions (Source: America Space)
In 2007 and 2010, China placed its Chang’e 1 and 2 probes into orbit around the Moon. With Mars as the next step, it seems that the possibility of seeing the Red Flag on the red surface of the Red Planet is by no means far-fetched. It is true that China lacks an official focus upon a human expedition to the Red Planet, but the rapid rate with which this communist nation has developed its own human space program and raised it to fruition has been truly dramatic and breathtaking to behold.

With a “modular” space station firmly scheduled for launch into orbit by 2020, and lunar bases sometime thereafter, there is little reason to doubt China’s resolve. And there is equally little reason to doubt that a Chinese citizen will stand on the blood-red plains of Mars, clutching a blood-red, yellow-star-spangled banner at some stage in the future. Click here. (10/15)

Apollo 11 Crew-Signed Commemorative Cover Could Bring $40,000+ at Auction (Source: America Space)
An Apollo 11 flown Commemorative Cover, signed by the crew and directly from the collection of Mission Command Module Pilot Michael Collins, which could sell for $40,000+, leads a stellar line-up of space-flown objects and important private collections in Heritage Auctions’  Nov. 1 Space Exploration Signature® Auction in Dallas.

One of the more unusual items saw more time in space than any other item in the auction, said Michael Riley, Chief Cataloger for Space at Heritage Auctions. A 50-page section of a microform copy of The Bible, flown around the Moon on the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission, only later to be carried to the Moon’s surface during Apollo 14’s mission, is expected to bring $8,000+.

The evocative fragment—one of just 32 astronaut flight certified examples that exists—is also unique in that its pages include Genesis 1:16, the verse in which the Moon is created. “The fact that it was on not one but two flown lunar missions—especially Apollo 13 and then to the surface—makes it rare,” Riley said. “That it includes the only verse which describes the creation of the Moon makes it a true treasure.” (10/15)

'The Last Days On Mars' Movie Trailer Showcases Future Spaceflight, Horror (Source: Space.com)
A new movie starring Liev Schreiber may be a great combination of true terror and fictional spaceflight. "The Last Days On Mars," set for limited theatrical release in the United States on Dec. 6, follows a band of astronauts during an ill-fated mission to a base on Mars. In the words of the movie's tagline, "the search for life is about to end."

In a trailer for the film, Schreiber and his fellow world explorers are on their last day of the Martian mission when things start to come off the rails. Two astronauts are caught outside of the base when the ground gives out under them and they fall into a pit. From there, havoc ensues. Whatever is in the pit is "definitely alive," according to one Red Planet scientist, and now they need to figure out where their friends went. (10/15)

Shutdown Delays NASA Micro-Gravity Flight for Students (Source: Huntsville Times)
The anticipation was apparent earlier this month as a group of Alabama A&M University students talked of taking microgravity flights aboard a NASA jet in November. "It's exciting for me, knowing we're that close to doing what astronauts would do - without going to school or doing the training," junior Michael Wallace said. "But we can get that experience."

Well, once the partial government shutdown is lifted. The trip to Johnson Space Center in Houston has been postponed for five Alabama A&M students and four faculty members, delaying not only the near-zero gravity flight but also the opportunity to test their experiments with liquid crystal while in flight. (10/15)

Novel Strategy May Help Target Extraterrestrial Intelligent Life (Source: Universe Today)
A novel strategy may help astronomers better target extraterrestrial intelligent life. Dr. Michael Gillon proposes an approach that would monitor the regions of nearby stars to search for interstellar communication devices. The most common method in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (abbreviated as SETI) is the use of giant radio dishes to scan the stars, listening for possible faint signals coming from distant civilizations. Click here. (10/15)

Russia to Launch First Private Satellite in Feb. 2014 (Source: RIA Novosti)
Russia will launch its first-ever spacecraft to be 100 percent funded by domestic private capital on board a Soyuz-2-1B carrier rocket in February 2014, the Skolkovo high-tech hub said Tuesday.

The DX-1 mini-satellite, designed and built by the Dauria Aerospace group, will test the equipment, technology and software to create a unified platform of small spacecraft. It will also carry an Automatic Identification System (AIS) receiver to monitor global shipping routes. (10/15)

GenCorp. Reports Third Quarter Results (Source: GenCorp)
GenCorp Inc.reported results for the third quarter ended August 31, 2013. Net sales for the third quarter of fiscal 2013 totaled $367.5 million compared to $244.9 million for the third quarter of fiscal 2012. Net income for the third quarter of fiscal 2013 was $197.4 million, compared to net loss of ($9.5) million for the third quarter of fiscal 2012. (10/15)

Washington's Space Firms Cope with NASA Shutdown (Source: Puget Sound Business Journal)
Several Washington-based outer space companies are making efforts to work around the virtual closure of NASA as the federal government shutdown grinds on. Aerojet Redmond, for example, has pulled some workers off some NASA-related work because nobody is available at NASA to track the rocket engine builder’s work, said Roger Myers, Aerojet executive director of advanced in-space programs.

The situation is similar at Andrews Space in Tukwila, although President and CEO Jason Andrews has had to cancel one conference and found the doors closed when he arrived in Washington, D.C., Oct. 1 for a meeting with NASA officials the day the shutdown started. Blue Origin, a Kent-based launch rocket developer owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, may be suffering similar problems with the NASA shutdown. A representative of Blue Origin declined to comment. (10/15)

Predicting the Future Could Improve Remote-Control of Space Robots (Source: WIRED)
A new system could make space exploration robots faster and more efficient by predicting where they will be in the very near future. The engineers behind the program hope to overcome a particular snarl affecting our probes out in the solar system: that pesky delay caused by the speed of light. Any commands sent to a robot on a distant body take a certain amount of time to travel and won’t be executed for a while.

By building a model of the terrain surrounding a rover and providing an interface that lets operators forecast the how the probe will move around within it, engineer can identify potential obstacles and make decisions nearer to real-time. “You’re reacting quickly, and the rover is staying active more of the time,” said computer scientist Jeff Norris, who leads mission operation innovations at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Ops Lab.

As an example, the distance between Earth and Mars creates round-trip lags of up to 40 minutes. Nowadays, engineers send a long string of commands once a day to robots like NASA’s Curiosity rover. These get executed but then the rover has to stop and wait until the next instructions are beamed down. Click here. (10/15)

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