October 17, 2013

Blue Origin Prefers LC-39A, XCOR Ready for Florida Within Five Years (Source: SPACErePORT)
During a ISPCS panel session on Thursday, Blue Origin's Brett Alexander was asked whether his company would prefer to use the Shiloh launch site or Launch Complex 39A, or both. He responded that the company's preference is to use LC-39A.

Meanwhile, XCOR's Khaki Rodway was asked when her company will be ready to expand operations to the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. She said 'as soon as NASA approves Lynx operations at the Shuttle Landing Facility', and that she expect operations in Florida within the next five years. (10/17)

iPhone App Lets You See Which Spy Satellites Are Watching You (Source: Space.com)
In case you're hungry for personal space situational awareness, or are just plain paranoid, a new iPhone app can tell you when and what imaging spacecraft might have you in sight. Orbit Logic has created SpyMeSat, an app that provides notifications when spy satellites and unclassified imaging satellites are zooming above your head and may be taking your picture. A dynamic map shows orbit tracks and the location of remote sensing satellites with upcoming passes over a user's specified location. (10/16)

Tom Clancy Supported NewSpace (Source: Space.com)
Tom Clancy, the best-selling writer and master storyteller of military thrillers who died Oct. 1 at age 66, was also an early supporter of entrepreneurial space. "Clancy deserves the recognition," said Gary Hudson, CEO of Nevada-based HMX, Inc. Hudson has been involved in private spaceflight development for more than 40 years and is perhaps best known as the founder of Rotary Rocket Company.

That visionary firm was dedicated to the development of a single-stage-to-orbit launch vehicle that used a rocket-tipped rotor propulsion system. Hudson and company colleagues designed a unique vehicle known as the Roton. Rotary Rocket built a landing test simulator, the Roton Atmospheric Test Vehicle (ATV), which flew three low-altitude test flights in 1999. "The first round of Rotary financing included $1 million from Tom," Hudson said. (10/16)

Spending Slowdown Prompts Lockheed to Cut 600 (Source: Washinton Post)
Lockheed Martin is cutting about 600 workers nationwide as it deals with a continued slowdown in government spending. The defense firm will make the cuts to employees in its Mission Systems and Training unit, which focuses on drone production. "Our greatest worry is that important skills and capabilities will be lost as workers transition to other industries as a result of these layoffs," said Dan Stohr, spokesman for the Aerospace Industries Association. (10/16)

Infrared Space Scope Seeks Out Exoplants (Source: Space.com)
The Spitzer Space Telescope wasn't designed to hunt for alien worlds, but that's just what the 10-year-old infrared NASA scope is now doing. "When Spitzer was launched back in 2003, the idea that we would use it to study exoplanets was so crazy that no one considered it," said Sean Carey from NASA's Spitzer Space Science Center in a statement. "But now the exoplanet science work has become a cornerstone of what we do with the telescope." (10/16)

Editorial: U.S. Must Work with China in Space While it Can (Source: Space.com)
China's advances in space mean the U.S. has a competitor keen on moving forward quickly -- and that it's in the interests of the U.S. to stop turning away China's requests to join the International Space Station team, writes Leroy Chiao, former NASA astronaut and commander of the International Space Station. "China has a clear path and is moving forward," he writes. "They have the perfect setup to take over the lead, enabled and propelled by the actions of the Congress. Why would they want to work with the U.S. now?"  (10/16)

No Flexibility Given on Sequester Cuts (Source: Federal Times)
Pentagon leaders won't get the freedom to pick and choose what to cut under sequestration, despite attempts by some in the GOP to add that language to the debt deal just passed. The measure did not include the flexibility on sequester reductions that leaders in the Defense Department had hoped for, in part because some in the House thought adding that language would make it too easy to keep sequestration in place. (10/16)

Fiscal Policy War in Washington Not Over Yet (Source: Bloomberg)
Though President Barack Obama can consider the end of the debt-and-shutdown standoff a win for his side, that doesn't mean he will be successful in the larger fight over fiscal policy, some experts say. Both the government funding and debt-ceiling measure are temporary moves, and sequestration is still in place. The GOP still opposes tax hikes to raise revenue, while Democrats resist cutting entitlement programs to lower spending. (10/17)

Panetta Hopes for Deal to End Sequester (Source: Defense News)
Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is calling on lawmakers to continue working on a long-term budget compromise that includes an end to sequestration. "[O]nce you're dealing with the bigger issues of entitlements, and discretionary as well as tax reform, that the decisions you make will not only help in terms of debt reduction and bring this country on the right path toward a lower deficit, but also end sequester," Panetta said. (10/16)

Biggest Star Ever Found Is Ripping Apart (Source: Space.com)
The largest star ever discovered may give scientists a better sense of how massive, dying stars seed the universe with the ingredients for rocky planets and even life. W26 is about 1,500 times wider than the sun, making it the biggest known star in the universe. The red supergiant star is nearing the end of its life and will eventually explode as a supernova, researchers said. (10/16)

SpaceX Rocket Could See First Spaceport America Launch in December (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
A SpaceX rocket could have its first test flight from Spaceport America by the end of the year, the CEO of the company said Wednesday during a yearly space conference in Las Cruces. The launch could happen around late December, said Gwynne Shotwell, president and CEO of SpaceX, one of the biggest names in the emerging commercial space industry.

Until now, the vehicle -- dubbed Grasshopper -- has been in development at a facility in McGregor, Texas. But the company is limited in what it can do there. At Spaceport America, the reusable rocket will fly to a much higher altitude, traveling at higher speeds, Shotwell said. "You just can't do that at that particular location in Texas," she said. (10/16)

Astrotech Shares Jump on Strong Fourth-Quarter Report (Source: Space News)
Astrotech Corp., a provider of satellite prelaunch services at both major U.S. spaceports, on Oct. 15 reported surprisingly strong revenue and operating earnings for the three months ending June 30. The announcement sent the company’s stock soaring 45 percent on the U.S. Nasdaq exchange.

Astrotech notably did not specify whether the U.S. government shutdown is likely to impact the number of U.S. government satellites being sent to Astrotech for prelaunch processing this year. The company said it handled eight satellite missions in the 12 months ending June 30, including two major government satellite launch campaigns in the last three months of the year. Astrotech’s contract backlog stood at $25.5 million as of June 30.

The fourth-quarter performance — revenue up 21 percent from the same period a year ago, to $9.2 million, and operating profit of $2 million versus a loss of $585,000 — was somewhat diluted in the full-year financial results. For the year ending June 30, Astrotech reported revenue of about $24 million, down 8.2 percent from the previous year. But it was able to cut operating costs to reduce its operating loss for the year to $559,000 from nearly $2.3 million in 2012. (10/16)

Air Force Delays Upcoming GPS 2F-5 Launch (Source: Space News)
The launch of the fifth in the current generation of positioning, navigation and timing satellites for the U.S. Air Force, scheduled for Oct. 23, has been postponed for unspecified reasons, according to a spokeswoman for the service. The GPS 2F-5 satellite originally was slated to launch aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta 4 rocket from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport on Oct. 17. But that date was pushed back to Oct. 23 in recent weeks. (10/16)

Space Tourism: Shuttle the Star at KSC's Atlantis Exhibit (Source: Travel Weekly)
Space travel is a subject that has long been endlessly fascinating to children of all ages. Addressing that interest, the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex this year debuted the Space Shuttle Atlantis attraction centered around the Atlantis orbiter. NASA made this shuttle, which flew in space 33 times and has the scars and scorch marks to prove it, available to the complex.

The shuttle, as mounted, seems to float in space. It sits at a nearly 45-degree angle with its payload bay doors open and its robotic arm extended. Besides showing off its namesake orbiter, the $100 million, 90,000-square-foot attraction invites guests to "be the astronaut" with multimedia presentations and more than 60 interactive, touch-screen experiences and high-tech simulators. (10/16)

Spaceport Area Told to Step Up its Game (Source: Albuquerque Business First)
One of the people who plan on spending $250,000 to fly into space from New Mexico said he isn’t impressed with what he’s found on the ground. Michael Blum, founder and president of investment research and media firm Hedgeye Risk Management and the former senior manager at PayPal, said southern New Mexico needs many upscale amenities to serve the wealthy folks who will take suborbital spaceflights from Spaceport America and their friends. (10/16)

Why the Odds of Spotting E.T. are So Slim: It's the Economy (Source: NBC)
Hundreds of planets are being found beyond our solar system, including some that just might be habitable. But can we ever confirm signs of alien life beyond our solar system? It's theoretically possible — but Lee Billings suggests that the task may be beyond humanity's financial capabilities.

The good news is that this is shaping up to be a golden age of astronomy — thanks in part to the Hubble Space Telescope, the data from the Kepler planet-hunting telescope, the yet-to-be-launched James Webb Space Telescope and a host of next-generation ground-based telescopes that will be coming online. The prospects have never been better for finding Earth-size planets in Earth-type orbits around sunlike stars.

However, it's not enough to find those alien Earths. Those discoveries just open the way to a bigger question: Does life exist on those distant worlds? Making the case for life on extrasolar planets would probably require putting more than one next-generation telescope into outer space. (10/16)

Saturn's Mysterious Hexagon Shows its True Colors (Source: NBC)
Astronomers have oohed and ahhed over Saturn's hexagonal storm system for decades, but it hasn't looked any cooler than it does in this picture from NASA's Cassini spacecraft, which has been orbiting the ringed planet for more than nine years. Click here.  (10/17)

SETI Could Hunt Alien Transmitters in the Solar System (Source: Discovery)
We now have the technology to go snooping for extraterrestrials in our own backyard. No, not as close as little green men cutting up crop circles; instead, we should be able to detect an alien device positioned somewhere between the sun to 30 times farther out than Pluto.

What would aliens place 100 billion miles from the sun? Michael Gillon of the Observatory of Geneva, Switzerland wrote in a recent paper that extraterrestrials who are surveying our solar system with one or more artificially intelligent probes would need to set up a very powerful transmitter to the send data back to their home planet. (10/16)

One Thousand Exoplanets but Still No Twin for Earth (Source: Guardian)
Any day now, the thousandth exoplanet discovery will be logged, but Earth's twin is not among them. Where are the habitable planets and why can't astronomers find them? Even after two decades of searching, an Earth-sized world, in an Earth-like orbit, around a sun-like star eludes us still.

They are either too big, or too small, or just too bizarre. Take the case of CoRoT-7b. It is so hot that astronomers theorise it could rain pebbles, which would condense out of the atmosphere in the way water droplets do on Earth. This is pure speculation, though, because currently there is no way to analyze the atmosphere of most exoplanets. To do so would require a space telescope dedicated to the task, but this is exactly what astronomers could get if the EChO space mission is approved by the European Space Agency. (10/17)

Earth's Super-Siblings Grew Up Very Differently (Source: New Scientist)
True clones of Earth may be rare indeed. It seems that many of the super-Earths spotted in our galaxy so far formed in a very different way to our own celestial home. Super-Earths – rocky planets 1 to 10 times the size of ours – are just one type of weird world uncovered in recent years. Hot Jupiters – enormous balls of gas that sit closer to their stars than Mercury is to the sun – are another.

Understanding how these types of worlds form should help our search for other inhabited worlds. Earth formed in roughly the zone it still inhabits, but to grow so large, these planets had to start further out from their stars and migrate inwards, drawing in matter from discs of dust and gas around the star along the way. That, however, should have made them spiral into their stars within a few hundred thousand years. (10/16)

Year-Long Mars Mission Analog Seeks Volunteers (Source: Aviation Week)
The Mars Society is seeking a half-dozen national volunteers, four grounded in field science and two in engineering, for a year-long Mars mission analog at the Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station in northern Canada. The Mars Arctic 365 Mission, on Devon Island, 900 mi. from the North Pole, is scheduled to begin in August 2014.

Sponsors are seeking nonsmoking applicants, 22 to 60 years old, in good health and holding a bachelor’s degree in a science or engineering discipline, or the equivalent. There are no restrictions on nationality. (10/17)

FAA NextGen Initiative Halted Due to Shutdown (Source: Avionics Magazine)
The Senate commerce committee commissioned a report on the Federal Aviation Administration's activities during the government shutdown. According to the report, the FAA has halted all NextGen development. "Progress on NextGen slowed during initial implementation due to sequestration in 2013, and the initiative has been put on hold altogether due to the shutdown," the report said. (10/14)

French Seek Lock on Persian Gulf Satellite Deals (Source: Space Daily)
The French government, fresh from securing a $913 million deal with the United Arab Emirates for two military satellites, is pushing hard to sell a military system to Saudi Arabia. The French are driving to corner a strategic foothold for satellite business with Arab monarchies in the Persian Gulf as they square off against Iran. (10/14)

Novel Thrusters Being Developed for Nanosats (Source: Space Safety)
Sophisticated Attitude Control Systems (ACS) require complex mechanisms which can’t be scaled to fit on nanosats, hence existing ACS for large satellites can’t be utilized in nanosats. One approach  under extensive research is the area of building microscopic needles to spray thin jets of fluid, which push a satellite in the opposite direction.

The needles spray a propellant known as ionic liquid; this needle is finer than a human hair. To maneuver a nanosat, a few hundred of such needles are required, all of which may fit in a postage stamp sized package. Due to their very small size, producing the needles is a huge design challenge. (10/16)

Duane Ratliff Talks CASIS (Source: Parabolic Arc)
CASIS Chief Operating Officer Duane Ratliff gave a keynote address at ISPCS about his organization’s efforts to facilitate research aboard the International Space Station. He also appeared with SpaceX President and CEO Gwynne Shotwell and Fast Company Magazine Editor-at-large Jon Gertner in an afternoon roundtable chaired by AIAA Executive Director Sandy Magnus. Click here to see a summary of this presentations, captured in a collection of tweets from audience members. (10/16)

Government Shutdown Ends, OMB Tells Furloughed Employees to Return to Work (Source: Space Policy Online)
President Obama is expected to sign the bill that reopens the government and raises the debt limit tonight and the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is telling furloughed federal workers to return to work tomorrow morning, Thursday, October 17. The FY2014 Continuing Appropriations Act (H.R. 2775 as amended) passed the Senate this evening by a vote of 81-18 and the House by a vote of 285-144. All no votes were Republican. All Democrats who cast a vote, voted yes. (10/16)

CASIS Funds Non-embryonic Stem Cell Research (Source: CASIS)
The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) has announced grant awards for seven researchers focused on non-embryonic stem cell biology. The award amounts total over $2 million. CASIS continues to facilitate groundbreaking research through solicitations for proposals that are designed to expand the knowledge of the scientific community and advance research processes, technologies and treatments.

Editor's Note: Among the funded projects is one from the University of Miami, focused on the growth and differentiation of cardiac stem cells in microgravity. (10/15)

US Air Force Converts F-16 Fighters Into Drones in Florida (Source: Space Daily)
The US Air Force has test flown an F-16 fighter jet without a pilot on board for the first time, in the latest sign of the military's increasing reliance on drones. The robotic F-16 flew for 55 minutes with an empty cockpit from a base in Florida last week, as part of a program that will see the converted fighter jet used as a target for pilots in training, manufacturer Boeing said.

"It was really amazing to see an F-16 take off with nobody in it," said Michelle Shelhamer from Boeing, which has adapted the plane for the US military. The aircraft is one of six "retired" F-16 jets that will be used as aerial targets for fighter pilots training for air-to-air combat, she said.

Editor's Note: The Air Force has been doing the same thing for years with Vietnam-era F-4 jets at Tyndall Air Force Base near Panama City on the Florida panhandle. One of these F-4 drones crashed after take-off in July. The jet drones typically fly over the Gulf of Mexico and are used for target practice. (10/16)

Shutdown Is (Almost) Over, but the Damage to Science Will Last (Source: Scientific American)
As Congress lurches toward passing a final deal to keep the government running until January 15, researchers across the nation say their work—some of it already compromised by the budget sequestration–will suffer lasting damage as a result of the 16-day shutdown.

Some of that damage will be tangible. Researchers were reportedly slated to euthanize scores of lab mice and revamp budget plans to accommodate the delay. Other impacts will be more subtle. “Research is an iterative process, and quite often something happens that is an ‘aha’ moment,” says Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. “We will never know how many of those ‘aha’ moments were missed.” (10/16)

Stockman Introduces Keep NASA Open Act to Shield Agency from Shutdown (Source: SpaceRef)
Congressman Steve Stockman Wednesday joined Congressman Mo Brooks (R-AL) to introduce the Keep NASA Open Act.  The bill would guarantee NASA functions would continue to be funded should an agreement to fund the government not be reached soon. Stockman also opposed Obama's proposal for sequestration of NASA funding. Stockman proposed an alternative to sequester that would fully restore NASA funds.

Editor's Note: NASA Watch responds to Stockman's announcement with this: "...how hypocritical: you voted to shutdown gov't and NASA, now you want to look like some kind of hero with this stunt." (10/16)

Houston Chronicle Expresses Regret for Endorsing Cruz (Source: Talking Points Memo)
The editorial page of the Houston Chronicle expressed some buyer's remorse on Tuesday for endorsing Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) in last year's election. In the editorial, the Chronicle lamented that Cruz did not take after his predecessor, former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX).

"When we endorsed Ted Cruz in last November's general election, we did so with many reservations and at least one specific recommendation - that he follow Hutchison's example in his conduct as a senator," the editorial read. "Obviously, he has not done so. Cruz has been part of the problem in specific situations where Hutchison would have been part of the solution." His push to defund the Affordable Care Act led to the impasse over the budget and the debt limit.

Editor's Note: Cruz is the Ranking Member of the Senate's Science & Space Subcommittee and was expected to continue representing Texas' space interests after replacing Kay Bailey Hutchison, who was Ranking Member of the full committee. (10/16)

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