October 19, 2013

Phobos-Grunt-2: Russia to probe Martian moon by 2022 (Source: Space Daily)
Russia is set to launch a probe to the Martian moon Phobos by 2022, the head of the Russian Space Research Institute has revealed. The renewal of the ambitious program, which includes taking samples of the moon's soil, comes despite previous failure.

"We plan to get back to Phobos in 2020-2022," the institute's director, Lev Zeleny, announced on Tuesday, speaking at the Russian Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The new interplanetary probe mission will become "a springboard for implementing other similar international programs," he added. It is currently codenamed "Boomerang." (10/18)

NASA Workers Wary About Future (Source: Houston Chronicle)
NASA workers and contractors in the Houston area, along with proprietors of businesses they patronize, greeted the prospect of an end to the government shutdown Wednesday with a mixture of relief and apprehension. Employees welcomed the opportunity to return to work but said they were worried they might be furloughed again because the budget agreement only runs until Jan. 15. (10/18)

AvtoVAZ Boss Quits Ahead of Space Industry Job (Source: Space Daily)
Igor Komarov, head of Russia's largest car maker Avtovaz, has submitted his resignation ahead of a likely appointment as chief of a new state-run space corporation currently being formed by the Russian government. Russia's Kommersant business daily reported that the presidential administration and the government had approved Komarov as the head of the United Rocket and Space Corporation (URSC), which will be created to take over manufacturing facilities from the Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos). (10/18)

Point-To-Point: Virgin Hopes Spacecraft Can Support Superfast Flights (Source: The Verge)
Virgin Galactic may be closing in on launching its first-ever commercial space flight, but the company is also thinking about how its technology can help improve travel on Earth, as well. Speaking at the Wired 2013 event in London, Virgin Galactic's commercial director Stephen Attenborough hinted that his company's spaceplans might be the basis for long haul aviation across the planet someday.

"If we can get this first step right, take people into space and keep them safe in commercially viable aircraft," Attenborough said, Virgin might be able to "push long haul aviation." The bottom line could be flights between London and Australia in as little as 2.5 hours — and Attenborough said that such a flight would be better for the environment, since emissions would be released outside of the Earth's atmosphere rather than within it. (10/18)

Commercial Companies Look to Increase Access to Space (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
Commercial spaceflight industries are looking to increase access to space, from tourists to scientists, the leaders said at the annual International Symposium on Personal and Commercial Spaceflight at the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum.

"I think ultimately our success as an industry will be defined not by the big government contracts we win but by opening up the frontiers for those who have nothing to do with the government and are willing to pay their own dollars," Isakowitz said. (10/19)

Space: Silicon Valley's Next Frontier (Source: NBC)
The tech industry is famous for looking into the next big thing. These days, that thing may be space. As in, taking you there someday. Space travel is hot. So hot, a convention launched Friday in Silicon Valley, bringing startups, venture capitalists, and advisors together to talk about how to bring down the cost of going up.

Richard David runs a group called Newspace Global. They track space-related startups. Not surprisingly, Elon Musks's SpaceX is No. 1, but others are growing, getting funding and looking to hire. Some companies will get work done on board the International Space Station, others (like Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic) will take aspiring astronauts up into space.

"Space is not the final frontier," David said. "It's still expensive to go there, but it's getting cheaper to launch satellites, and it will get cheaper to send us." With startups funded by the likes of Musk and Jeff Bezos, money is no object, and the technology is moving fast. (10/18)

Feds Review Proposals to Develop Moffett Airfield (Source: San Jose Mercury-News)
The federal government is in the final stages of collecting proposals for a restoration of the iconic Hangar One at Moffett Federal Airfield and new development on a portion of the aviation facility, a project that's likely to become a new landmark in the region.

In addition to the upgrades of the giant hangar, the winning bidder will operate, manage and maintain the 1,056-acre airfield, according to the government's request for proposals for the project. The winning bidder would be able to develop commercial buildings such as offices or research facilities on 100 acres of the site, and possibly on the golf course. (10/18)

SpaceX’s Next Dragon Mission Moved to February 11 (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
The next flight of SpaceX’s Dragon has been realigned to a February 11, 2014 NET (No Earlier Than) launch date. The launch will mark Dragon’s first ride on the upgraded Falcon 9 v.1.1 rocket, potentially sporting landing legs, as Elon Musk plans his next attempt at proving the rocket’s ability to return its stages back to Earth for reuse.

The SpX-3 flight will carry a full launch and return complement of 1,580kg/3,476lb of payload, an increase from the previous limit of 800kg, afforded by the increased upmass capabilities of the Falcon 9 v1.1. For launch, Dragon will carry a record of 1 GLACIER and 2 MERLIN freezers for transporting ISS experiment samples. (10/18)

SpaceX Says Robust Market Can Support Four Launch Pads (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
Elon Musk sees a day before the end of the decade when his prospering rocket company administers four launch pads, taking up beach real estate in Florida, Texas and California to serve disparate markets for commercial, government and crewed space missions. That number doesn't count SpaceX's rocket test facilities in McGregor, Texas, and New Mexico.

It would put SpaceX in position to snatch up a significant share of the global launch business, with the Falcon 9 rocket and the behemoth Falcon Heavy launching multiple times per month. SpaceX's battle to obtain control over a historic space shuttle launch pad in Florida is mired in a government review after a protest from a rival, and the firm's effort to develop a commercial launch pad in South Texas is in a holding pattern while officials obtain the necessary environmental approvals.

According to Musk, a site in South Texas is the leading candidate for a privately-owned launch site SpaceX plans to build to host commercial missions. A private launch site "would allow the company to accommodate its launch manifest and meet tight launch windows," according to a draft FAA environmental impact statement. SpaceX is still considering sites in Florida, Georgia and other areas for the proposed commercial launch facility, but a plot of land on Boca Chica Beach in South Texas is in the lead. (10/19)

Russia's Industry Consolidation Plan Aims To Reduce Reliance on Imports (Source: Space News)
Russia is planning another major consolidation of its sprawling space industrial complex in a bid to reduce reliance on imported components and reduce excess manufacturing capacity. The move, which primarily will affect subcontractors and component suppliers, comes in the wake of reliability issues with Russia’s workhorse Proton rocket. But the connection between the two is not clear.

The key goal, Rogozin said, is to diminish the reliance on imported equipment by spurring research and development. "Our main problem is the supply of components,” Rogozin told Putin. “In order for us to be independent of their imports ... certain countries use their export controls, basically, to prevent us from buying all we need — this system will allow us to concentrate the funds and research on creating our own production of these components.” (10/18)

Engine Tweaks Delay Delta IV Launch From Cape (Source: Florida Today)
Launch of a Delta IV rocket and GPS satellite from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport is on hold while United Launch Alliance studies adjustments made after an upper stage engine fuel leak during a launch a year ago. The liftoff had been targeted for Wednesday from a launch pad on the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The analysis of the Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10B-2 engine will not impact NASA’s planned Nov. 18 launch of the Maven Mars orbiter mission on ULA’s Atlas V rocket. (10/19)

Fly Over This Amazing Crater Rim on Mars (Source: WIRED)
We’ve seen a lot of awesome pictures from robotic probes on Mars over the years. And yet the sheer awesomeness of this screenshot from a high-definition simulated movie of Mojave Crater blew us away. While not a direct image, the shot was recreated with spectacular precision using data from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. MRO is loaded with one of the best cameras in the solar system, the HiRISE camera, which can see features on the Martian surface as small as a meter.

HiRISE will shoot the same area from slightly different angles to produce stereo pairs that can be viewed in 3-D and used to make incredible terrain models. If you’ve got a pair of funky 3-D glasses handy, you can explore a more than 3,000 features on Mars. Click here. (10/18)

Proton-M Ready to Launch Digital Radio Satellite Into Orbit (Source: America Space)
International Launch Services (ILS)—a joint U.S.-Russian company, headquartered in Virginia—is ready to fly its second Proton-M mission in three weeks, with a nighttime liftoff scheduled to take place from Pad 39 at Site 200 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 12:12:56 a.m. local time on Monday to deliver the Sirius FM-6 digital radio satellite into geostationary transfer orbit. (10/18)

Continuing Resolution Provides Flexibility for Weather Satellites (Source: Space News)
The spending bill passed by Congress Oct. 16 provides NOAA with temporary flexibility for whatever funding it needs to maintain the launch schedules for two key weather satellite programs. The continuing resolution, signed into law by President Obama, funds most government programs at the 2013 level, which would be insufficient to keep NOAA’s Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES)-R programs on schedule.

However, lawmakers included a provision in the bill that says NOAA’s budget may be changed “up to the rate for operations necessary” to keep both programs on track until the agency receives its 2014 appropriation. NOAA requested $954 million for work on the next-generation GOES-R satellites in 2014, a $335 million increase intended to help to meet a launch readiness date of early 2016, according to budget documents. NOAA also is racing to get the JPSS-1 satellite into orbit by late 2017 or early 2018. NOAA requested $824 million for the program in 2014, a nearly $69 million decrease from 2013. (10/18)

Astrotech Is Still Significantly Undervalued Despite Recent Move (Source: Seeking Alpha)
I'll admit, I wasn't feeling too well about my investment in Astrotech (ASTC) around this time last week. A delayed 10-K is almost never a good sign and the stock's recent slide spun me into a heightened state of paranoia that something nefarious was going on.

So no one was surprised as me when Astrotech finally reported its fourth quarter results: net income of $2.2 million, or $0.11 per diluted share on revenue of $9.2 million compared with a fourth quarter fiscal year 2012 net loss of $1.3 million, or $(0.07) per diluted share on revenue of $7.6 million. Not bad for a stock that closed at $0.67 the day before.

What most casual observers don't notice is that there are really two main businesses with Astrotech. One that makes money (satellite processing) and one that takes money (1st Detect). The satellite processing division could likely be managed by a Golden Retriever of average intelligence. Click here. (10/18)

RD Amross Stays with UTC for Now (Source: Space News)
Rocketdyne is under no obligation to purchase United Technologies Corp.’s (UTC) 50 percent stake in Cocoa Beach-based RD AMross, the company that provides the main engine for Atlas 5 rockets, unless certain conditions are met, GenCorp said. GenCorp said the July 2012 agreement with UTC on the purchase of Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne was amended last June to free GenCorp from having to acquire Rocketdyne’s stake in RD Amross, a joint venture with Russia's NPO Energomash, the manufacturer of the RD-180 engine. (10/17)

Going Back to the Moon Could Settle Questions about Lunar Origin (Source: Space.com)
In order to truly answer the unsolved mysteries of the moon's origin, new missions to retrieve samples of the lunar surface and return them to Earth will be needed, one scientist said. "The samples collected four decades ago by NASA's six successful Apollo missions are very valuable, but the collection is merely from six landing sites, all on the near side of the moon and all close to the equator," said Ian Crawford.

"We now know that the moon is geologically diverse, so the Apollo collection isn’t really representative of the whole moon," Crawford added. "We don't have any samples of the bulk interior of the moon, just those that have been scraped off the present lunar crust," Crawford said. And this, he argues, is simply not sufficient to understand the composition of our satellite and solve the riddle of its origin. (10/17)

Furloughed KSC Workers 'Glad to Be Back' (Source: Florida Today)
Traffic streamed through Kennedy Space Center’s gates again Thursday morning as nearly 8,000 civil servants and contractors reported back to work after the federal government’s 16-day partial shutdown ended overnight. Welcome back KSC employees,” electronic marquees read.

Among the first tasks for many: removing garbage bags placed over computer monitors to protect them from potential damage during their absence. Space center employees joined others around Brevard, including at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Canaveral National Seashore, booting up computers and checking e-mail for the first time in more than two weeks. (10/17)

ESA Moves Toward Electric-Propulsion Satellites (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
The European Space Agency has begun work on developing satellites that maneuver using electric thrusters. The space agency signed an agreement with SES of Luxembourg to produce the next phase of what is known as the Electra project. Similar in some ways to NASA’s current efforts with commercial cargo and commercial crew, this is focused on innovations from the private sector. However, these ideas must be proven via use of heritage hardware as well as on-orbit testing. (10/18)

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