October 20, 2013

The Shutdown's NASA-Sized Price Tag (Source: Slate)
A few research firms have tried to attach a number to the shutdown. Macroeconomic Advisers put the figure at $12 billion. S&P estimate the cost was twice as high, at $24 billion. Split the difference, and you're talking about $18 billion in lost work. What's a good way to think about that kind of money—a sliver of the entire $15 trillion U.S. economy, but still, you know, $18 billion? In July this year, NASA funding was approved at around $17 billion for the fiscal year. So, there: The shutdown took a NASA-sized bite out of the U.S. economy." (10/17)

Budget cuts, Barriers Slow U.S. military Space Shakeup (Source: Reuters)
The U.S. Air Force has talked for years about attracting more companies to the military satellite business to stir competition and cut costs. But progress has been halting at best. Now, just as the U.S. military is finally revamping its approach, cuts in defense spending threaten to undermine even the modest progress that is being made.

Billions of dollars of new contracts are at stake, both for legacy satellite and rocket launch providers and newcomers trying to break into the market. Military and industry leaders say the efforts to save money and attract competitors may falter without the seed money needed to work on prototypes and projects studying whether smaller, cheaper satellites can provide the missile warning, weather forecasting and protected communications services now handled by complex, large satellites that each cost billions of dollars.

"Any delay in getting a budget means that I lose the opportunity to get those activities going or to sustain them," said Lt. General Ellen Pawlikowski, who runs Air Force Space Command's Space and Missile Systems Center. "If I don't do those things, then I don't have the answers to do anything but go build clones" of existing systems, which would undermine the Air Force's efforts to use new developments and cheaper alternatives developed in the interim. Executives at smaller companies such as Exelis and Harris voice similar concern. (10/20)

Navy Seeks Better Red Tide Forecasts From Space (Source: Florida Today)
As the Navy hunts for red tide from the International Space Station, beachgoers may soon get improved early warnings of the harmful algae and other blooms that discolor the water and can cause respiratory problems. “Our goal is to develop a system that can detect blooms early enough to assist with the planning preparation for remedial measures to reduce economic damage, health risk, etc.,” said Ruhul Amin at the Naval Research Laboratory. (10/19)

The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space recently announced a partnership with the Naval Research Laboratory to study what contributes to red tide and other harmful algae blooms. CASIS — a Brevard nonprofit organization formed to maximize the use of the orbiting outpost’s national laboratory — awarded $250,000 to the Naval Research Lab, to expand Amin’s research. (10/19)

Proton Launch Postponed (Source: ILS)
The launch of a Proton launch vehicle with the Sirius FM-6 satellite was postponed today for at least 24 hours due to issues with the satellite ground station network required for the launch and early orbital operations of the Sirius FM-6 spacecraft. (10/20)

Industry Girds For Extended US Sequester (Source: Defense News)
Long expressing optimism about the prospects that the sequester would be replaced, defense executives seem to be coming to terms with the permanence of the cuts, and shaping their business models around them. A new report released by Tech­America, based on interviews with defense executives and industry analysts, pegs the likelihood of sequester cuts staying in place for at least through 2015 at 50 percent, with the majority of the sequester cuts getting an 80 percent likelihood of continuing. (10/20)

'Astronaut Abby' Draws Attention of NASA Again (Source: KARE)
Abby Harrison, a Minneapolis South High student who was invited to watch a Russian spacecraft launch overseas, calls herself "Astronaut Abby" and has a blog that highlights her efforts to be the first person on Mars. She also uses that platform to encourage other people to find a passion.

Her enthusiasm and dedication has caught the attention of NASA astronauts, and now she's been asked to present at a TED X talk in Tampa next week. On Saturday, she held a practice session with friends and family. Next week's event will have dozens of presenters who will share stories from the past as they look to the future. (10/20)

Astronaut Abby Speaks at TEDX Event in St. Pete on Oct. 25 (Source: TEDX)
From iPads to saxophones, TEDxTampaBay 2013 presenters will be sharing stories of the past as they peer into the future to dream of walking on Mars or destroying cancer. Join us for an eclectic day of discovery and wonder at the Palladium theatre in St. Petersburg as we host a delightfully inspiring event full of activities, breaks, presenters, musicians, and of course, lunch. Click here. (10/20)

KSC's Former Shuttle Pad Waits in Limbo as Competing Proposals are Considered (Source: Florida Today)
In scale models, the pieces fit together like Lego. Rockets snapped onto custom adapters that could be swapped in and out of a mobile launcher. An umbilical tower’s lines and access platforms adjusted to fit each system. Roll them out to a KSC launch complex, and virtually any commercial rocket could now blast off from a pad that for decades served only the shuttle.

“We had a plan where essentially you could do any number of vehicles,” said Dan Brandenstein, retired chief operating officer of United Space Alliance, which sketched out the concept before the shuttle’s retirement. “They could just ‘plug and play’ the adapters they need and use the launch pad as often as they need it, and not have the overhead of owning it full time.”

USA’s pitch never gained traction, but the idea has won new prominence with Blue Origin’s proposal to manage KSC’s launch pad 39A as a shared commercial pad, instead of NASA awarding an exclusive lease to SpaceX. But beyond the corporate and political jockeying is a basic question: Could competitors share the pad? Would that work? Supporters believe that would be the most fair and economical use of a special facility in which taxpayers have invested hundreds of millions of dollars. Click here. (10/20)

Next SpaceShipTwo Powered Test Flight Coming “Very Soon” (Source: NewSpace Journal)
The next powered test flight of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle is coming up “very soon,” a top company executive said Thursday, as some observers continue to speculate about the reasons for the extended test program. Virgin Galactic president Steve Isakowitz said “We have a series of [test flights] coming up very shortly.” The long gap between those flights (and the lack of powered flights since then) has fueled in the space industry an undercurrent of rumors of issues with the vehicle’s engine. (10/20)

Addition of Debris-mitigation Measure Delays MetOp-SG Award (Source: Space News)
The 20-nation European Space Agency (ESA), in what may reflect the embarrassment it felt when its flagship environmental satellite died in orbit and became a debris threat that will last a century, has delayed the contract award for a next-generation polar-orbiting weather satellite system to assure that the spacecraft are built to disintegrate over the Pacific Ocean on retirement. (10/18)

Orbital’s Strong Performance Benefiting Space Industry Partners (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
Orbital announced their third quarter earnings for 2013 on Thursday, providing an overview of a company that is generating good profit margins and strong free cash flow. The quarter saw the second successful launch of the Antares rocket and the debut of their Cygnus spacecraft – with several other space industry partners benefiting in their success.

With a deep history of not just launching payloads, but building them too, the company has been the developer and manufacturer of small and medium-class Space Systems for the past three decades, serving customers in Commercial, National Security and Civil Government Markets. As such, their operational highlights of late cover a wide range of space systems and missions.

Less known is the benefit felt by their numerous partners, ranging from Rocketdyne Aerojet – who provide the AJ-26s main engines for Antares, ATK – who provide the upper stage power via their Castor motors, through to Thales Alenia Space in Italy – who manufacture the Pressurised Cargo Module for the Cygnus spacecraft. Other associated companies  include NanoRacks, LLC – who announced it has now fulfilled over one hundred customer payloads delivered to space via the berthing of Cygnus during its ORD-D mission. (10/17)

Scientists Discover a New Twist in Light From the Early Universe (Source: NBC)
Researchers have discovered a subtle twist in the primeval light that formed shortly after the universe came into being. They hope it can reveal new secrets about the moments after the big bang. This afterglow, called Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) was created out of hot ionized plasma some 13.7 billion years ago, when the universe was just 380,000 years old. A small fraction of this light is polarized, meaning the light waves vibrate in one plane.

Researchers had already detected this polarized light in one pattern, known as "electric" or E-mode polarization. But using the South Pole Telescope in Antarctica and the European Space Agency's Herschel space observatory, researchers for the first time detected polarized light from the cosmic microwave background in the "magnetic" or B-mode.

During inflation, the idea goes, the universe expanded faster than the speed of light, doubling in size 100 times or more in just a few tiny fractions of a second. (Einstein's theory of special relativity holds that no information or matter can travel faster than light through space, but this rule does not apply to inflation, which was an expansion of space itself.) The new detection should provide a baseline to aid future efforts to measure B-modes produced by gravitational waves. (10/18)

Zero Gravity Solutions, Inc. Introduces BAM-FX (Source: ZGSI)
Zero Gravity Solutions, Inc. (ZGSI) announced BAM-FX, a proprietary technology designed for use in the space program, which may be deployed for agricultural use on Earth to create densely nutritious, immune system enhancing food for application to world agriculture. Initial data utilizing our technology as applied to agricultural use on Earth has demonstrated, through independent certified laboratory analysis, the ability to systemically deliver targeted minerals and micronutrients throughout a plant from seed or root to maturity.

This was accomplished without the use of genetic modification or traditional fertilizers. The ability to create highly nutritious, immune system enhanced crops that are not Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) is a potentially significant, disruptive agricultural technology. “Our six years of work on the International Space Station and the intellectual property we own has allowed us to introduce the first of an anticipated pipeline of technologies to help to feed the world.” said XGSI Chairman Harvey Kaye. (10/18)

Virgin Galactic Private SpaceShipTwo Will Launch Science Flights (Source: Space.com)
Soon, Virgin Galactic could be ferrying more than tourists to space on its suborbital flights. The company that aims to be the world's first commercial "spaceline" also plans to give scientists and educators the chance to fly experiments aboard SpaceShipTwo, its latest suborbital space plane. The first public flight is slated for December 25 and commercial service is set to begin in 2014.

"We started building SpaceShipTwo with space tourism in mind, but we knew from the start that the same vehicles, the same mission and the same staff could be used for science," said William Pomerantz, vice president for special projects at Virgin Galactic. The company will offer two kinds of research flights: Researchers can either fly along with their experiments, or send them up on dedicated payload flights. (10/19)

Astrium Awarded Three New Contracts by ESA for Ariane 6 and Ariane 5 ME (Source: Astrium)
Astrium, the world’s second ranking space company, has been awarded three new contracts by the European Space Agency (ESA). Running through to the end of 2014, the first two contracts cover the continued development of the Ariane 5 Midlife Evolution (A5ME) launcher and the sub-assemblies common to both it and Ariane 6. This study was approved by ESA in May 2013. The third contract is for the start of development studies for the Ariane 6 launcher, based on the concept selected in July. (10/16)

CASIS Issues RFP for Remote Sensing on ISS (Source: CASIS)
The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) has issued a solicitation for proposals in the field of remote sensing. This solicitation seeks proposals focused on terrestrial benefit via Earth observations, atmospheric science, planetary science or remote sensing of space. CASIS aims to (1) use existing hardware or (2) develop and deploy new sensors or instrumentation for remote sensing on the National Lab. (10/17)

Shutdown’s Science Fallout Could Last for Years (Source: Politico)
The government may finally be on a path to reopening, but the shutdown’s effects will linger for scientists studying everything from climate change to cancer. Antarctica-bound field researchers stuck in budget limbo over the past three weeks fret that decades of data on penguins and ice sheets will end up with a glaring gap, undercutting their documentation of global warming. Doctors operating federal-funded clinical studies on Alzheimer’s, cocaine addiction and heart disease worry they’ve lost the trust of patients.

Thinking more of the big picture, there’s also the little matter of keeping the best and brightest researchers working in, and for, the United States or seeing them flee to the private sector. It’s a realistic expectation after nearly three years of stop-and-go budget battles resulting in sequestration and now the cruel reality of laboratories ordered to keep the lights out. (10/17)

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