October 24, 2013

SpaceX Completes Review of 2014 Commercial Crew Abort Test (Source: NASA)
In preparation for a summer 2014 test, NASA partner SpaceX recently laid out its plan to demonstrate the Dragon spacecraft's ability to carry astronauts to safety in the event of an in-flight emergency. This review of the in-flight abort test plan provided an assessment of the Dragon's SuperDraco engines, the software that would issue the abort command, and the interface between the Dragon spacecraft and the Falcon 9 rocket on which the spacecraft will be launched.

Experts from NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration attended the review of the in-flight abort test plan Sept. 17 at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif. Attendees also had the opportunity to view the Dragon test spacecraft, which is being manufactured for an upcoming pad abort test and, potentially, the in-flight abort test.

The in-flight abort test will take place along Florida’s space coast. During the test, a Dragon spacecraft will launch on a standard Falcon 9 rocket and an abort command will be issued approximately 73 seconds into the flight. At that point, the spacecraft will be flying through the area of maximum dynamic pressure, or Max Q, where the combination of air pressure and speed will cause maximal strain on the spacecraft. (10/24)

Seven-Planet System Found Around Dwarf Star (Source: BBC)
Astronomers may have identified one of the richest planetary systems yet. The discovery of a seventh planet around the dwarf star KIC 11442793 could be a record, according to two separate teams of researchers. The system bears some similarities to our own, but all seven planets orbit much closer to their host star, which lies some 2,500 light-years from Earth. (10/24)

Sequester Delay Adds $70 Million to Space Fence Tab (Source: Space News)
The sequestration-driven delay in awarding a contract for the U.S. Air Force’s next-generation space-object tracking system will add more than $70 million to the program’s cost, a top service acquisition official told lawmakers. William LaPlante told a House subcommittee that the sequestration would hurt the service’s modernization efforts. He cited the Space Fence, a planned ground-based radar system that will dramatically improve the Defense Department’s (DoD) ability to track objects in Earth orbit, as a prime example. (10/24)

Guess Who Else is Developing a LOX Methane Engine (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation — reports it has reached a milestone in its development of a new LOX methane rocket engine. “Recently, a new generation of methane liquid oxygen rocket engine ignition system-wide test to be successful for the first time, signifying that our LOX methane engine development has reached the international advanced level,” according to a story by China Space News. (10/24)

Space Exploration Opens Ethical Dilemma (Source: Daily Wildcat)
“Astrobiology begs a series of very profound questions about the nature of life, the role of life in the universe and our relation to any sort of life in the universe,” Christopher Impey said. Impey remains positive that a major discovery of extraterrestrial life will happen soon, due to the number of Earth-sized planets being discovered in the habitable zones of their stars.

But while the discovery would be one of the most significant findings in our lifetimes, theorizing what that new life could be like may be one of the greatest challenges we face — simply because we may be limited by our own imaginations. “It’s hard to imagine how strange life could be in the universe,” Impey said. “It has to be tethered, at some point, in the familiar.”

“Here comes the moral dilemma within the solar system,” Impey said. “What is our right, or our obligation, to not just find life elsewhere, but to make a place right for us or for our life or to alter it so it becomes living?” According to Impey, these questions are going to incite debate about astrobiology and ethical space travel within our lifetimes, especially with private sector space travel becoming a greater rival to institutions like NASA. (10/24)

Space is Filling Up with Trash. These Economists Have a Solution. (Source: Washington Post)
In a recent paper, three economists argue that orbital debris is just a standard "tragedy of the commons" problem. Space is a precious commodity, and people tend to overuse it, since users don't pay the full price for the mess created by satellites. Similarly, no one country has the incentive to clean up the entire mess all by itself.

Economists typically solve this problem with what's known as a Pigouvian tax or user fee. So, they ask, why not place a user fee on orbital launches to help pay for clean-up? "User fees are a solution straight out of the Reagan era to deal with precisely these sorts of environmental issues," says Peter Alexander, an economist at the Federal Communications Commission and a co-author of the paper. (10/24)

Increasing Awareness of Space Safety (Source: Space Safety)
Today we are facing the development of rocket technology from a variety of new players. Given the complexity and the amount of stored energy, the development of new rocket technology presents an inherent risk of catastrophic accident. Failure in the rocket industry has been studied for more than 50 years now. All major space programs have experienced failure in one form or another, and it is fair to expect more during the development of the next generation of space hardware.

While it is impossible to completely rule out any possible cause of mishap, it is possible to contain and mitigate the consequences of a failure and to minimize the consequences to the crew, the personnel on the ground, and the population as a whole. Click here. (10/24)

Kennedy Space Center Officials Tout Economic Opportunities (Source: SpaceRef)
Commercial enterprises and partnerships increasingly are taking advantage of economic opportunities at NASA's Kennedy Space Center and the agency is eager to add to the tally, center officials recently told the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast during a session focused on technology transfer.

"I hope today will lead to establishing new partnerships," said Karen Thompson, chief technologist at Kennedy. "NASA really is passionate about establishing external partners. It helps us do a better job with our development."

All of NASA's field centers have technology transfer programs that focus on their different specialties. The partnerships the agency has in mind fall roughly into two areas: businesses working closely with NASA scientists or resources to develop new technology benefitting spaceflight, and enterprises that adapt an existing NASA innovation into a marketable product for uses other than spaceflight. (10/24)

Boeing Numbers Up Sharply on Commercial Satellite, SLS Contracts (Source: Space News)
Boeing said a sharp increase in commercial telecommunications satellite revenue and new contracts for NASA’s Space Launch System were responsible for increased revenue and operating profit in its Network and Space Systems division. Boeing said that for the nine months ending Sep. 30, the division’s revenue was $624 million, up 6 percent from the same period last year. (10/24)

How Many Satellites are in Space? (Source: Universe Today)
The space age began on October 4, 1957 with the launch of the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1. This tiny spacecraft lasted only three months in orbit, finally burning up in the Earth’s atmosphere. Following in these historic footsteps, many more spacecraft have been sent into Earth’s orbit, around the Moon, the Sun, the other planets, and even out of the Solar System itself. There are 1071 operational satellites in orbit around the Earth. 50 percent of which were launched by the United States.

Half of that 1071 are in Low-Earth Orbit, just a few hundred kilometers above the surface. Some of the most notable of these include the International Space Station, the Hubble Space Telescope, and many Earth observation satellites. About a twentieth are in Medium-Earth Orbit, around 20,000 kilometers up, which are generally global positioning satellites used for navigation. A small handful are in elliptical orbits, where their orbit brings them closer and further to the Earth. The rest are in geostationary orbit, at an altitude of almost 36,000 kilometers. (10/24)

Astrium To Build Ku-band Satellite for DirecTV Latin America (Source: Space News)
Astrium Satellites, bolstering its relationship with U.S. satellite-television broadcaster DirecTV, on Oct. 24 said it would build a Ku-band satellite to be launched in early 2016 and operated over Brazil by DirecTV Latin America’s Sky Brasil division. Astrium is also building the DirecTV 15 satellite, to be launched in late 2014; and the Intelsat IS-32 satellite, to be launched in 2016 and used for Brazilian television by DirecTV Latin America. (10/24)

NASA Engages Public to Discover New Uses for Out-of-this-World Technologies (Source: NASA)
NASA has joined forces with the product development startup Marblar (www.marblar.com) for a pilot program allowing the public to crowdsource product ideas for forty of NASA's patents. This initiative will allow Marblar's online community to use a portion of NASA's diverse portfolio of patented technologies as the basis of new product ideas.

Starting today, 14 NASA technologies will be available on Marblar. Over the next four weeks, 26 additional patents will be posted on the website. Anyone can submit ideas and contribute to other submitted ideas over the next year. Commercial partners will study the ideas for potential new products and services, with contributors to successful ideas sharing in their ownership. (10/24)

Mission Accomplished (Source: Space KSC)
The Orbital Sciences Cygnus burned up on re-entry yesterday — as planned — bringing to an end its successful demonstration flight. The mission gives the U.S. two 21st Century robotic spacecraft capable of delivering cargo to the Space Station. The Cygnus burns up on re-entry to dispose of garbage and waste, but the SpaceX Dragon was designed to be reusable so it soft-lands in the ocean. The Dragon is the only U.S. robotic craft capable of returning samples, experiments, and parts needing repair.

The Cygnus return effectively ends the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program, which began in 2006. According to the NASA web site, the agency spent $800 million investing in these two spacecraft. Contrast that with the estimated cost of one Space Shuttle flight, which was roughly the same, and required a crew.

President Bush's Vision for Space Exploration included this statement on the development of this capability: "For cargo transport to the Space Station after 2010, NASA will rely on existing or new commercial cargo transport systems, as well as international partner cargo transport systems. NASA does not plan to develop new launch vehicle capabilities except where critical NASA needs — such as heavy lift — are not met by commercial or military systems." (10/24)

Extraterrestrial Etiquette: How Should Humanity Interact with Alien Life? (Source: Space.com)
Humanity should start thinking about how to interact with alien species long before coming into contact with extraterrestrial life, experts say. Coming up with a strict set of guidelines that govern the way people on future interstellar space missions study and interact with aliens is imperative before anyone blasts off to a distant world, according to attendees at Starship Congress in August.

While a "prime directive" — the rule that prevented Star Fleet officers from interfering with the business of alien life-forms on TV's "Star Trek" — might be a little extreme, such a rule could help govern interactions between aliens and humans. "In the event that we discover evidence of intelligent life on another world, that will be a social, cultural and technologically influential event to human affairs which will need to be managed with great care and to ensure our culture and their culture remains intact and not disrupted by this new knowledge," said Kelvin Long. (10/23)

What Do We Do If/When We Find Aliens? (Source: Earthrise Space)
In the past, we imagined that it was more likely that aliens would come to us, like in Mars Attacks! and Independence Day. Now, after waiting years for their invasion, our view has changed to "What if we're the invaders?" similar to the movie Avatar. What if we discovered life on another planet? What if we had the technology to go to their planet and interact with them? Although the technology to do the latter has not yet been discovered, should we start to consider what we will do if/when we find alien life?

It is hard to imagine that we are the only intelligent civilization in this vast universe, especially when planets similar to our own have been discovered. If we do discover life on another planet, would we follow a rule similar to the "Prime Directive" from Star Trek? This rule forbids starfleet officers from interfering with an alien civilization's development until they are capable of space travel. Let us know what you think! (10/24)

Bob Geldof Completes Astronaut Training (Source: OK)
The veteran rocker paid out £66,600 on a ticket for a seat on the inaugural Space Expedition Corporation (SXC) commercial flight next year (14), and he is undergoing a grueling training regime to get in shape for the launch. Geldof has been working with astronauts in the Netherlands, and had his first experience with a space flight simulator on Sep. 13. Pictures from the training day show the 61-year-old Boomtown Rats frontman strapped into the simulator wearing a suit with an Irish flag motif on the left shoulder. (9/27)

DiBello: Florida Celebrates New Generation of Spaceflight (Source: Florida Times-Union)
The sun is shining on Florida’s most recent commercial space successes. In September, a number of significant milestones were reached in the commercial space industry that Florida is so aggressively pursuing. United Launch Alliance celebrated its 75th successful launch and 40th successful Atlas V rocket mission with an Air Force mission from Cape Canaveral.

On Sept. 29, SpaceX launched the first of its next-generation Falcon 9 rockets carrying more powerful Merlin engines, offering approximately 50 percent more thrust than previous versions and more redundant safety technology. The mission featured the first commercial satellite launch for the Falcon 9.

And on Sept. 30, NASA awarded its first CubeSat-class launch to Generation Orbit Launch Services. The payload will be the first commercial space launch to take place from Cecil Spaceport in Jacksonville, and it is slated to take place in August 2016. Congratulations to the Cecil Field Spaceport Team! These most recent milestones are only scratching the surface. Click here. (10/23)

Mississippi Investment Lures SpaceX to Stennis for Rocket Testing (Source: Mississippi Business Journal)
SpaceX will test a methane fueled rocket engine at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. Mississippi will spend $500,000 and NASA will spend $600,000 to help upgrade a rocket test stand so it can use methane to fuel SpaceX’s Raptor engine. SpaceX is supposed to begin testing in 2014

Mississippi Development Authority spokesman Jeff Rent says the testing could support a handful of jobs, but is important because it could make Stennis more attractive to other private users. The facility will be owned by NASA. Rolls Royce Group, PLC recently opened a $50 million facility to test jet airplane engines at Stennis, with plans to hire up to 35 people. (10/23)

Boeing Delivers Big 3Q Profit (Source: AP)
Third-quarter net income at Boeing rose 12 percent as the company delivered planes to customers at a quicker pace. Boeing raised its profit guidance for the full year as profits from commercial planes rose 40 percent, offsetting a 19 percent profit drop in Boeing's defense division because of a sharp decline in deliveries of military planes. Boeing earned $1.16 billion for the quarter, up from about $1 billion a year earlier. Revenue rose 11 percent to $22.13 billion, also topping analyst expectations. (10/23)

Northrop Q3 Profit Rises (Source: Reuters)
Northrop Grumman reported sharply higher-than-expected third-quarter earnings despite a slight drop in sales. Northrop, like most other weapons makers, has been cutting costs as it braces for a decline in Pentagon spending, which is slated to drop by about $1 trillion over the decade that began in 2013. Revenues are down across the sector, but the decline has not been as bad this year as companies had expected.

However backlogs reflect a slowdown in government orders. The company reported lower revenues in its aerospace, information systems and technical service businesses, but said revenues in its electronic systems division rose by 4 percent in the quarter, lifted by higher volume for international and combat avionics programs. Its total backlog was $37.5 billion at the end of the quarter, down from $40.8 billion at the end of December. (10/23)

General Dynamics Reports Higher 3Q Earnings (Source: AP)
Defense contractor General Dynamics' net income rose 8.5 percent as cost cuts more than offset lower revenue. The results beat Wall Street forecasts. The company offset weaker defense spending by trimming operating costs and generating strong results in its Gulfstream business jets division. Net income climbed to $651 million, from $600 million a year earlier. Revenue fell 1.7 percent but still came in above analysts' $7.75 billion forecast. (10/23)

Cochran: SpaceX Decision Bodes Well for Mississippi Job Growth (Source: Sen. Cochran)
U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) today said the agreement signed between the State of Mississippi and the commercial space company SpaceX bodes well for future job growth at and around NASA  Stennis Space Center. Cochran commended the accord which will involve SpaceX investing in the E-2 test stand at Stennis to support engine research, development and testing of the firm’s Raptor methane rocket engines.  

The agreement, signed by Governor Phil Bryant, also involved the Mississippi Development Authority, Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission and NASA. In recent years, Cochran has supported appropriations measures to upgrade aging Stennis infrastructure, including resources for the E-complex that SpaceX will be further outfitting for methane rocket experiments. (10/23)

Editorial: The 'Gravity' of Obama's Mistaken Space Policy (Source: Baltimore Sun)
A Hollywood film should remind us of how far the president has allowed us to fall behind China. Leaving aside the multitude of technical errors in the film, as someone who has consulted in the space business for a number years, I always welcome it when Hollywood brings much needed attention to human spaceflight and its importance to us as a people and a nation.

As I watched Mr. Clooney play an astronaut in the cinematically stunning film featuring the Space Shuttle, I wondered in what time period such a plot would take place? Certainly not during the presidency of Barack Obama, as Mr. Obama and his assistants have basically shut down our entire human spaceflight program. To his credit, Mr. Obama has never hidden his lack of interest in human spaceflight.

Editor's Note: President Obama has repeatedly expressed enthusiasm for human spaceflight. While saddled with an economic meltdown and other wartime budget challenges during his first term, he made the correct decisions to continue President Bush's shutdown of the Shuttle program and to cancel the budgetarily unachievable Constellation program. What's lacking now is a national will (and Congressional funding) for big near-term human exploration goals. (10/23)

Wolf Shirks Responsibility for Effects of China Ban (Source: All Things Nuclear)
Today, federal law forbids NASA “to develop, design, plan, promulgate, implement, or execute a bilateral policy, program, order, or contract of any kind to participate, collaborate, or coordinate bilaterally in any way with China.” Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA) inserted this sweeping language into a continuing resolution to fund the U.S. government in April 2011.

Wolf’s legislation may contain the word “bilateral” but the history of restricted contact with China, the threat of legal penalties and the Congressman’s passion for the issue combine to create a chilling effect in the U.S. space science community that extends well beyond official bilateral exchanges with NASA. Professors in China are afraid to contact their students doing graduate work in U.S. universities for fear of subjecting them to criminal investigation.

Visas for Chinese participants invited to international scientific conferences in the United States are routinely delayed or denied. Congressional threats to withdraw funding inhibit recipients of U.S. government funds from extending invitations to scientific gatherings to Chinese scholars because the U.S. government considers every Chinese national a representative of the Chinese government as a matter of law. (10/23)

Space is Not Our Friend (Source: NPR)
When something goes wrong in space, and a lot goes wrong in the movie Gravity, the profound beauty of the experience, deeply inspiring at many levels, quickly turns into a nightmare. Space is not our friend. If we manage to survive beyond the Earth, it's due to our inventiveness and drive. To say the universe is conducive to life is borderline preposterous. Just take a good look around our own solar system.

You may argue that life should be around given the vastness of the cosmos and the sheer number of exoplanets. Fair enough. But that's a far cry from a bio-friendly universe. The Earth is bio-friendly, not the cosmos... Despite our species fragility, we still strive to extend our presence and vision across the confines of space. For that, our scientists and engineers should be congratulated and hailed as heroes. (10/23)

Space Dreams Harmed by Political Paranoia (Source: Global Times)
Paradoxically, US universities and scientists are keenly courting Chinese funding and talent, even as the US authorities become more concerned about security. Those concerns might be valid in some areas. But space exploration is supposed to be one of the areas that brings humanity together, not an opportunity for nationalist point-scoring.

China has been consistently more vocal than the US in calling for the demilitarization of space, but both powers are nominally committed to a vision of multilateral cooperation for the future benefit of all of humanity. We should applaud, however, the many US astronomers and NASA affiliates who protested against this move, some even saying they would stay away from the conference unless their Chinese colleagues were allowed to attend. I believe the majority of NASA shares this spirit.

More than anything else, this unity in the face of beleaguered comrades represents the true spirit of academic and scientific solidarity. The NASA conference blunder comes down to a mix of bureaucracy, bad PR, and political point-scoring. At a time when academic freedoms are under threat worldwide, the US should stand up for its own values and not be caught in the trap of paranoia and misunderstanding. (10/23)

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