November 27, 2013

Mica Questions Whether NASA has Let Go of Enough Unused KSC Property (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
NASA is in the midst of a huge yard sale at Kennedy Space Center, peddling unused hangars, assembly buildings, launch complexes and even a landing strip to commercial space companies. But at the request of U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-FL, Congress soon may be asking whether the space agency is cleaning out the closets thoroughly enough.

NASA is trying to save millions of dollars it spends maintaining rocket-launch properties it no longer needs because of the space shuttle's retirement while hoping to fuel the emerging commercial space industry at Cape Canaveral. Mica said he will call for a congressional hearing early next year to explore NASA's options for land or buildings that might no longer be needed among the 140,000 acres and scores of facilities at KSC.

Mica has not suggested that NASA is hoarding assets. But he said he wants to have a look as part of his ongoing crusade to spotlight federal property that's wasted or underused. At stake is how extensively KSC is transformed into a multiuser spaceport, with the Air Force, NASA and commercial space companies working side by side to develop and launch or fly whatever they need. Click here. (11/27)

Nitrogen Tanks Explode at SpaceX’s Texas Rocket Site (Source: Space News)
A pair of nitrogen tanks at SpaceX's rocket test facility in McGregor, Texas, exploded late Nov. 26, according to local authorities. “Anyone that heard the loud boom and felt a rumble outside of McGregor can rest easy,” the McLennan County, Texas, Sheriff’s Department wrote on its Facebook page Nov. 26. “It was two nitrogen filled tanks that over pressurized and ruptured at Space X. Sources are saying no one was injured.”

In a Nov. 27 email, SpaceX spokeswoman Emily Shanklin said the event, “likely the result of over-pressurized gas,” took place at about 10:30 p.m. local time. She confirmed nobody was hurt. The equipment SpaceX was using at the time of the explosion was for slosh-baffle testing, which involves placing structures inside of liquid-filled tanks to control fluid movement.

Editor's Note: Slosh baffle testing...sounds like developmental research for their recoverable Falcon-9 first stage. Their latest recovery attempt was unsuccessful due to fuel slosh problems while the first stage tumbled after stage separation. (11/27)

How to Cook a Zero-G Turkey Dinner (Source:
For American astronauts in space, the lack of gravity is no reason to miss a turkey dinner on Thanksgiving. On Thursday (Nov. 28), while Americans across the U.S. chow down on turkey, cranberries, pumpkin pie and other dishes in honor of Thanksgiving Day holiday, Americans in space will be sure to do the same. The six crewmembers on the International Space Station will eat a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. On the menu are freeze-dried green beans, thermostabilized yams and other dishes prepared to give the astronauts a little taste of home. (11/27)

U.S. Intellectual Property Rules Hinder Space Station Research (Source: Space News)
Zero Gravity Solutions Inc. plans to conduct research in the international space station’s U.S. National Laboratory aimed at producing plants that thrive in new environments: rice that grows in brackish water, drought-resistant corn and citrus trees immune to cold snaps. If the company succeeds in developing those new crops on Earth, the U.S. Plant Varieties Protection Act would provide it with exclusive control over discoveries for at least 20 years.

If the discoveries occur on the space station, however, Zero Gravity Solutions would have exclusive rights to its inventions for only five years. “It could take five years of research to get to the point where you have something you can patent,” said Richard Godwin, director for Boca Raton, Florida-based Zero Gravity Solutions.  Other commercial researchers eager to explore the potential benefits of microgravity on plants, pharmaceuticals and materials express similar concerns that government rules limiting their intellectual property rights could prevent them from profiting from new discoveries. (11/27)

ORS-3 Launch Tested New ATK-developed Flight Safety System (Source: Space News)
The recent successful launch of a Minotaur 1 rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia marked the first flight test of a new on-board safety system aimed at preventing errant rockets from causing damage or bodily harm on the ground.

The GPS-aided Autonomous Range Safety System (AFSS), developed by ATK Defense Group with about $10 million in federal funding, uses tracking data independent from on-board vehicle instruments to calculate whether a rocket is on course after leaving the launch pad. The system determines whether and when it is necessary to destroy a rocket that has strayed from its planned flight path. (11/27)

Why SES Agreed To Be SpaceX’s 1st Customer for a Launch to GEO (Source: Space News)
It is a question that has been asked over and again since March 2011, when satellite fleet operator SES of Luxembourg contracted for a launch with SpaceX. How could SES agree to launch a satellite on a rocket that had never flown to geostationary orbit and never demonstrated its ability to do so?

“The flight history that we gain with each mission is an order of magnitude greater than a rocket that is flying one of a particular type of engine per flight," said Elon Musk. "Having flown the last flight of Falcon 9, we effectively got 10 missions’ worth of flight data on the Merlin engine — because there were 10 [engines]. So you get a much better statistical reliability, much faster. And you see issues with an engine at an order-of-magnitude greater pace than you would otherwise.”

These characteristics, plus the fact that Falcon 9 is capable of completing its mission even if it loses one of the nine first-stage engines, gives the vehicle an inherent reliability far beyond its actual flight heritage, Musk said. To maximize the power available to place the SES-8 telecommunications satellite into a supersynchronous transfer orbit, SpaceX will not to try to recover the rocket’s first stage. (11/27)

Scientists See Unreported Fish Traps From Space (Source: CSM)
Not much can hide from Google Earth – including, it turns out, clandestine fishing traps along the Persian Gulf’s remotest stretches. A team of University of British Columbia scientists has used Google Earth data on the Persian Gulf to report that fish traps called weirs could be catching up to six times more fish than the official reported number of weir trap catches in the region. Their research is the first to use satellite data to report on overfishing. (11/27)

Vostochny Spaceport to be Ready to be Equipped by September 2014 (Source: Itar-Tass)
The launch complex at Vostochny space center will be ready for installation of special equipment in September 2014, deputy head of the Spetsstroi federal special construction agency's regional service (Dalspetsstroi) Pavel Buyanovsky said. The main buildings and structures that will be used to launch spacecraft will be ready to receive special equipment in February. The railroads will be finished in August 2015, he said. Construction work is underway at three sites, on the launch, technical and industrial grounds. (11/27)

Long-Term Missions Ahead Under Russia-Kazakhstan Space Deal (Source: Itar-Tass)
Joint projects will be launched at Kazakhstan's Baikonur cosmodrome in a long-term program of co-operation between the two space agencies of Russia and Kazakhstan. Russia's Roskosmos and Kazakhstan's Kazcosmos plan a development schedule up to 2030, a spokesman for the Kazakh agency said. The deal was agreed by Russian agency head Oleg Ostapenko and Kazakh Talgat Musambaev.

This proposes launching a KazSat-3 satellite in 2014. “The experts exchanged information on a project to establish the Baiterek space rocket complex at Baikonur," the spokesman said. "They also discussed prospects for the Dnepr program and the launch of Kazakhstan’s terrestrial remote sensing satellite KazGeoSat-1 next year. (11/27)

NASA, Planetary Resources Team To Accelerate Asteroid ID (Source: Aviation Week)
NASA and startup Planetary Resources, Inc. have formed the first public/private partnership under the space agency’s Asteroid Grand Challenge (AGC) initiative to accelerate the search for near-Earth objects (NEOs) that pose a collision threat by using government sky surveys and crowdsourced algorithms. The Solar System’s population of known asteroids is 620,000, but that is estimated to be less than 1% of the actual total.

Under a non-reimbursable Space Act Agreement, asteroid mining company Planetary Resources will attempt to increase the total by guiding future crowdsourcing challenges and extending the online availability of NASA-funded sky survey data. NASA will develop and manage the competitions as well as assess the value of the most promising algorithm submissions. (11/27)

Virgin Galactic Goes Live with ABQ Tracking Software (Source: Albuquerque Business Journal)
Albuquerque’s Ultramain Systems Inc. said Tuesday that its wireless data tracking software package for the world’s first spaceline company — Virgin Galactic — has gone live. Ultramain builds wireless systems for pilots and maintenance workers to digitally log all technical issues before, during and after flights, and then mutually share that information in real time when airborne.

This go-live marks a number of first-ever events for both Virgin Galactic and Ultramain Systems, the company said in a news release. In addition to being the first to offer commercial space tourism, Virgin Galactic is the first spaceline to implement commercial grade maintenance and engineering software. (11/27)

DigitalGlobe Foresees Billion-dollar Business in Five Years (Source: Space News)
Geospatial imagery and services provider DigitalGlobe, which forecasts $635 million in revenue for 2013, expects to be a billion-dollar business in five years by increasing its share of its current $2 billion imagery market, establishing rights in the $10 billion market for geospatial information and tapping into the $30 billion market for information services. (11/27)

SpaceX Wants $500,000 From County for Spaceport Incentive (Source: The Monitor)
The McAllen Economic Development Corp. may offer $500,000 to SpaceX, which plans to build the world’s first commercial spaceport near Brownsville. Last week, SpaceX formally requested the $500,000 “performance-based economic development grant,” according to a confidential three-page letter obtained by The Monitor, and pledged to spend $20 million with McAllen-based businesses during the next 10 years.

“Competing states aggressively recruit the space industry by offering incentive programs with up to $20 million in grants annually (approximately 50 percent of total project cost),” according to the letter. “In order to compete, awards from multiple eligible state and local incentive sources are needed to secure the project for South Texas, including the requested performance based incentive from the MEDC.”

SpaceX didn’t respond to requests for comment Tuesday. In March, CEO Elon Musk told the Texas House Appropriations Committee that SpaceX had other options. “We are looking at other potential launch locations. Expanding on our activities in Florida is one; Georgia, Puerto Rico — and there are a few other possibilities,” Musk said. “So it’s not for sure that it would occur, but I would say that Texas is probably our leading candidate right now.” (11/27)

"Genius Materials" on the ISS (Source: NASA)
If you have a smartphone, take it out and run your fingers along the glass surface.  It's cool to the touch, incredibly thin and strong, and almost impervious to scratching. You're now in contact with a "smart material." Smart materials don't occur naturally.  Instead, they are designed by human engineers working at the molecular level to produce substances made-to-order for futuristic applications.

The Corning Gorilla Glass that overlays the displays of many smartphones is a great example. It gets it toughness, in part, from "fat" potassium ions stuffed into the empty spaces between old-fashioned glass molecules. When the molten glass cools during manufacturing, dense-packed molecules solidify into a transparent armor that gives Gorilla Glass its extraordinary properties. Click here. (11/27)

HD Webcam Finally Space Station-Bound With Russian Launch (Source: Space News)
Canada’s UrtheCast sent the first camera designed to provide high-definition streaming video imagery of Earth from the space station on a Nov. 25 launch of Russia’s Progress cargo ship. UrtheCast plans to begin offering the first sample images drawn from its five-meter resolution still camera for public viewing next spring. Later in 2014, the company plans to offer free Internet streaming of that imagery, providing the public with a continuous view of Earth from the space station. (11/26)

With 2 More Cubesats in Orbit, Planet Labs Ships Next Batch of 28 to Wallops (Source: Space News)
Planet Labs, the San Francisco company planning to establish the world’s largest Earth imaging constellation, announced Nov. 26 the successful launch of two satellites and shipment to Virginia of 28 additional spacecraft in preparation for their December launch. (11/26)

NASA Launches Technology Transfer ‘Super Tool’ (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Businesses and individuals interested in using NASA research to develop new technologies and products now have access to an online tool to make the process of licensing easier. The QuickLaunch licensing tool provides access to a select portfolio of NASA technologies for the purpose of licensing and commercial development.

The tool features pre-approved terms and conditions, including fixed, up-front and royalty pricing, a streamlined process for electronic agreements and significantly reduced response and approval times. It provides access to existing, patented NASA technologies to provide rapid and cost-effective deployment to industry. (11/26)

Navy Firefighters Save NASA Satellite (Source: DVIDS)
Civilian firefighters and their leaders based at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling (JBAB) helped save a $450 million satellite, belonging to NASA from destruction, yesterday. JBAB firefighters were dispatched at approximately 1 p.m. to an outside fire at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL).

Firefighters assigned to Engine Co. 41; Truck Co. 21; Ambulance 41 and Battalion Chief 41, joined forces with firefighters assigned to NRL-based Engine Co. 43 to quickly extinguish the fire. Engine Co. 42, based at the nearby Washington Navy Yard, also responded to the scene, but was not needed and was reassigned to another emergency call. (11/26)

Lunar Thyme Lords: Can NASA Bloom the Moon? (Source: New Scientist)
Turnips, cress and basil could sprout on the moon in 2015 if NASA's first plan to grow plants on a world other than Earth comes to fruition. The aim is to find out if the crews of moon bases will be able to grow some of their own greens,a capability that has proved psychologically comforting to research crews isolated in Antarctica and on the International Space Station, NASA says. Click here. (11/26)

ULA, RD-Amross Headed to Court to Defend RD-180 Exclusivity (Source: Space News)
United Launch Alliance (ULA) and RD-Amross, importer of the Russian-built core-stage engine for ULA’s Atlas 5 rocket, want a federal judge to throw out an antitrust lawsuit Orbital Sciences Corp. filed against the companies in July and will appear in court Dec. 6 to make their case.

Orbital has plenty of options, ULA said, including building its own liquid-fueled engine, as competitor SpaceX did for its Falcon 9 rocket, partnering with an engine manufacturer, as ULA did for Atlas 5, or purchasing “any of the first-stage engines used by the many other launch service providers in the world.”

In any case, RD-Amross said in a Nov. 8 court filing, the RD-180 currently cannot be sold outside of Russia except for use with Atlas 5. Any other sale requires the approval of the Russian government, over which no U.S. court has jurisdiction, the company said in court papers. (11/26)

Startup Generation Orbit Launch Service Bets Big on ‘Small Space’ (Source: Space News)
With fresh votes of confidence — and money — from NASA, Generation Orbit Launch Services of Atlanta is working on an air-launch system capable of sending about 40 kilograms of payload to orbit in single shot. The company’s GOLauncher system would use a small business jet to carry a two-stage rocket, with a solid core and a liquid upper stage, to altitude for launch. Its first mission, a 2016 launch for NASA, is slated to take off from GOLauncher’s home base at the Cecil Field Spaceport in Jacksonville, Florida.

In the long term, Generation Orbit is betting on the emergence of a commercial market for tiny satellites. But in the here-and-now, the company is relying on NASA to get flying. On Nov. 12, Generation Orbit netted a $100,000 grand prize in the NASA-sponsored NewSpace Business Plan Competition, which follows a $2.1 million contract it got from the agency in September. To staff up to 10 full-timers and compete for the NASA funding, the company had to spend about $800,000, Chairman and Chief Executive John Olds estimates. (11/26)

EU Backing Away from Combining Milcom Constellations (Source: Space News)
European Union (EU) officials have all but abandoned the idea of pooling Europe’s separate military satellite communications systems into a single constellation and have adopted a backup strategy that would merge the less-strategic satellite requirements into a pan-European system. (11/26)

US Start-Up to Launch Record Number of Satellites (Source: Financial Times)
A small start-up based in San Francisco is making the final preparations for the launch of a record number of satellites next month, after two test devices successfully reached orbit last week. Planet Labs has developed imaging satellites, which are not much bigger than a shoebox, that will circle the earth every few days and beam back high-resolution photographs much more frequently than traditional orbiting cameras. (11/26)

28 Tiny Sats Launching Together In December to See Earth (Source:
The world's biggest constellation of Earth-imaging satellites has arrived at its launch site in preparation for liftoff just a few weeks from now. San Francisco-based startup Planet Labs delivered the 28 tiny satellites that will make up its "Flock 1" fleet to NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia earlier this month. The constellation is slated to blast off for the International Space Station aboard a private cargo vessel on Dec. 15, then be deployed from the orbiting lab a month or so later, Planet Labs officials said. (11/26)

Russia Plans Asteroid-Monitoring System in Space in Next Ten Years (Source: Itar-Tass)
Vitay Lopota, president of the Energia Rocket and Space Corp., believes a monitoring system should be created in outer space to reduce comet and asteroid risks. Lopota said that an asteroid bound for Earth can develop a speed of up to 30 kilometers per second and cover a distance of 1.5 million kilometers in 24 hours. “It is very important for us to be able to see an asteroid at least several days before it hits the Earth in order to calculate where exactly it is going to fall and evacuate the population from those areas,” Lopota explained. (11/26)

Why Jupiter's Red Spot Won't Die (Source: Discovery)
Jupiter’s signature Great Red Spot is sort of the Doctor Who of storms: It just won’t die — even when it has been proven that it must die. And now, for the first time, some fluid dynamicists have finally hit on some of the secrets to the giant storm’s longevity. “It’s the largest, most enduring storm in the solar system,” said Philip Marcus of University of California, Berkeley.

The Red Spot is about 24,000 km across, east to west, 12,000 km from north to south, and a mere 40 km deep. Its wind are roaring around at about 225 miles per hour and this incredible monster has been observed from Earth almost continuously for at least 150 years, he said. But based on all the modeling that’s been done, it just isn’t possible. “It should have disappeared in about four years according to the models,” Marcus said. “How do you go from four years to 150 years?” Click here. (11/26) 

China Aims for the Moon (Source: Nature)
Next month, a Chinese spacecraft called Chang’e-3 is scheduled to use braking rockets to lower itself gently onto the plains of Sinus Iridum, a broad swathe of lava flows on the near side of the Moon. The probe will then roll out a six-wheeled rover — the first machinery to explore the Moon’s surface since 1976, when the Soviet Luna 24 mission scooped up a handful of soil and flew it back to Earth.

If Chang’e-3 lands safely on the Moon, China will join the Soviet Union and the United States as the only nations to have successfully landed exploratory spacecraft there. “You cannot call the Chinese a rising or emerging space power any more,” says Bernard Foing, a lunar scientist at the European Space Agency in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. “They have shown they are very advanced.” (11/26)

China’s Space Program Is Taking Off (Source: Aviation Week)
China's engineers have caught up with Europe when Europe was 20 years behind the space-racing superpowers. But by 2020 or a little thereafter, when the International Space Station (ISS) may be on its last legs, Chinese space managers expect to have a Mir-class space station in orbit. There is a fair chance that Europe and at least one of the original spacefaring nations, Russia, will have contributed to its construction.

As was the case with the Cold War space powers, China's leaders are using human spaceflight to signal the world—and the long-suffering Chinese people—that Beijing's state-capitalism approach has won modern superpower status for their ancient society. The new Chinese space station—also to be called Tiangong (Heavenly Palace)—will be open to all comers, a Chinese-led version of the ISS that merged the two Cold War superpowers' manned space programs. (11/26)

KSC Visitor Complex Guests Invited to Celebrate ‘Holidays in Space’ Nov. 29 – Jan. 5 (Source: KSCVC)
From Nov. 29 through Jan. 5, Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex celebrates the third annual “Holidays in Space.” The Visitor Complex will be adorned with a stunning array of holiday decorations, host daily visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus and spark the imagination with the new “Through the Toy Box: An Out-of-this-World Collection,” featuring toys, both vintage and contemporary, inspired by outer space. (11/26)

No comments: