December 11, 2013

Cheerleading Science Teams Picked for Space Station Research (Source: Science Cheerleader)
Microbes collected from the practice and game fields of seven Pop Warner cheer teams will soon blast into orbit for research on the International Space Station. Pop Warner Little Scholars and Science Cheerleader LLC announced the samples chosen by Project MERCCURI. The project investigates how microbes from Earth compare to each other and those found on the International Space Station (ISS).

A dozen Pop Warner cheer teams participated in events to collect microbes from their practice and games fields, and the microbes of seven teams were selected to fly on the Space Station. They will compete against 33 other microbes collected from NFL and NBA stadiums and other landmark surfaces in the Microbial Space Playoffs to see which samples grow the fastest.

The seven sample teams were announced at Disney World in Orlando during a cheerleading competition. They include three Florida teams, including the Apopka Blue Darters, the Lauderhill Broncos, and the Lake Brantley Patriots. The microbes will be flown to the ISS via the Space X rocket, scheduled to blast off from the Kennedy Space Center during the first quarter of 2014. Click here. (12/11)

Student Experiment Headed to the ISS on Antares Rocket (Source: SpaceRef)
When Amy McCormick's class developed their science experiment studying Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), they could only dream of flying it to space. Their experiment won the Teachers In Space annual spaceflight contest and later this month, their dream will become a reality when it launches to the International Space Station (ISS).

Tucked into a storage rack aboard the Cygnus (along with 22 other experiments flying as part of Mission 4 of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program), these experiments will blast off to the ISS on top of an Antares rocket from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (M.A.R.S.). This will be the first commercial flight to the ISS provided by Orbital Sciences. SpaceX is the only other commercial company providing ISS resupply. (12/11)

Meteor Explodes Over Arizona (Source: CNN)
A resounding boom over Tucson, Arizona, roused residents from their dinner tables Tuesday and had them pointing up to the sky. The largest meteor shower of the year seemed to be giving them a sneak preview, as a whopper of a rock roared past over their heads.

It exploded, rattling their houses, and a dash cam captured it on video as it vanished in a bright blaze. The spectacular annual Geminid meteor shower officially starts Thursday. Now, even with 100 to 120 meteors per hour at its peak, it has given itself a tough act to follow. (12/11)

Reminder: Finding Asteroids Is Hard (Source: Slate)
At 6:17 a.m. EST today, the asteroid 2013 XY8 passed the Earth at a distance of just 760,000 kilometers (470,000 miles), less than twice the distance to the Moon. It orbits the Sun every 3.3 years, swinging out about halfway to Jupiter's orbit, and coming in to just inside Earth's orbit. There’s no danger from an impact from this space rock this time, and current data show it won’t come near the Earth again until 2072.

But XY8 is a good reminder that there are lots of asteroids out there, and we need to find them. And it’s also a good reminder that finding them isn’t all that easy. On average, asteroids reflect about 4 percent of the light that hits them; using that number XY8 to calculate its size we get it’s 30 – 70 meters across, or about the size of a basketball court on the lower end, and more than half a football field on the higher one.

Were that to hit the Earth — and again, it won’t, but just suppose — it would be pretty bad. Remember, the Chelyabinsk asteroid which hit Russia in February 2013 was only 19 meters across! XY8 is 5 to 50 times more massive, so it would make a pretty decent bang. (12/11)

India Has Second-Most Applicants for One-Way to Mars (Source: NDTV)
Over 200,000 people, including more than 20,000 Indians, have applied for an ambitious private mission that will send four men and women on a one-way trip to Mars in 2023 to establish a permanent space colony. In the five-month application period, Mars One received interest from 202,586 people from around the world, with ten per cent of the applicants from India alone. (12/11)

Space Badge Renamed, New Guidance Issued (Source: AFSPC)
The current Space Badge will be renamed the Space Operations Badge beginning Jan. 1, 2014. Wear of the badge will be focused on personnel with core 13S and 1C6 Air Force Specialty Codes, grandfathered are space professionals of all other AFSCs awarded the badge prior to Jan. 1, 2014, and non-operations personnel awarded the badge after meeting certain criteria. (12/10)

Cassini Spies Object at Edge of Saturn’s Rings (Source: WIRED)
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has spotted an object located right at the edge of Saturn’s A ring that is confounding scientists. Its name? Peggy. This strange something was spotted by accident on April 15 when Cassini’s cameras were aimed at a tiny moon named Prometheus that orbits just inside another of Saturn’s rings. A member of the mission’s imaging team noticed an odd kink at the A ring’s edge that jutted outward.

Because he was analyzing the images on April 19, the same day as his mother-in-law’s 80th birthday, Murray named the mystery object after her. Peggy (the object) appears to be about 1 kilometer in diameter, much too small to be a moon or even moonlet, which are generally at least 10 times bigger. Cassini’s cameras can only see down to about 10 km, so Peggy is only known by the interference it causes. (12/11)

Top NASA Scientists Grapple with Budget Cuts (Source: Planetary Society)
Top NASA scientists tried to focus on the bright side Monday, highlighting the unprecedented productivity of current space science missions, despite a continued future of diminishing budgets. Dr. Ellen Stofan, NASA's Chief Scientist, and Dr. John Grunsfeld, the head of NASA's Science Mission Directorate and Hubble-repair astronaut, both emphasized the breadth of science returns at the 2013 American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

“Given the tough fiscal climate, I actually feel very proud of how we’ve been able to try and address almost all of the high-priority items in the Decadal Surveys," Grunsfeld said. "The one we have the most problem with is the cadence of missions. We are constrained in missions.” (12/10)

Skybox Unveils First Images From New Satellite (Source: Space News)
The first images taken by a minifridge-size satellite launched late last month were publicly released Dec. 11 by Skybox Imaging, the startup that intends to launch 23 more satellites in the years ahead to provide timely access to high-resolution imagery. Skybox-1 is a 100-kilogram satellite built to collect submeter resolution imagery and high-definition video, launched Nov. 21 from Yasny, Russia, aboard a Dnepr rocket. Skybox-2 is slated to launch later this winter from Baikonur aboard a Russian Soyuz-Fregat rocket. (12/11)

Stratolaunch Quietly Making Progress (Source: Aviation Week)
Stratolaunch Systems is quietly starting up production inside its recently opened 88,000 square ft. site at Mojave, Calif. The facility is laying up the first parts of the enormous composite wing and fuselage sections of the 385-ft span carrier aircraft which will carry the Orbital Sciences-built multi-stage booster [informally called Pegasus-2 by some] to launch altitude.

Provisional details of the booster itself have also been revealed by Orbital. Measuring around 128 ft. long, the payload will be encased in a 16.4 ft. diameter fairing. Gross lift off (or drop) weight is expected to be over 465,000 lb., with the rocket able to deliver 13,200 lb. to LEO and 9,900 lb. to a highly inclined (HIO) orbit. Flight testing of the 6-engined carrier aircraft is expected to begin in 2016 with first launch of the rocket in 2018. Editor's Note: I have added the 'Pegasus-2' to my chart of international launch vehicles, here. (10/4)

How Lori Garver Can Advance Space at ALPA (Source: SPACErePORT)
Former NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver is now the general manager of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), a labor union representing about 50,000 pilots. At NASA she championed the agency's embrace of commercial space partnerships and she has remained a vocal supporter of commercial space at her new job, taking time this week to meet with the FAA's Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC). She told COMSTAC that the U.S. should accelerate its efforts to advance commercial spaceflight.

Although she's no longer in government, Garver can still actively support spaceflight interests within the scope of her ALPA responsibilities. Pilots everywhere will one day (soon?) have to deal with space vehicles ascending and descending through the FAA-managed National Airspace System (NAS), but not enough is being done to safely enable this activity with NextGen technology upgrades to the NAS. ALPA could become an influential advocate for integrating space transportation capabilities into NextGen.

ALPA represents mainly U.S. and Canadian airline pilots, but space transportation is a global enterprise and other nations are also grappling with the regulatory requirements for spaceflight. As international point-to-point spaceflight becomes a reality, the U.S. will certainly want its own regulatory framework to become the international standard, instead of relying on the E.U. or other foreign governments to set the rules. ALPA can actively lobby for U.S. leadership through the accelerated adoption of U.S. regulatory structures for commercial spaceflight. (12/11)

NRC Panel Pans NASA’s Draft Science Plan (Source: Aviation Week)
NASA's draft science plan looks as if it “was written by a committee without the benefit of a cohesive editing effort,” raising serious concerns about the long-term health of the U.S. space-science effort. A panel of scientists from fields NASA spends $5 billion a year to address finds that the draft strategic plan fails to tackle the agency's uncertain funding outlook in a meaningful way. This means important exploration capabilities could fall by the wayside and “a generation of scientists” may be lost in some disciplines, they say.

“One of the most fundamental challenges [facing the Science Mission Directorate (SMD)] is the uncertain and apparently decreasing level of available funding for space science in real terms, because this has dramatic and real impacts to plans and execution,” a National Research Council (NRC) panel, convened to review the draft science plan, concluded. “This fiscal reality makes it more important than ever for SMD to have a clearly articulated and consistently applied method for prioritizing why and how its scarce fiscal resources will be apportioned.”

The panel's report, requested by Associate Administrator John Grunsfeld, the Hubble-servicing astronaut who runs SMD, underscores the problems NASA faces in sustaining the space-science program it built over 50-plus years. It was prepared by the Space Studies Board panel that was chaired by the University of Michigan's Dr. James P. Bagian, who conducted biomedical research as an astronaut-scientist on two shuttle missions. (12/10)

NASA Unveils 6-foot 'Superhero Robot' Valkyrie (Source: CNet)
What if NASA's Robonaut grew legs and indulged in steroids? The result might be close to what NASA has unveiled: Valkyrie is a humanoid machine billed as a "superhero robot." Developed at the Johnson Space Center, Valkyrie is a 6.2-foot, 275-pound hulk designed to compete in the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC).

It will go toe to toe with the Terminator-like Atlas robot from Boston Dynamics in what's shaping up to be an amazing modern-day duel. In an interesting twist, Valkyrie seems to be a girl. While officially genderless, "Valkyrie" (a nickname, since the official designation is R5) evokes the goddess-like females of Norse myth. Click here. (12/10)

Wallops Shoreline to Get Sand Infusion (Source: DelMarVa Now)
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced an agreement with NASA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers authorizing the dredging of up to one million cubic yards of sand from the outer continental shelf to restore the shoreline at NASA’s Wallops Island Flight Facility in Virginia. The project will provide material to restore more than 2 miles of beach and dunes that protect some of NASA’s most critical launch assets. (12/9)

Could There Be Flowing Streams on Mars? (Source:
NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has found signs that researchers say could point to flowing salt water on Mars, a seasonal occurrence near the planet's equator. The dark streaks occur on the planet in warmer seasons, and may indicate liquid runoff that stops when temperatures cool. (12/10)

Optimism as EADS Picks Portsmouth as Major Site (Source: Portsmouth News)
Space firm Astrium’s Hilsea site has been picked as one of three to be kept under a major shake-up of its operations. Parent company EADS has announced it will cut 5,800 jobs across Europe as part of a major restructuring of its organization. Part of the announcement included a change to its presence in the UK.

EADS has eight major sites in the UK, and plans to bring those down to just three as part of a ‘substantial consolidation’. Around 950 people are employed at its Portsmouth site, in Hilsea, which builds satellites. That site has been chosen as one of the three which will remain. (12/10)

Germany Calls on EADS to Cut Jobs Fairly Across Europe (Source: Space News)
Germany called on EADS Tuesday to implement its plan for job cuts carefully and to avoid unfair staff losses on German sites. EADS, the parent of Europe's aircraft maker Airbus, said Monday it will cut 5,800 jobs in Europe through 2016 across its military and space units.

"We call on the aeronautic and space company to implement the planned job cuts as gently and in as socially balanced a way as possible and assume that this won't burden German sites one-sidedly," the economics ministry said in a statement. "The aim must be to create for the staff the greatest possible degree of transparency regarding their future."

It said that Germany will continue to closely monitor the planned changes for the company and to continue talks with EADS. The ministry also reminded the company that the German federal government is providing direct and indirect aid to EADS. Earlier, French labor minister Michel Sapin said EADS shouldn't cut its overall staffing level in France. (12/10)

EADS Breaks Redundancy Taboo in Plan to Cut 5,800 Jobs (Source: Reuters)
Airbus parent EADS risked a collision with unions and European politicians by unveiling plans to cut 5,800 mainly defence and space jobs that for a first time include significant forced redundancies, driven by weak European budgets.

Breaking a taboo on forced job cuts throughout most of its 13-year history, the aerospace group said 1,500 people would be found new posts and some would not see temporary contracts renewed, but 1,000-1,450 people could not be spared redundancy. (12/10)

Increased Financial Risk Inherent In ULA EELV Deal (Source: Aviation Week)
In an unprecedented move, the United Launch Alliance (ULA) is planning to resource its industrial base at a level beyond the number of rocket orders placed by the Pentagon. As the monopoly supplier and operator of the Atlas V and Delta IV boosters to the Pentagon and intelligence community, ULA has typically built rockets based on the number of missions manifested.

And the Pentagon has ordered them one at a time—the least efficient and most costly method of purchasing hardware and services. The Defense Department typically spends about $2 billion annually on the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program. (12/9)

Air Force Cautiously Tests Commercial Launch Model (Source: Aviation Week)
To call launch market upstart SpaceX a change agent would not be an overstatement. The company is bursting onto the scene with the stated goal of CEO Elon Musk to break the monopoly for U.S. national security launches now held by the United Launch Alliance's (ULA) Atlas V and Delta IV rockets. Air Force officials say they are already seeing ULA take measures to become more efficient and reduce cost (see page 43). And SpaceX is infusing the market with new manufacturing and design techniques. (12/10)

Privatized Space Exploration Offers New Chance for U.S. to Re-Enter the Race (Source: Iowa State Daily)
As our economy slowly recovers from its lapse a few years ago, many have begun to urge increased funding be put back toward many programs. One of these programs is NASA, from which President Barack Obama cut funding in 2010. The president’s budget for NASA in 2011 didn’t include funding for manned space expeditions or the Constellation Program, which would have provided upkeep for space shuttles.

Though NASA has lost attention since the great global "space race" of the 1960s and ‘70s, many still recognize space exploration as a venture worthy of many tax dollars. Unfortunately, it seems that our government is not one of those groups. The 2013 budget for NASA was diminished even further, with nearly $310 million cut. Government spokespersons defend the budget by saying that the US still plans to remain in the foreground of space exploration.

However, it is difficult to see how that will be accomplished with lowered budgets. It seems that federal curiosity died at the turn of the millennia. To remedy this situation, we can protest the cuts and say loud and clear to our government that space exploration is still a priority, not a field that we feel should be left to Russia, India, China or any other country. However, as fiscal appropriations are made annually, and our government has recently proven itself to be a stagnant pool for legislation, this may not be enough. (12/10)

NASA: Some Perspective and Gratitude (Source: WTOP)
Americans are aware of NASA but I do not think they realize how much NASA does and for how little money. Do you know what NASA's budget is for 2014? Thanks to our deadlocked and dysfunctional Congress there is no approved budget for the Government.

NASA is looking at roughly $17.7 billion requested by President Barack Obama for FY2014. That breaks down to roughly 15 cents a day per American and less than 1 cent a day per human on the planet. I include this last figure as much of what NASA does benefits all of humanity, not just Americans. To put NASA's budget in perspective, consider these facts - Americans spend $61 billion on their pets per year. Also, a white collar criminal was ordered to pay $170 billion in restitution to his victims

NASA's budget is under review by OMB and facing absurd cuts like shutting down Cassini at Saturn - a perfectly functioning spacecraft monitoring the whole Saturnian system. Hear what Bill Nye the Science Guy says in an "Open Letter" to President Obama and what you can do to help. (12/10)

Over-Budget ICESat 2 Mission Under Review (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
NASA has notified Congress of an expected budget breach on the ICESat 2 mission, a satellite mired in technical difficulties with its ice-measuring laser altimeter and plagued by rising costs and launch delays. Officials disclosed their concerns with ICESat 2's budget in a presentation to the NASA Advisory Council's science committee on Dec. 3.

Michael Freilich, director of NASA's Earth science division, told the advisory panel the Ice, Cloud,and land Elevation Satellite 2 mission is having "significant technical and program management difficulties." NASA is required by law to inform Congress when a mission appears likely to overrun its approved budget by more than 15 percent, according to Space News, which first reported ICESat 2's budget trouble. (12/10)

Marshall Hosts Collaboration Day to Showcase Partnership Opportunities (Source: SpaceRef)
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center will host the second annual Marshall Collaboration Forum on Dec. 12 at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center's Davidson Center. The forum, "Partnerships for the Future," is designed to encourage collaboration among industry, academia and government agencies. The day will include information on ways businesses can partner with the Marshall Center and the resources, expertise and facilities available at the center for use by outside entities. (12/10)

NASA Morpheus Vehicle Flies Without a Tether at KSC (Source: Hobby Space)
NASA’s Project Morpheus has moved their vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) vehicle (modeled after Armadillo Aerospace‘s quad vehicles) to Kennedy Space Center, where they can do un-tethered free flights. The first such free flight test took place today. Click here. (12/10)

Lagrangian Real Estate: Places in Space (Source: JC Conway)
Space is not a void without terrain. Although the features are hard to see, they can be mapped, and there are places near Earth that are sufficiently stable to be “home” for objects and structures. There are five well-known points in space named after the Joseph Louis Lagrange, who published an “Essay on the three-body problem” in 1772, just a few years after Leonhard Euler discovered the first three of the five points.

The points, named L1 through L5, are places where the gravity of two orbiting bodies equalize so that an object at the point can remain relatively stationary with respect to the two orbiting bodies. The Trojan Asteroids are an example of groups of objects in the L4 and L5 points of the Sun-Jupiter orbital system. L4 and L5 are very stable (objects near them tend to circle the points rather than drift away), and are likely locations for future man-made colonies or industrial facilities. Click here. (12/10)

Whitesides Reaffirms 2014 Commercial Launch Date for Virgin (Source: Parabolic Arc)
SpaceShipTwo was outside on the ramp at the Mojave Air and Space Port on Monday, slung under its WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft and sporting some blast-from-the-past modifications that appear to be right out of the Eisenhower era. Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides has been in the United Kingdom, where he said that the company is “on track” for the start of commercial spaceflights despite the relatively slow pace of SpaceShipTwo flight test program.

I’m skeptical of Virgin Galactic’s ability to begin commercial service next year for several reasons. One, the company has never been correct in any of its previous predictions, so they have a poor track record.  At some point they have to be right, but there are factors pointing in the other direction. One issue is the slow pace of flight test. Months go by while engineers and technicians address issues that cropped up during test flights and make modifications to the vehicle so it can perform better. Eventually, the pace will pick up, but it’s difficult to predict when that will occur.

Finally, multiple sources here in Mojave have told me there are on-going efforts to develop alternatives to the underpowered nitrous/oxide rubber hybrid engine they have been using to test SpaceShipTwo. I have personally witnessed tests of what sources say are alternative engines. Sources indicate there are serious doubts about whether the current engine can get SpaceShipTwo all the way to a 100 km altitude with a payload. They also tell me it’s uncertain when alternative engines will be ready for flight test. (12/10)

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