December 18, 2013

Budget Nears Final Senate Approval (Source: New York Times)
The Senate on Tuesday moved closer to passing a budget, voting 67-33 to end debate on the measure and bring it before the full Senate, most likely today. The plan received bipartisan support, and shows a willingness to avoid the budget deadlock experienced over the last several years. (12/17)

Mock Mars Mission: How Science on Earth Can Help Build Martian Colony (Source:
If a solar flare is on its way to the Mars Desert Research Station in January, Joseph Jessup wants to make sure Crew 133 is prepared to react if necessary. That's why he's driving from Arizona to the Mars Society facility in Utah with a radio telescope in the back of his car.

His portable telescope can not only detect solar particles at a range of 20 megahertz, but at night (after the sun has set) could be turned to Jupiter to spot electromagnetic radiation emanating from the immense planet. Utah, of course, is safely underneath Earth's atmosphere, but the research would have applications for a future Mars colony. Mars has no appreciable magnetic field. This makes it easier for harmful solar particles to bleed through to the surface, putting colonists at a higher risk of cancer and other illnesses from radiation. (12/16)

Elon Musk Explains What He Actually Does At His Companies (Source: Business Insider)
Elon Musk is the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, the chairman at SolarCity, the man behind the Hyperloop and the father of five children. We asked Musk to explain how he does it all, and what his day-to-day responsibilities are at his companies. Click here. (12/2) 

NASA Pushing Hard to Get Back Into Space Game (Source: Washington Times)
NASA is fighting hard to get back in the space game, launching a massive drive to develop new technology that will remind politicians America should take the lead in galaxy exploration — not China and not Iran. The agency is showcasing its Robonaut program, a technological advance that is aimed at helping scientists on the space station. And NASA officials are trying to develop a 3D printer that’s capable of constructing items and facilities on the moon and on other planets.

In a recent tour for select members of the media, actual NASA program leaders — rather than public relations spokesmen — showcased new equipment that could launch the agency back into the human space travel game within three years, Design News reported. And that space travel could include trips to Mars, the program leaders claimed.

Chief among the messages that NASA officials wanted to send: All these technological wonders could be ready for take-off within three years of receiving the thumbs-up from politicians and Capitol Hill funders, Design News said.
The agency suggested it was making the push because of new advancements made by China and Iran. The Chinese just landed a rover on the moon, while the Iranians claimed to have sent a monkey — for the second time — into space. (12/18)

Best Place to Work in Federal Government? It's NASA. Again. (Source: Daily Press)
The best place to work in federal government? A newly released annual survey shows that, among big government agencies, it’s NASA. The same as last year. The Best Places to Work in Federal Government study by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service and the international consulting agency Deloitte found NASA scored highest among federal agencies with more than 15,000 employees, according to an online Government Executive report.

Analysts looked at 10 categories from pay satisfaction to effective leadership, the best use of job skillsets to advancement. The study, however, also found federal employees overall are the unhappiest they’ve been in a while — job satisfaction across the board dipped for the third straight year: an index score of 57.8 out of a possible 100, compared to 60.8 last year. (12/18)

XCOR Announces Spacecraft Expected to Fly By Summer 2014 (Source: NewsWest 9)
Space could soon be just a 15 minute rocket ride away. XCOR announced updates in their plans to make Midland the place to be if you want an adventure that's literally out of this world. Officials say if you're healthy enough to garden, you can probably take a flight to outer space, it just depends on whether you you're a thrill seeker and if you can put up $100,000 for the ticket and that would include a medical evaluation, G4 training, a three day training camp, kind of like a Rocket 101, among other variable options.

After 14 years and six or seven revisions on the engine, it seems as if the pieces are all coming together for XCOR to start testing out their space shuttle. The engine was the first step before being able to complete a final design for the aircraft and now that has been completed. They're just waiting on one significant part. "The cockpit, the pressure vessel. It's the largest and most complex piece in the vehicle," according to the XCOR Chief Operating Officer, Andrew Nelson. But once that's finished, they plan to start taking it to the runway.

Nelson said they'll start that flight test program in Midland, unless the space launch licence isn't ready, in which case, they would run the initial tests out in California, where the company is still located and eventually finish the flight test program back in Midland. (12/18)

NASA Taps 10 Informal Learning Institutions for Collaboration Grants (Source: NASA)
NASA has selected proposals from informal education institutions in 10 states to further its goal of attracting more students to careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). They will share approximately $7.7 million in grants through NASA’s Competitive Program for Science Museums, Planetariums and NASA Visitor Centers Plus Other Opportunities (CP4SMPVC).

The organizations are located across the U.S. and include six museums and four NASA visitor centers. They will create interactive exhibits, virtual worlds, professional development activities, and community-based programs to engage students, teachers and the public in STEM. The selected projects have performance periods from one to five years and range in value from approximately $500,000 to $1 million. Editor's Note: Among the winners is the Florida-based Miami Science Museum. (12/16)

Will China Restart the Space Race? (Source: USA Today)
On Saturday, a Chinese lunar probe made the first soft landing anyone's made on the moon since 1976. The Chang'e-3 probe means that China is one of only three countries -- joining the United States and the old Soviet Union -- to accomplish such a feat. The probe includes an unmanned rover named Yutu that will spend several months exploring "geological structure and surface substances and looking for natural resources.'' But will China try to claim the ground it explores? Possibly.

Though the landing was a big deal in China, most of the rest of the world responded with a yawn. Moon landing? Been there, done that. But October Sky author Homer Hickam was more excited. He wondered on Twitter if China might want to make a territorial claim on the moon, noting that the area the lander is exploring may contain an abundance of Helium-3, a potentially valuable fusion energy fuel that is found only on the moon. Click here. (12/18)

China, Iran, and Santa (Source: National Review)
While we argued over Santa Claus’s color (white, black, or multicolored?), China roved across the moon. Iran sent a monkey into orbit and returned him safely to earth. America, we have a problem. To be sure, it’s easy to look and laugh, “You’re 50 years behind us.” Easy, but ill judged. Such a casual understanding neglects the defining truth here. Ultimately, the Santa–space dichotomy isn’t about technological power, it’s about national purpose. We need to grasp that fact. Fast.

Consider what these space missions actually mean for the Chinese and the Iranians. It’s tempting to look at space monkey “Fargam” and see only “cuteness.” For Americans who see space exploration in the imagery of decades of manned missions, Fargam doesn’t appear all that serious. But Fargam is far more than a PR stuntmonkey. He’s a traveling messenger for the Iranian revolution — “there are no limits to our aspiration.”

y riding a rocket-launched capsule into space and then achieving a controlled reentry, Fargam has helped advance Iran’s weaponized-missile program. According to the Defense Department, Iranian progress with two-stage missile systems suggests that Iran may have the capability to attack the U.S. mainland by 2015. (12/18)

Mojave Marks 10th Anniversary of First SpaceShipOne Powered Flight (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Ten years ago, SpaceShipOne flew under power for the first time, breaking the sound barrier in the skies over Mojave and commencing a successful series of flights that culminated in the winning of the $10 million Ansari X Prize. Scaled Composites chose Dec. 17, 2003 — the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers historic first powered flight — to light the candle on their suborbital space plane. Pilot Brian Binnie flew SpaceShipOne to a speed of Mach 1.2 and an altitude of 20.67 km. (12/17)

NASA and Space-X Test Spacecraft in Morro Bay (Source: KSBY
As if the skies themselves haven't been spectacular enough the last day or so, anyone looking upward in Morro Bay today saw quite a show: an Erickson Air Crane carrying a spacecraft out over the bay to the Pacific. As part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, Space X and NASA are working together to modify Space-X's Dragon spacecraft for human space flight.

They were hoping to test how the spacecraft's parachutes deploy and how the spacecraft lands today, but ended up bringing the module back to the Dynegy plant for another attempt later in the day or tomorrow. Similar tests were conducted in Morro Bay back in 2010. The Dragon spacecraft being carried over Morro Bay today is currently delivering cargo to and from the ISS for NASA. The tests being conducted will help NASA and Space X make any modifications necessary to have the Dragon start fliying astronauts and other crew members as early as 2015. (12/17)

‘Satan’ Rocket Could Step in to Launch More Russian Satellites (Source: RIA Novosti)
Russia could convert more of its RS-20 ballistic missiles to launch domestic satellites in place of other less reliable rockets, the commander of Russia’s Strategic Missile Force said on Tuesday. Nineteen RS-20 missiles, known in the West as the SS-18 Satan, have been converted for use by ISC Kosmotras to launch mostly foreign satellite payloads since 1999. The converted missile is known as the Dnepr rocket.

“There have been recent proposals for the use of the Dnepr for launching our satellites in light of the problems with our other launchers,” Karakaev said. He added that while the decision was not his to make, the Strategic Missile Force was ready to meet the task. (12/18)

Why Halley's Comet May Be Linked to Famine 1,500 Years Ago (Source:
The ancients had ample reason to view comets as harbingers of doom, it would appear. A piece of the famous Halley's comet likely slammed into Earth in A.D. 536, blasting so much dust into the atmosphere that the planet cooled considerably, a new study suggests. This dramatic climate shift is linked to drought and famine around the world, which may have made humanity more susceptible to "Justinian's plague" in A.D. 541-542 — the first recorded emergence of the Black Death in Europe. (12/18)

Boeing Promotes Key Leaders to Position for Future Growth (Source: Boeing)
oeing Chairman, President and CEO Jim McNerney today announced the promotion of two top executives to vice chairmen, the naming of a company president and chief operating officer, and the selection of new leaders for Boeing Defense, Space & Security and Boeing Military Aircraft. Click here. (12/18)

Ukraine's Boyko Says Nation Looks to Expand Presence in Space (Source: Kiev Post)
Ukraine is ready to expand its presence in the global space cooperation with countries with developed space industries, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Yuriy Boiko said. Commenting on negotiations held in late October in the U.S., including NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, the Ukrainian deputy premier said: "We need to understand the whole policy of NASA, because America is the leader of space programs and we want to understand what way our space society will go in the future. And we want to understand the place of Ukraine in this."

Boiko said that NASA’s Mars program is very interesting among the large-scale and promising NASA space projects. "We are ready to take some steps toward this program because our specialists have advanced research in radiation protection. This may be an area where Ukraine can contribute its expertise the international consortium that will be behind the NASA Mars effort," he said. The deputy prime minister pointed at a project on the creation of the Antares rocket jointly with the United States.

Editor's Note: Ukraine seems to be the subject of an ongoing tug-of-war between Russia and Europe (the U.S. being on Europe's side) to determine whether the nation's future lies with European integration or returning to closer ties with Russia. Perhaps collaboration with U.S. and European space programs would tilt the balance. Ukraine's Yuzhnhoye rocket maker has expressed interest in launching their proposed Mayak vehicle from Florida. (12/18)

Ukraine Talks Alternative Engine for Antares, Govt. Support for SeaLaunch (Source: Kyev Post)
Ukraine's deputy prime minister pointed at a project on the creation of the Antares rocket jointly with the United States. Space Agency Chairman Yuriy Alekseyev said that "the RD-861K engine, which was developed for the Cyclone 4’s upper stage and has been fully tested on the ground in Ukraine, might someday be a good fit for Antares."

Asked if the Ukrainian government is willing to offer Sea Launch financial assistance if it is needed to keep the company in business (after its reorganization in 2010 as a part of the bankruptcy procedure the new majority shareholder –- Russia's Rocket-Space Corporation Energia -– faced difficulties with crediting in Russia), the deputy premier said: "First of all this is a fully commercial project. The government is out of this process."

"We must support the companies involved in this project, but I’m not ready to say that the government will pay money to this project because it’s fully separate, it’s profitable and it’s living its own commercial life. But as a government of course we want this project to continue." Among top-priority projects of the Ukrainian space sector is the project on the creation of the Cyclone 4 rocket at Brazil's Alcantara space center, Boiko said. (12/18)

Planet Labs Raises $52 Million to Launch a Swarm of Satellites (Source: c/net)
Planet Labs, a startup that plans to launch large numbers of small satellites for customers that need frequently updated high-resolution imagery, has raised $52 million in second-round funding. The San Francisco-based company aims to offer an "unprecedented combination of resolution and frequency" with a fleet of relatively small satellites (about the size of two loaves of sandwich bread laid end to end) in relatively low orbits. It's launched four so far -- Dove 1, 2, 3, and 4 -- and plans to launch 28 satellites in Flock 1 by the end of the year. The company announced the Series B funding on Wednesday.

New investors include Yuri Milner, Industry Ventures, Felicis Ventures, Lux Capital, and Ray Rothrock, the company said. The company has already booked orders for imagery from customers -- more revenue in 2014 than the company has taken in to date from investors, according to said Steve Jurvetson, a managing director at Draper Fisher Jurvetson and a Planet Labs board member. (12/18)

Mining the Moon Will Become a Viable Venture (Source: E&T)
As space-based commerce dawns, an ambitious few want to mine the Moon and near-Earth asteroids for precious metals and more. Commercial space transport is only the beginning. 'We're opening up a whole new world to humanity that has abundant resources that will help project us into a multi-planet species,' says Bob Richards, chief executive of lunar lander developer, Moon Express.

'We believe that once we start exploring and prospecting the Moon, we will discover resources that we didn't know existed... and will change humanity's future." Richards heads up one of a growing band of new and ambitious private organisations that are very serious about mining the 'Moon or mining asteroids. Click here. (12/18)

NASA Postpones Cargo Mission for Space Station Repairs (Source: AFP)
NASA on Tuesday postponed a cargo mission to the International Space Station and instead scheduled three spacewalks so that astronauts can fix a broken cooling system at the research outpost. The decision means that Orbital Sciences' first regular supply-ship mission to the ISS will be put off until next year. Instead, a pair of US astronauts will embark on three spacewalks that culminate on Christmas Day, in order to fix the week-old equipment breakdown. (12/17)

XCOR Expects Texas Relocation in Summer of 2014 (Source: Midland Reporter-Telegram)
Would-be space travelers must wait another six months before XCOR Aerospace officially relocates its headquarters to Midland. The private aerospace company made a $10 million agreement with the Midland Development Corp. to move from Mojave, Calif., to the former AMI hangar at Midland International Airport. But it has taken more than a year for the airport to clear a spaceport license with the FAA and for XCOR to get two phases of hangar renovations off the ground. Click here. (12/17)

Russia Should Build Lunar Base – Deputy PM (Source: RIA Novosti)
Russia should consider farsighted space projects such as building a manned outpost on the moon, a senior Russian defense official said Tuesday. “We must formulate practical plans from conceptual projects and fantasies,” said Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who oversees the defense and space industry.

Rogozin suggested the Russian space agency Roscosmos and the recently launched Future Research Fund (FPI) should work in tandem on developing such projects. The FPI – patterned on the United States’ Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency – began distributing grants in April to fund farsighted defense projects. The fund will disburse $70 million this year. (12/17)

Deep Space Monitoring Station Abroad Imperative for China (Source: Space Daily)
China needs to build a deep space monitoring station abroad because the existing network is not capable of tracking deep space detectors round the clock, a leading scientist said. Despite having two monitoring stations in the country, there are still eight to ten hours a day during which China cannot track its deep space detectors, said Zhou Jianliang, chief engineer of the Beijing Aerospace Control Center. (12/17)

China's Lunar Lander May Provide Additional Science for NASA Spacecraft (Source: Space Daily)
After sending 12 humans to the moon's surface during the Apollo Program, NASA remains committed to lunar science. Building on modern missions such as Clementine and Lunar Prospector and recent missions like LCROSS and GRAIL, NASA science has helped to map the moon, determine the presence of water ice, and understand our satellite's irregular gravity field. (12/17)

China Plans to Launch Chang'e-5 in 2017 (Source: Space Daily)
China plans to launch lunar probe Chang'e-5 in 2017, according to the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense. "The development of Chang'e-5 is proceeding smoothly," said the administration's spokesman Wu Zhijian at a press conference on Monday. (12/17)

Asia's Year in Space Triggers Applause But Also Worry (Source: Space Daily)
The past 12 months will be remembered as the year when Asia's economic powerhouses barged their way into the elite club of spacefarers. South Korea placed its first satellite in orbit, Japan launched a new three-stage rocket and India set its eyes on Mars, dispatching its first scout to the Red Planet. Heading the pack in 2013, though, was China.

Analysts say the long string of feats reflects the growing financial clout and prowess of Asia's foremost economies. But they also sound a note of caution. Alarm bells are starting to ring in the established but cash-strapped space powers, and a dangerous intra-Asian rivalry in space could lie ahead. Click here. (12/17)

Minuteman III Launched from California Spaceport (Source: Launch Alert)
An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile was launched  during an operational test at 4:36 a.m. Tuesday from Launch Facility-04 on north Vandenberg. "This was our twelfth and final launch for 2013," said Col. Brent McArthur. (12/17)

The Milky Way's Missing Arms (Source: Science)
The Milky Way has twice the number of spiral arms than recent observations suggested. That’s according to a new analysis—part of the biggest census of star-forming regions to date—that focused on stars eight times the mass of our sun or larger (the size that eventually explode as supernovae) at a very early stage in their lifetime, when they’d still be inside the clouds of gas and dust where they formed. (12/17)

This Congressman Kept the U.S. and China From Exploring Space Together (Source: Foreign Policy)
Long-serving Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia announced his retirement on Tuesday -- a move that's being met with cheers across America's, and the world's, space community. The congressman has repeatedly, consistently used his position as chairman of the relevant appropriations subcommittee to thwart international cooperation in space.

Perhaps his most consequential -- and most ridiculous -- legacy: Year after year, Wolf did everything he could to utterly prevent NASA from working with China in any capacity. Space is unique in its borderlessness; a satellite could fly over dozens of nations in a single orbit. It is also mind-bogglingly expensive, so cooperation between national space programs -- sharing the massive costs and risks -- is very common, and increasingly so. (12/17)

$19 Million Grant Could Lead to First-Ever Image of Black Hole (Source:
A team of European astrophysicists plans to capture the world's first image of a black hole, and a newly awarded grant may help that dream come true. The European Research Council has given 14 million euros (about $19.3 million at current exchange rates) to the team behind BlackHoleCam. This project aims to peer at the supermassive black hole at the core of our Milky Way galaxy and image its event horizon — the theorized boundary beyond which nothing, not even light, can escape. (12/17)

India's GSLV Rocket to Return to Flight in Early 2014 (Source: Flight Global)
The Indian Space Research Organization hopes to have its troubled Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) program back on track in early 2014, making a flight scrubbed in August 2013, when engineers discovered a fuel leak in the second stage of the three-stage vehicle. Critically, the flight will test a cryogenic upper stage developed by ISRO engineers without which the GSLV – a larger version of India’s successful, but smaller, Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) – looks to be doomed. (12/16)

JPL to Test New Supersonic Decelerator Technology (Source: NASA JPL)
A giant crane will tower above NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., shooting out of a hilly mesa like an oversized erector set, ready to help test components of NASA's Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) project. The goal of the challenging technology, led by JPL, is to enable a future mission to Mars or other planetary bodies that uses heavier spacecraft and lands them at locations that were previously not achievable.

The crane-test is scheduled for tomorrow, Dec. 18, weather permitting. The test will simulate the acceleration of a large parachute being pulled away from a spacecraft. The purpose of the test is to show that all of the parachute lines and bridles come out in an organized manner and do not catch on other vehicle hardware as they are deployed. (12/17)

Stu Witt Era in Mojave Coming to an End at Mojave Spaceport (Source: Parabolic Arc)
After nearly 12 years at the helm of the Mojave Air and Space Port, CEO and General Manager Stu Witt plans to retire no later than the end of his current contract on July 1, 2015. On Tuesday, the spaceport’s Board of Directors formed a three-person committee to begin the process of finding a replacement for the spaceport’s long-serving chief. Directors Jim Balentine and Marie Walker will serve on the group, which will develop requirements for the position but not a list of possible replacements, Board President JoAnn Painter said. (12/17)

No comments: