December 4, 2013

Space Exploration and U.S. Competitiveness (Source: CFR)
The launch of Sputnik and subsequent Russian firsts in space convinced many policymakers in the United States that the country was falling dangerously behind its Cold War rival in science and technology. Acknowledging the strategic significance of the "space race," consecutive U.S. administrations made seminal investments in education and scientific research in an effort to meet the Soviet challenge.

These investments not only propelled the United States to preeminence in space exploration in the ensuing decades but also planted the seeds for future innovation and economic competitiveness, experts say. In 2013, a different set of challenges and priorities drive the debate over the U.S. space program, which many analysts believe is once again at a critical juncture. Click here. (11/29)

Gold Rush in Space? Asteroid Miners Prepare, But Eye Water First (Source: Canoe)
Mining in space is moving from science fiction to commercial reality but metals magnates on this planet need not fear a mountain of extraterrestrial supply - the aim is to fuel human voyages deeper into the galaxy. Within three years, two firms plan prospecting missions to passing asteroids.

When even a modest space rock might meet demand for metals like platinum or gold for centuries, it is little wonder storytellers have long fantasized that to harness cosmic riches could make, and break, fortunes on Earth. But with no way to bring much ore or metal down from the heavens, new ventures that have backing from some serious - and seriously rich - business figures, as well as interest from NASA, will focus on using space minerals in interplanetary "gas stations" or to build, support and fuel colonies on Mars.

There may be gold up there, but the draw for now is water for investors willing to get the new industry off the ground. Governments believe it has a future; NASA has a project that may put astronauts on an asteroid in under a decade and on Mars in the 2030s. (12/3)

China Rocket Debris Hits Two Homes, Experts Urge Insurance (Source: Reuters)
Two houses in China were damaged by falling pieces of a rocket launched on Monday, prompting calls for an insurance scheme to cover future damage from the country's ambitious space program. No casualties were reported after the successful launch of China's first moon rover, Chang'e-3, but debris from the launch hurtled into a village in neighboring Hunan province.

A photograph in the newspaper showed a farmer standing by a desk-sized chunk of the rocket that had apparently smashed through his wooden roof. "Suppose the rocket wreckage hit a person; what would the authorities do?" the paper quoted Ren Zili, a professor of insurance laws at Beihang University, as saying. One person whose home was damaged received 10,800 yuan ($1,800) as compensation and the other received 5,200 yuan. (12/4)

Commissioners' Views Mixed on Spaceport America Tax Spending (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
Doña Ana County commissioners warily are eyeing their options in light of a recent challenge to the county's Spaceport America sales tax money that goes to local schools. At issue is a recent state lawmaker's proposal that seeks to reclassify the educational portion, allowing it to be distributed statewide instead of only within Doña Ana County.

County Commissioner Ben Rawson said he's concerned about the way the county routes educational dollars from the 1/4 of 1 percent tax and is looking into possible changes to the practice. He met with county staff Tuesday to look at options for the 25 percent of the spaceport sales-tax revenue set aside for education. Some lawmakers last week endorsed a proposal that would block Doña Ana County from spending its share of spaceport tax money on teacher salaries and operations. (12/3)

Brooks Sponsors Bill to Shift $500 Million to SLS, Other NASA Programs (Source: Huntsville Times)
U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks is seeking to release more than $500 million to help fund NASA programs that, in part, are being developed in Huntsville. Brooks, R-Huntsville, announced today he is sponsoring a House bill that would provide money for the Space Launch System - NASA's new heavy-lift rocket - as well as the Orion crew capsule and the International Space Station.

The SLS is under development at Marshall Space Flight Center. The money in Brooks' bill has been appropriated for those programs, the Congressman said, but it is being withheld to cover potential termination costs if those programs are canceled. Brooks said the termination funds are being withheld in wake of the 2010 cancellation of the Constellation moon program by President Obama. (12/4)

What’s More Important - Military Golf Courses or Space Exploration? (Source: NewsWorks)
Republicans hate two things - science and spending money. Whenever they run for office, they always cry and bemoan the debt while browbeating us with climate change denial and anti-evolution nonsense. They tell us taxes are too high and that important choices need to be made - except when it comes to military spending. Calls for cutting the budget of our bloated, oversized military are drowned out by cries that any cut, no matter how small, will cost American lives

Just to put things into perspective, from 2011 to 2012 1,624 Americans were killed as a result of severe weather (often as a result of the climate change Republicans claim doesn't exist). In that same time period, just four innocent Americans were killed as a result of foreign-inspired terrorism. More people in the U.S. were killed by dogs from 2011 to 2012  than by foreign-led terrorists bent on destroying our way of life.

Yet we treat our military budget as sacrosanct, despite all the evidence to the contrary about its overblown need in the world. The U.S. spent more on defense in 2012 than the next 13 countries with the highest defense budgets combined.  Twenty percent of the entire federal budget was spent on defense in 2011, and since 2001, the base defense budget has soared from $287 billion to $530 billion (and that's not in-cluding base costs in Afghanistan and Iraq). (12/4)

With Seven Workdays Left, House Holds Hearing On Space Aliens (Source: Huffington Post)
With only seven workdays left between now and the end of the first session of the 113th Congress, a full House committee has found time to hold a hearing on extraterrestrial life. The Committee on Science, Space and Technology, chaired by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), will meet for a hearing called “Astrobiology: Search for Biosignatures in our Solar System and Beyond” for two hours Wednesday to “investigate what methods are being used to determine if any of these planets may harbor life,” according to the hearing charter.

Republicans on the Science Committee may be open to the possibility of alien life on other planets, but Smith and many of his colleagues are much less convinced that global warming is happening on this one, or that it might be caused by humans. Numerous sitting members of the Science committee -- all Republicans -- also maintain positions repeatedly rejected by the scientific community for decades. (12/3)

NASA Might Stop Exploring the Planets: Here's Why That's Terrible (Source: The Atlantic)
If sequestration continues into 2014, NASA’s budget will lose hundreds of millions in funding. Today, according to early reports, agency leaders suggested to their employees that those cuts would come from the planetary sciences division. NASA might have to terminate the Cassini mission while it is still scientifically productive. And there are countless more reasons why this is a bad idea. Space exploration supports us on Earth in countless ways, both quantifiable and intangible. (12/3)

‘Spooky Action’ Builds a Wormhole Between ‘Entangled’ Particles (Source: U. or Washington)
Quantum entanglement, a perplexing phenomenon of quantum mechanics that Albert Einstein once referred to as “spooky action at a distance,” could be even spookier than Einstein perceived. Some physicists believe the phenomenon might be intrinsically linked with wormholes, hypothetical features of space-time that in popular science fiction can provide a much-faster-than-light shortcut from one part of the universe to another. Click here. (12/4)

To Launch Australia Into Space, We Need Inspiration (Source: The Conversation)
It is sometimes said that there is no point in Australian universities educating students in the skills required for deep space missions because there are no jobs available here. This is nonsense: graduates are mobile and could end up anywhere, potentially returning home with new skills. But also it misses a key point.

Education and training related to space involves many other skills that are vital for our future, including nanotechnology, quantum physics, mineral exploration, environmental monitoring, navigation and telecommunication. There are declining enrolments by students in science, mathematics and engineering. Space exploration is a great attractor to aspiring specialists, from primary school to university age. (12/4)

SpaceX Makes Its Point (Source: SpaceKSC)
In the last three years that SpaceX has been launching from the Cape, I've heard all sorts of vicious false rumors spread to disparage SpaceX. A recent one claimed that President Barack Obama secretly owns SpaceX stock. (That came from a ULA employee.)...

From the comments section: "The rumor-mongering is almost anti-American; being as it is coming from the folks who totally lost US dominance of the commercial launch sector, and is aimed at practically the only company trying to win that sector, and the money and jobs that come with it, back here to the US. And it's being done by a non-US born immigrant, no less!

"SpaceX's first success in the commercial launch market is mainly a threat to the Russians and the Europeans (in that order). Expect the rumor-mongering to get nastier the next two years as SpaceX tries to take the military orders away from Boeing/Lockheed/ULA, which is their bread and butter. The rumor-mongering is spread by people who know they can't compete with SpaceX." (12/4)

Conference on Aviation Challenges to Include Commercial Spaceflight (Source: ERAU)
The Aviation, Aeronautics, and Aerospace International Research (A³IR) Conference, presented by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, will bring together industry and academic leaders for presentations and discussions covering topics on the cutting edge of aviation thought and technology. The Jan. 17-18 conference will be held in Arizona and include a discussion on commercial spaceflight systems and safety. Click here. (12/4)

SpaceX Completes First Geostationary Satellite Launch (Source: SpaceX)
SpaceX successfully completed its first geostationary transfer mission, delivering the SES-8 satellite to its targeted 295 x 80,000 km orbit. The upgraded Falcon-9 executed a picture-perfect flight, meeting 100% of mission objectives after lifting off from Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport.

Approximately 185 seconds into flight, Falcon-9’s second stage’s single Merlin vacuum engine ignited to begin a five minute, 20 second burn that delivered the SES-8 satellite into its parking orbit. Eighteen minutes after injection into the parking orbit, the second stage engine relit for just over one minute to carry the SES-8 satellite to its final geostationary transfer orbit. The restart of the Falcon-9 second stage is a requirement for all geostationary transfer missions.

Editor's Note: If not for SpaceX's marketing the Falcon-9 for commercial satellite missions, this payload would surely have been launched by an overseas competitor. Unfortunately, such commercial missions are proposed by SpaceX to be conducted from their proposed Texas-based spaceport, leaving only government missions to be launched from Florida. (12/3)

X-37B Marks One Year On Orbit (Source: Space Daily)
On December 11, 2013, the secretive X-37B robot spaceplane celebrates one year in orbit. This controversial spacecraft has been out of the limelight for a long time, attracting almost no media coverage for most of its mission. The third flight of one of the most secretive objects in space has been its most elusive mission to date! (12/4)

Astronomers Detect Water in Atmosphere of Distant Exoplanets (Source: Space Daily)
Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope say they've found faint signatures of water in the atmospheres of five distant planets. Although the probable existence of atmospheric water has been detected previously on a few exoplanets orbiting stars beyond our solar system, the new study is the first to conclusively measure and compare the profiles and intensities of these signatures on multiple worlds, NASA reported. (12/3)

China Launch Debris Wrecks Villagers' Homes (Source: Space Daily)
Debris from the rocket carrying China's first moon rover plummeted to earth in a village more than a thousand kilometers from the launch site, crashing into two homes. The incident about nine minutes after the launch of the Chang'e-3 mission early Monday happened in Suining county in the central province of Hunan, which has been hit by space wreckage nearly 20 times, the Xiaoxiang Morning Post said. (12/3)

SpaceX Launch Moves Company Closer to Military Mission Approval (Source: SpaceX)
Tuesday's Falcon-9 mission marked SpaceX’s first commercial launch from its Central Florida launch pad and the first commercial flight from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in over five years. SpaceX has nearly 50 launches on manifest, of which over 60% are for commercial customers.

This launch also marks the second of three certification flights needed to certify the Falcon 9 to fly missions for the U.S. Air Force under the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program. When Falcon 9 is certified, SpaceX will be eligible to compete for all National Security Space (NSS) missions.

Editor's Note: I don't think SpaceX is correct in claiming that this was the first commercial flight from CCAFS in over five years. In November 2009, only four years ago, an Atlas-5 launched Intelsat 14. And in March 2010, a Delta-4 launched GOES-P (a NOAA payload) on an FAA-licensed commercial mission. (12/3)

Boeing To Sell Commercial Global Xpress Bandwidth to Government Users (Source: Space News)
Boeing’s new satellite services division has broadened its commitment to Inmarsat’s coming Ka-band Global Xpress program by adding the satellites’ commercial Ka-band bandwidth to Boeing’s existing offering of Global Xpress’ military Ka-band capacity. (12/3)

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