December 8, 2013

Astronaut Mark Kelly Joins World View's Near-Space Balloon Team (Source: NBC)
Retired astronaut Mark Kelly, who commanded the second-last space shuttle mission — and spent months at the side of his wife, Gabrielle Giffords, while the congresswoman recovered from a near-fatal shooting in 2011 — has joined a venture to send tourists 100,000 feet up to get their own space-style view of Earth. "This is the next step," Kelly told NBC News on Sunday.

Kelly will serve as director of crew operations for Arizona-based World View Enterprises, which is developing a high-altitude balloon and capsule that would take passengers to an altitude of roughly 30 kilometers (19 miles, or 100,000 feet) for an hours-long view of the curving Earth beneath the black sky of space. World View says its flight system could also be used for high-altitude research. (12/8)

Indian Satellite Tracking Station Shut Down in Antarctica (Source: Times of India)
India's National Center for Antarctic and Ocean research (NCAOR) has formed a fact-finding committee to probe the 'acts of insubordination and indiscipline' by members of its winter expedition to Bharati, India's research base in East Antarctica, that reportedly led to the shutdown of power to ISRO's satellite ground station, depriving the country's premier space center of crucial information for almost a week. (12/8)

23 Selected to Fly on Lynx Through Axe Apollo Space Academy (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Axe has posted a photo of the winners of the Axe Apollo Space Academy competition in Florida. There appear to be 21 men and 2 women selected for suborbital flights aboard XCOR’s Lynx space plane. They appear with Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin. The competition was run by Unilever in conjunction with Space Expedition Corporation. Click here. (12/7)

Ukraine Looks to Extend Space Cooperation with U.S., China (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Yuriy Boyko, Ukraine’s Vice Prime Minister for Ecology, Natural Resources, Energy and Space, speaks in an interview of the joint Cyclone 4 launch vehicle program with Brazil, and its efforts to increase cooperation with the United States and China. Ukraine spends between $400 million and $500 million on its space program mostly for science work, but receives about $600 million annually in revenues from commercial work.

Ukraine’s main launch vehicles include Zenit, Dnepr (joint program with Russia), Cyclone 4 (joint program with Brazil), and the first stage structure for Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Antares. Brazil and Ukraine have committed $1.5 million (split equally) over a three-year period to Cyclone 4, which should have its first test flight from the Alcantara Launch Center by early 2015. The partners hope that South American countries with satellite programs will flock to the Alcantara facility on Brazil’s Atlantic coast.

Boyko recently completed consultations with NASA and U.S. commercial space companies concerning cooperative programs, with the two governments establishing a framework for further cooperation. There are no specific cooperative programs to announce yet between Ukraine and American government and private entities. Ukraine would like to become involved in the International Space Station program. (12/7)

Air Force Museum in Ohio to Get New Wing (Source: Westport News)
A new wing planned for the National Museum of the United States Air Force in southwest Ohio will allow visitors to walk into a full-size replica of a space shuttle. Museum officials say construction on the addition is set to begin in late spring 2014 and be completed by the end of summer in 2015.

The wing will include a gallery showcasing a space shuttle exhibit that features NASA's first crew compartment trainer. The trainer is a replica of a space shuttle crew station used primarily for crew training and engineering evaluations. (12/8)

ILS Proton-M launches Inmarsat-5 F1 (Source:
International Launch Services (ILS) has successfully launched another Russian Proton-M launch vehicle, tasked with lofting the Inmarsat-5 F1 satellite on a flight to its transfer orbit that will take over 15 hours to complete. It was launched from the from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The Proton vehicle has a heritage of nearly 400 launches since 1965 and is built by Khrunichev Research and State Production Center, one of the pillars of the global space industry and the majority owner of ILS. (12/8)

Iran to Put Two Satellites Into Orbit by Yearend (Source: PressTV)
Deputy head of Iran Space Agency (ISA), Hamid Fazeli, said on Wednesday that Sharif Sat and Tadbir (Prudence) satellites will be lifted into space by the end of the year. He added that Sharif Sat has been developed by Iranian students and academics from Sharif University of Technology, while Tadbir satellite has been developed at Iran University of Science and Technology.

The senior Iranian aerospace official said the two indigenous satellites have already been delivered to ISA, noting that compatibility tests are being carried out on both satellites in order to prepare them for lift-off. Sharif Sat reportedly weighs less than 50 kilograms and will be launched onboard the indigenous Safir B-1 carrier. It is planned to be placed into a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) at an altitude between 350 kilometers (217 miles) and 500 kilometers (310 miles) above the Earth's surface. (12/8)

Doña Ana, Sierra Counties May Oppose Spaceport Sale-Tax Changes (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
Officials in Doña Ana and Sierra Counties are about to consider formal stances against a state lawmaker proposal that has implications for Spaceport America sales-tax dollars going to local public schools. Tuesday, Doña Ana County commissioners will vote on a resolution against a proposed change to state law that school officials said would negate the benefit of the sales tax dollars to Las Cruces, Gadsden and Hatch school systems.

Also, the Sierra County commission later this month will consider passing a statement opposing the state legislator proposal. In addition, the school board for the Truth or Consequences Municipal Schools will consider a similar statement of opposition next week. Sierra County Commission Chairman Walter Armijo said he wouldn't necessarily mind the legislators' proposal, if the entire state was paying a sales tax to support Spaceport America. (12/7)

Sierra County Residents Have a Lot Riding on Spaceport (Source: Santa Fe New Mexican)
Spaceport America is being developed on visionary technology, taxpayer dollars and promises.
But some of the spaceport’s supporters think the New Mexico Spaceport Authority isn’t honoring promises it made early on to the town. The Spaceport Authority’s executive director, Christine Anderson, said everyone just needs to keep being patient and recognize the immense challenge of building this complex and inherently dangerous project.

Spaceport America wouldn’t exist without the support of Sierra County residents. Both Sierra County and Doña Ana County approved a 0.25 percent gross receipts tax on goods and services to help pay for the spaceport’s construction. The state Legislature required two counties to approve the tax before the spaceport could move forward. The Spaceport Authority promised an economic boom for the two counties in return for the investment.

Two decades have passed, however, and the first commercial passenger flight into space by Virgin Galactic is still at least a year away. Until those flights start and full-service visitors centers are built, the spaceport can’t wholly fulfill its economic promise. Some people wonder if the economic boom will ever happen. Others worry the boom will benefit a few, not the many. (12/8)

Legislator Presents Alabama Spaceport Idea to Black Belt Committee (Source: Selma Times-Journal)
Rockets, bound for space, could be taking off from just outside of Selma in the future. State Sen. Gerald Dial (R-Lineville) is leading the charge for Alabama to land one of nearly a dozen spaceports to be licensed by the federal government. Dial presented his proposal to the Black Belt Commission Infrastructure Committee meeting Thursday.

“I got to thinking, a spaceport, what in the devil is a spaceport and why do you need one?” Dial said. “I did a little research and found out the federal government is going to license nine to 10 spaceports in America.” Dial helped create the Alabama Spaceport Authority last year, which oversees planning. The next step, Dial said, is to submit a grant proposal for approximately $400,000 through the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs. The grant would be used to conduct a feasibility study and determine possible locations for the spaceport.

Before the grant application can be made, Dial said a bill must be passed in the Alabama Legislature allowing ADECA to make the application. He explained spaceports would be used for commercial travel to space, for personal travel and freight, and potentially be a tool for economic development. (12/7)

Public Awareness of Light Pollution Increases (Source: IDA)
Light pollution is a serious environmental problem. It wastes billions of dollars each year, harms wildlife and jeopardizes human health. Thanks to recent coverage by national media outlets, this important message is reaching more people than ever before. Last weekend, “CBS This Morning Saturday” interviewed Bob Parks, executive director of the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), for its segment “How Bad is Light Pollution?”
Those wanting an in-depth discussion on light pollution can read the nine-page feature article “Where did all the stars go? – How Light Pollution is Stealing the Night” in the December issue of Men’s Journal. The article provides detailed information on the IDA, light pollution’s negative effects, and indoor and outdoor lighting solutions. Informative graphics and stunning photographs complement the interesting read. Watch “How Bad is Light Pollution?” here.

Editor's Note
: The Florida town of Harmony will host a Dark Sky Astronomy Festival on Feb. 28. Click here for information. (12/8)

Engineers Design Spacesuit Tools, Biomedical Sensors to Keep Astronauts Healthy (Source: KSU)
Kansas State University researchers are improving astronauts' outerwear for outer space. The collaborative team -- which includes electrical and computer engineering professors and more than a dozen students -- envisions a future spacesuit that could monitor astronauts' health and use body heat to power electronics. By working with a model spacesuit, the engineers are exploring how wearable medical sensors can be used in future space missions to keep astronauts healthy. (11/25)

Planetarium and Visitor Center Donated to ESO (Source: ESO)
The European Southern Observatory (ESO) has received a donation of a planetarium and visitor centre at the site of its Headquarters in Garching bei München, Germany. The center will be a magnificent showcase of astronomy for the public. It will be possible thanks to the Klaus Tschira Stiftung, which offered to fully fund the construction. (12/3)

SageNet Completes Acquisition of Spacenet (Source: SageNet)
SageNet, a provider of managed network services for multisite retail businesses, has completed its acquisition of Spacenet, a communications network company based in the Washington, D.C. area. SageNet acquired Spacenet from Gilat Satellite Networks. The transaction was approved by the FCC and officially closed December 2. (12/3)

Rocket CraftersMay No Longer Be Crafting Rockets (Source: NewSpace Journal)
One of the lesser known, and more quixotic, companies in the NewSpace field in recent years has been Rocket Crafters. The company entered the field a few years ago with plans to develop hybrid rocket motors and vehicles that would use them, including suborbital spaceplanes. They signed agreements with spaceports and local governments eager to attract a part of the commercial spaceflight industry, including a deal to put the company’s corporate headquarters in Titusville, Florida.

The company received “a State of Florida Qualified Target Industry Tax Refund (QTI) and workforce incentives,” and  a welcome from KSC officials, who wanted to talk with Rocket Crafters about “how Kennedy’s unique assets and technical capabilities may be made available to enable their success.” There's been little public activity from Rocket Crafters since then, beyond an Oct. 2012 announcement for proposed operations at Spaceport Colorado, east of Denver. Rocket Crafters also proposed creating up to 80 fulltime jobs at the Colorado site, in addition to its activities in Florida.

A recent Miami Herald article says Rocket Crafters “has abandoned plans to create a rocket that can transport cargo and humans into space.” It wasn’t clear from the article what the company would do instead of developing suborbital or orbital vehicles; one possibility would be to focus on its rocket motor technology for other applications. Click here. (12/7)

DirecTV Accuses Dish Network Retailer of Illegal Sales Ploys (Source: LA Times)
Apparently when it comes to selling satellite TV, anything goes. In a lawsuit filed in federal court, satellite broadcaster DirecTV accuses Dish One, a retailer majority-owned by rival Dish Network, of using all sorts of duplicitous and illegal acts including pretending to be DirecTV representatives in an effort to poach subscribers, primarily senior citizens. (12/6)

Space Exploration Can Drive the Next Agricultural Revolution (Source: The Conversation)
Habitation of outer space needs solving air, water, energy and food supplies within a tight space. And this isn’t a problem of an apocalyptic, remote future. Developing this technology addresses some of the grand challenges to our civilisation. Space exploration can be one of the main drivers to revolutionise sustainable agriculture on Earth for many reasons.

Addressing the challenge of making urban environments greener is similar to the challenges of solving food production on a spaceship or in a Mars colony. Solutions will not come from incremental changes to the current system, but require a disruptive approach – such as the use of robots. Sustainable agriculture is a systems challenge that requires advances in renewable energy and integration of resource management, especially in urban environments or those of a spaceship. Click here. (12/6)

State's Focus on Space Coast Jobs (Source: Miami Herald)
Frank DiBello, who runs Space Florida, says a majority of the area’s new jobs are totally private. “You’re seeing a whole host of new companies coming into the market, and we’re working very hard to attract them to Florida,” said DiBello. Overall, Gov. Scott has pledged nearly $53 million to lure 6,100 jobs to Brevard County, more than any other county in Florida.

But the state’s database shows that not one new job has been verified. Embraer selected Melbourne to build its Phenom and Legacy private jets and open an engineering and technology center. The projects could yield over 1,000 jobs, though many details remain shrouded behind a confidentiality agreement. A few hours north in Jacksonville, Embraer — thanks to a federal contract — opened a new facility to assemble Air Force aircraft. Embraer already has hired 39 new employees there.

Lynda Weatherman, president and CEO of the Economic Development Commission of the Space Coast, said the Space Coast is evolving. Companies are attracted to the area because of the skilled workforce left behind with the shuttles’ departure, the location, the climate and friendly business policies. The incentives help seal the deal, she said. (12/6)

$30M Prize Spurs Race for Moon Landing (Source: Al Jazeera)
The race is on to return to the moon, and one contestant has already revealed designs for its robotic spacecraft. With the Lunar XPRIZE, Google is offering $30 million to the first private company to design a robotic spacecraft and safely land it on the lunar surface. It is largest incentive-based prize of all time.

“We believe it’s critical for humanity to become a multi-world species and that our sister world, the Moon, is an eighth continent holding vast resources that can help us enrich and secure our future,” a press release on the company’s website said. A feat that once required the budget of a superpower is now within reach of private companies like Moon Express. The last successful lunar landing, made by the Apollo 17 mission, was in 1972. (12/7)

Atlas Lifts 12 Cubesats Along with Spy Satellite (Source: Breaking Defense)
The makers and operators of America’s spy satellites have lofted at least 13 assets on their way to orbit with the early morning launch today of NROL-39, atop the always impressive Atlas V rocket. The main payload may be a highly advanced space radar, according to several educated guesses (which is about the best we can hope for at this stage).

The huge payload also included one dozen nanosats, part of the Government Experimental Multi-Satellite payload (GEMSat) program. The Naval Postgraduate School’s CubeSat Launcher actually deploys the satellites. Four of the satellites were built by universities; four were built by the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command (SMDC); one each by the the Aerospace Corp. (12/7)

Bill Nye's Not the Only Scientist With Words for Washington (Source: Mashable)
Bill Nye just became the unofficial spokesman for a group of planetary scientists who say space exploration and their careers are in danger. Nye uploaded to YouTube an open letter to President Obama calling for an increase in funding for NASA's planetary science division, which is responsible for exploratory missions to other planets, including the Curiosity rover on Mars. Click here. (12/6)

Blue Origin Shows Off its Engine (Source: NewSpace Journal)
Unlike some of its fellow NewSpace companies, Blue Origin keeps a very low, even secretive profile. The company, founded and funded by founder Jeff Bezos, has gained a reputation for saying very little about what it’s up to. “We like to talk about things after we’ve done them, and not before that, and hopefully you’ll be hearing a lot from us in the future,” Brett Alexander said.

And, earlier this week, we did hear a little more from Blue Origin. The company held a rare teleconference with reporters tied to a press release—itself a rare event—about the latest tests of the company’s BE-3 engine. The engine, which uses liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants, will power the company’s New Shepard suborbital vehicle and, eventually, the upper stage of a planned orbital launch vehicle. (12/7)

NASA Launches First Exo-Brake Parachute from International Space Station (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Mission controllers have confirmed that a small satellite launched from the International Space Station has successfully entered its orbit. Soon it will demonstrate two new technologies including an “exo-brake” device to demonstrate a new de-orbit technique as well as a communications system to provide precise information about the spacecraft’s position.

The satellite, dubbed “TechEdSat-3p,” arrived at the station aboard a Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle Aug. 3. It was released at 2:58 a.m. EST Nov. 20, from the same Japanese Small Satellite Orbital Deployer aboard the station that launched its smaller predecessor – TechEdSat – in 2012.

The primary experiment onboard TechEdSat-3p is called the “exo-brake” and is a specially-designed braking device that operates at extremely low pressures and operates similar to a parachute. The exo-brake on TechEdSat-3p will be the first to perform a rapid de-orbit and re-entry from Earth’s outer atmosphere. Engineers believe exo-brakes eventually will enable small samples to be returned from the station or other orbital platforms. (12/17)

Five Out-of-This-World Gifts for Space Geeks (Source: CollectSpace)
It is that time of year again, when you need to find a gift for that 'spacial' person in your life — your favorite space geek. Fear not, you needn't purchase your aspiring astronaut a ticket to space for your present to be truly out-of-this-world (though, with Virgin Galactic planning to begin commercial space shots in 2014, this may be the last holiday season for advanced reservations). Click here. (12/7)

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