January 23. 2014

Private Spaceflight Industry Set to Take Flight, Federation President Says (Source: Galveston Daily News)
Privately owned orbital facilities and regular space tourism could be a reality by the end of the next decade, the president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation said Wednesday. Speaking to students at Rice University, Michael Lopez-Alegria compared the current state of the private space industry to the early days of commercial air flight. The growing success of the industry will lead to the “democratization of access to space” and create thousands of jobs, he said. (1/23)

Will Space Travel Become a Reality for Anyone But the Privileged Few? (Source: Wales Online)
Within decades of the Wright brothers taking to the air for the first time in December 1903 commercial aviation was linking Auckland to Amsterdam and Zurich to Zanzibar as the jet age took off. Now barely five decades after Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin wrote his name into the history books commercial space travel will be linking earth to the ether.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, VSS Enterprise, the craft entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson is hoping will soon herald a new age of pleasure trips around the cosmos, has just completed its third test flight. But Sir Richard and his team still have some way to go to reach the Kármán line - the border where earth’s atmosphere ends and outerspace begins.

At around £152,000 a return ticket to the edge of space is worth more than the average house in Wales. But what of the future? Will anyone over 40 live to see the emergence of budget spacelines offering cut-price deals to the Kármán line? Trips where your soul-achingly beautiful view of the earth from 328,000ft is blocked by a morbidly obese man from Blackburn. (1/23)

ILS President: Too Early to Say if Launch Market is Oversaturated (Source: Via Satellite)
With two commercial launches completed in 2013, the satellite industry is waiting to see how the rest of the launch market will react to SpaceX’s success. Besides this new competition, the satellite launch market is not expected to have a significant growth in the next couple of years. International Launch Services (ILS) President Phil Slack says not enough time has past to really determine whether the market now has too many players competing for the same payloads as he assesses the current situation.

“It’s all going to be a factor of lift capability, heritage, reliability, schedule availability, terms and conditions, pricing — there are a lot of factors that go into that,” Slack told Via Satellite. “If you look at the last several years there really have been two dominant players within the launch industry: it’s been Arianespace and ourselves. Recently, SpaceX has been successful and they’ve had a couple of [commercial] launches, but we’ve had a very good market share traditionally.” (1/22)

Could Space Debris Pose a Problem in the Future? (Source: KPCC)
Space junk. That's the debris left over from malfunctioning satellites, rocket stages and even lost equipment from space walks. It continues to float in orbit, littering space with debris. And it's a growing concern. Click here. (1/23)

Dutch Researcher Says Earth Food Plants Able to Grow on Mars (Source: Reuters)
The cultivation of various plant species, also food plants, is possible on soil of planet Mars, Dutch ecologist Wieger Wamelink said. Researchers investigated whether it is possible to grow different types of plants in the soil of Mars and on the moon. They did an experiment with 14 plant species on artificial Martian and lunar soil, provided by NASA. The experiment lasted 50 days. (1/21)

White House To Release FY2015 Budget March 4 (Source: Space News)
The White House will release President Barack Obama's budget for fiscal year 2015 on March 4, a spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget said on Thursday. "Now that Congress has finished its work on this year's appropriations, the administration is able to finalize next year's budget," spokesman Steve Posner said in a statement.

"We are moving to complete the budget as quickly as possible to help Congress return to regular order in the annual budget process." Obama delivers his State of the Union address on Tuesday. Many of the programs and policy priorities he highlights in that speech are likely to show up in the administration's budget blueprint. (1/23)

The Reason for H.R. 3625 (Source: AmericaSpace)
To understand why the House of Representatives Science Committee has recently passed an unprecedented bill to formally prohibit NASA from terminating a program within that agency, it is useful to know the history behind the ill-will that exists on a bi-partisan basis between Congress and NASA.

The dawn of 2010 began like any other year for the U.S. space program. Constellation was making progress, though certainly not at as rapid a pace as originally hoped by many. In October 2009, the Ares I-X test launch had been a success, returning data that put to rest concerns by some that the rocket might shake itself and its crew apart on later launches. And Orion preparing for what would be a successful pad abort test in May.

On Feb. 5, 2010, NASA announced the Constellation project, including the Orion and Ares I programs, would be immediately terminated. Congress, which had not been consulted, was more than a little shocked. To help slow down the Orion and Ares programs, NASA invoked the Antideficiency Act and withheld $993 million in funding from those programs for termination liability, very nearly stopping them in their tracks. Click here. (1/23)

Looking for a 'Superhabitable' World? Try Alpha Centauri B (Source: Genetic Engineering News)
The search for extraterrestrial life extends far beyond Earth's solar system, looking for planets or moons outside the "stellar habitable zone" that may have environments even more favorable to supporting life than here on Earth. These superhabitable worlds have unique characteristics and are ideal targets for extrasolar exploration, as described in a provocative Hypothesis Article in Astrobiology. Click here. (1/23)

To the Moon, With Aloha (Source: Maui Weekly)
More than 40 years after the last Apollo astronaut left the moon, NASA's latest robotic explorer, the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE), is in orbit. Following a picture-perfect launch on Sept. 6, 2013, from Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, LADEE is now investigating the twin mysteries of the moon's atmosphere and dust.

Maui resident Dr. Matt Wilkins is working on the Mainland for one of the chief companies, Applied Defense Solutions Inc. (ADS), which monitored and adjusted the orbit of the LADEE spacecraft as it approached the moon. (1/23)

Lockheed Fourth-Quarter Profit Falls 14% Amid U.S. Cuts (Source: Bloomberg)
Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT), the U.S. government’s biggest contractor, said its fourth-quarter profit plunged 14 percent as federal budget cuts sapped sales and led to a goodwill writedown and job-reduction charge.

Lockheed’s net income from continuing operations fell to $488 million, or $1.50 a share, in the quarter, down from $569 million, or $1.73 a share, a year earlier, the Bethesda, Maryland-based company said today in a statement. Earnings adjusted for one-time charges were $2.38 a share, beating the $2.13-a-share average estimate of four analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Sales declined 4.7 percent to $11.5 billion in the quarter, with decreases across all five units including aeronautics, which suffered from fewer deliveries of C-130 cargo aircraft. (1/23)

Gates: Pentagon Believed PLA Acted Alone in 2007 Anti-satellite Test (Source: Space News)
Former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says in his newly released memoir that Pentagon leaders believed a Chinese anti-satellite test in 2007 was conducted without the consent of China’s civilian leadership. In January 2007, China deliberately destroyed one of its defunct weather satellites known as Fengyun-1C using a ground-based, medium-range ballistic missile. The action, which was widely condemned internationally, left a cloud of potentially hazardous debris in a heavily used belt of Earth orbit.

“We would later conclude that this action had been taken by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) without the knowledge of the civilian leadership in Beijing; we believed the same of their test of an anti-satellite weapon some while before,” Gates said. “Both were worrisome because of the apparent independent behavior of the PLA.” (1/23)

Ant Colony Sets Up Home On The Space Station (Source: Discovery)
When the Orbital Sciences Cygnus cargo vehicle arrived at the International Space Station on Jan. 9, it was carrying a colony of intrepid six-legged insects — 600 ants. This wasn’t, however, an invasion of the two-antennae kind; the colony was safely locked in a container, prepared to begin a cool NASA-sponsored microgravity experiment.

The Ant Forage Habitat Facility is now mounted inside the Destiny laboratory of the space station so astronauts can study how the colony reacts to the lack of gravity. The behavior of the colony is being monitored by a camera setup and a live feed is being made available to K-12 students in the US to carry out their own studies. (1/23)

Israeli Astronaut May Go to ISS by Russia's Soyuz Spacecraft (Source: Voice of Russia)
An Israeli cosmonaut may use a Russian 'Soyuz' launch vehicle to get to the International Space Station, but as part of the US launch quota. A source in the rocket and space industry told the Interfax news agency on Wednesday that NASA and Roskosmos are in fact negotiating the sending of an Israeli cosmonaut to the ISS in the long term, certainly not in the next two or three years. Since other countries have no manned spacecraft, the only option is Russia's 'Soyuz' carrier rocket.

But the future Israeli cosmonaut may join a space crew only as part of the US launch quota, or in the capacity of a foreign astronaut. no specific decisions on the issue have been made thus far. NASA is due to decide on whether an Israeli cosmonaut will fly to the ISS or not, just as it normally does in the case of flights of European, Canadian and/or Japanese astronauts to the ISS. (1/23)

Atlas V Launch Closes Florida Engineer's Career (Source: Florida Today)
When an Atlas V rocket lifts off at 9:05 p.m. today from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, many will be mesmerized by the 192-foot rocket’s roar and its fiery trail streaking through the night sky. Not David Craig, though his employer, United Launch Alliance, is responsible for the powerful rocket. As he watches the last launch of his 39-year career in the space industry from his Titusville home, Craig will be thinking about the part that interests him most: what’s on top of the rocket. (1/22)

Russia's Ambitious Planetary Exploration Goals (Source: Planetary Society)
In the several years I've been writing this blog, I've seldom written about the Russian planetary program as a whole. I've written about individual missions but I've not put all the pieces together since 2009. A request from a reader and the quiet announcement last month that NASA and its Russian counterpart Roscosmos are investigating options for joint Venus missions piqued my interest.

Fate has not been kind to the Russian planetary program since the breakup of the Soviet Union. Its Mars-96 mission was lost during a launch failure. Then in 2011, the Phobos-Grunt mission was lost after it failed to respond to commands following launch.

Since then, the Russian program is following a two-pronged approach to rebuild its planetary program. For this decade, it is planning a series of solo lunar missions to build up its own design, testing, and operations capabilities. Simultaneously, it has built a partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA) to explore Mars. The earliest explorations of a potential partnership with NASA for Venus missions have just started. (1/23)

Midland Airport One Step Closer to Receiving Spaceport License (Source: NewsWest 9)
The Midland International Airport is one step closer to receiving their spaceport license. In the next two weeks, the Federal Aviation Administration General Council is expected to approve the airport's environmental assessment portion of their application. The application will then be published in the federal register.

The only step left is for the airport to get the green light from the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation. The airport is trying to get the license to bring Xcor Aerospace to town giving passengers the opportunity to fly out to space. (1/22)

Virgin Galactic Announces Successful Test Firings (Source: Virgin Galactic)
Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial spaceline, announced today that it has reached a significant milestone in the testing of a new family of liquid rocket engines for LauncherOne, the company’s small satellite launch vehicle. As part of a rapid development program, Virgin Galactic has now hot-fired both a 3,500 lbf thrust rocket engine and a 47,500 lbf thrust rocket engine, called the “NewtonOne” and “NewtonTwo” respectively.

Further, the NewtonOne engine has successfully completed a full-mission duty cycle on the test stand, firing for the five-minute duration expected of the upper stage engine on a typical flight to orbit. These tests are being conducted on two new state-of-the-art test stands that the team designed, assembled and installed internally. (1/23)

NASA Receives Instrument Proposals for Mars 2020 Rover (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
NASA announced on Tuesday January 21 that it had received 58 proposals for scientific and exploration instruments for the space agency’s proposed Mars 2020 rover mission. The call for proposals received nearly twice the average number of responses for similar instrument competitions. The design of the new rover will be based on the Curiosity rover which landed on Mars in 2012 but with new instruments and an expanded mission to search for signs of past life on the Red Planet and prepare the way for future human exploration.

The call for proposals began in September of 2013 and ended on Jan. 15. Proposals were submitted by NASA facilities, universities, aerospace companies, research laboratories and other government agencies and seventeen international partners. NASA will now begin the process of evaluating the proposals and anticipates making a final decision in the next five months. (1/23)

FAB-T Deployment to be Limited to Strategic Command Posts (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Department of Defense has officially decided to limit deployment of a new satellite terminal for managing nuclear operations to ground and airborne command posts only, a move that will help contain costs on the multibillion-dollar project, according to the companies bidding for the work.

Previously the Pentagon was considering a wider Family of Beyond Line of Sight-Terminal (FAB-T) program that included equipping its strategic bombers and certain electronic surveillance aircraft with the system. Boeing Network and Space Systems of Arlington, Va., and McKinney, Texas-based Raytheon Network Centric Systems have been developing competing FAB-T systems, which would enable the president to communicate with the national command authority in the event of a nuclear war. (1/22)

ESA Hears Last Pitches from M3 Science Mission Finalists (Source: Space News)
Backers of four European space science missions on Jan. 21 made last-ditch oral presentations in defense of their projects in an attempt to sway the opinion of a jury of space scientists that will select only one of them in mid-February.

The winner will receive development funding likely to approach $1 billion for a mission that will launch between 2022 and 2024. The others will be cast back into the large pool of missions that will be either abandoned or forced to wait another three or four years for their next chance at selection.

A fifth mission, an ambitious attempt to test Einstein’s Equivalence Principle called STE-Quest, had been among the remaining candidates until a late-2013 analysis by the 20-nation European Space Agency that found its technology too risky to be ready for the planned launch date. (1/22)

Another Space Vehicle Being Built at Michoud (Source: WWLT)
NASA is building two space vehicles at the Michoud Assembly Facility -- the Orion capsule to fly to the Moon, Mars and Asteroids, and the huge Space Launch System rocket to launch it. But there is another. "Everybody knows about SLS, everybody knows about Orion," said Michoud Director Roy Malone. "But we also have Dream Chaser commercial crew work going on here."

Dream Chaser looks like the Shuttle, and is designed to fly astronauts to the Space Station. But it is not a NASA project. NASA needs about 45 percent of the huge Michoud facility to build the space vehicles. So for three years, they have been renting unused space."We probably talk to over 100 different potential business partners a year," said Malone. Companies large and small have rented space at Michoud, including movie producers.

"By 2015 if some of these happen, we'll be pretty close to capacity," said Malone. "Now there's still lots of green space, so we're available for commercial companies if they want to come and build on our property." Right now NASA has about 980,000 square feet of space for rent at the Michoud Assembly Facility. (1/22)

Water Found on Asteroid Ceres (Source: Discover)
Looking for water is a pretty big deal on Earth, and an even bigger deal elsewhere. The chemical is not only vital to sustaining life as we know it, but it’s also an important clue that can reveal secrets about an object’s past. Astronomers had long been looking for it in one particular place, the asteroid belt between Mars’ and Jupiter’s orbits, and it looks like they finally found it — on Ceres, one of the belt’s most enigmatic bodies.

 About the size of Texas, and dwarfed by our moon (and by Pluto), Ceres is still a pretty big deal: it contains about a quarter of all the mass in the asteroid belt. Astronomers had found evidence suggesting Ceres had water before, and they’d long suspected it was made up of an icy mantle surrounding a rocky core. But a paper in today’s Nature shows conclusively, for the first time, actual observations of water on the dwarf planet. (1/22)

Earth Won't Die as Soon as Thought (Source: Science)
Take a deep breath—Earth is not going to die as soon as scientists believed. Two new modeling studies find that the gradually brightening sun won’t vaporize our planet's water for at least another 1 billion to 1.5 billion years—hundreds of millions of years later than a slightly older model had forecast. The findings won’t change your retirement plans but could imply that habitable, Earth-like alien worlds are more common than scientists thought. (1/22)

ILS Contract with Gazprom Space Systems for Proton Launch (Source: ILS)
International Launch Services (ILS) announced the contract for the ILS Proton launch of the Yamal 601 satellite for Gazprom Space Systems (Russia). Gazprom is the parent company of Gazprom Space Systems and is the world’s largest producer of natural gas. The launch of the satellite is scheduled for 2016. The Yamal 601 satellite, weighing over 5,700 kg, will be built by Thales Alenia Space on the flight proven Spacebus 4000 platform.  

The satellite will be launched by ILS Proton into geostationary transfer orbit and has an anticipated service lifetime of 15 years. Yamal 601 satellite will replace Yamal 202 and will provide fixed communications and transmission services in C-band over Europe, the Middle East, Northern Africa and South-East Asia from the orbital position at 49 degrees East. This satellite is also designed for development of business in Ku- and Ka-bands in the Russian market. (1/22)

Witt: 2014 Going to be a Great Year in Mojave (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Mojave Air & Space Port’s participation in the future continues to build on our 2013 accomplishments. 2013 was a breakout year for Mojave Air & Space Port, and I predict 2014 will see the fruits of our collective labor. Look for rockets flying, new aircraft on our ramps, and more Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) flying from our runways along with many new aircraft and technical jobs being created as a result of late 2013 contract changes.

With Northrop Grumman’s purchase of Hangar 210 providing NGC with a 100,000 square foot footprint on our primary runway, we can expect expanding Department of Defense aerospace growth at Mojave. With Flight Test Aerospace’s purchase of hangar 100 and hangar 68, we can expect a rather large aerospace project to locate here, bringing additional new jobs. With our water, power and fiber project complete to the north side rocket testing sites, we expect 50 additional recycling jobs and rocket testing jobs. (1/22)

Livermore 'Space Cops' to Help Control Traffic in Space (Source: LLNL)
A team of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientists are using mini-satellites that work as "space cops" to help control traffic in space. The scientists used a series of six images over a 60-hour period taken from a ground-based satellite to prove that it is possible to refine the orbit of another satellite in low earth orbit.

"Eventually our satellite will be orbiting and making the same sort of observations to help prevent satellite-on-satellite and satellite-on-debris collisions in space," said Lance Simms. Collisions in space of satellites and space debris have become increasingly problematic.

To help satellite operators prevent collisions in space, the Space-Based Telescopes for Actionable Refinement of Ephemeris (STARE) mission, which will consist of a constellation of nano-satellites in low earth orbit, intends to refine orbits of satellites and space debris to less than 100 meters. STARE is an ongoing LLNL project led by Wim de Vries, with Vincent Riot as lead engineer. (1/22)

DigitalGlobe Partner Wins $30M European Agricultural Support Contract (Source: Space News)
European Space Imaging on Jan. 22 said it had won a four-year contract with the European Commission valued at 22.3 million euros ($30.1 million) to provide satellite data supporting the commission’s Common Agricultural Policy, whose enforcement includes verification of land use. Munich-based European Space Imaging is a Direct Access Partner of DigitalGlobe. As such it directly tasks DigitalGlobe’s high-resolution satellites for sale and distribution in the company’s sales region in Europe and North Africa. (1/22)

Dark Matter Mystery Could Be Solved in Next 10 Years (Source: Space.com)
Dark matter — the mysterious stuff that is thought to make up most of the matter in the known universe — may reveal itself during the next decade, one prominent scientist predicts. When the moment comes, it will result in "a pivotal paradigm shift in physics," said Gianfranco Bertone, a physicist with the University of Amsterdam.

The elusive substance may show itself as researchers set out to test "the existence of some of the most promising dark matter candidates, with a wide array of experiments, including the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN and a new generation of astroparticle experiments underground and in space," Bertone said. (1/22)

Roscosmos Denies Talks with NASA on Flight of Israeli Astronaut (Source: Itar-Tass)
The Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) has denied talks with its NASA colleagues on a possible flight of an Israeli astronaut to the International Space Station. "At present, Roscosmos does not have any agreements on a flight by an Israeli astronaut; no talks are being conducted to this effect," the press service said. Earlier, a number of mass media agencies said that the Israeli astronaut might fly to the ISS on board the Russian spaceship Soyuz instead one of the two U.S. astronauts.

One seat on board the Soyuz spaceship is traditionally reserved for a Russian cosmonaut; another seat is intended for an astronaut from NASA. The third seat is traditionally occupied either by a second cosmonaut from Russia or a European or Japanese astronaut. (1/22)

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