January 30, 2014

Sierra Nevada Enters Dream Chaser Critical Design Review (Source: SNC)
Sierra Nevada Corp. announces the completion of the Dream Chaser Incremental Critical Design Review (CDR) with the completion of Milestone 10a under its Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) agreement with NASA. NASA added Milestone 10a to SNC’s CCiCap initiative in 2013 as part of the expansion of SNC’s program.  

During this entry milestone review, NASA approved the critical design products, plans, and processes that are being used to develop the Dream Chaser Space System (DCSS), which includes the Dream Chaser spacecraft, Atlas launch vehicle, mission and ground systems. (1/30)

UK Blocks Bid To Create Common European Imagery Policy (Source: Space News)
The European Commission’s effort to set common European regulations on the sale of high-resolution satellite imagery outside Europe has been blocked by the British government and is likely to be watered down to an advisory notice instead of a binding policy, European government officials said. The goal was to create common rules on which a country would be able to receive high-resolution imagery — whose definition is changing with the gallop of technology — and under what general conditions. (1/30)

A Proposal For The Space Debris Society (Source: Space Daily)
Almost every constituency of the space community has a society representing the interests of that group. However, there is no such organization for those of us who are interested in space debris. If ever there was a growth aspect to space, this must be it. Space debris issues are growing every day and affecting more and more people, groups, companies and government policies. Yet it is largely ignored.

The aerospace community has professional societies that represent some 30,000 professionals in the field. These societies offer a great number of opportunities to "preach to the choir," but very little opportunity to make the industry more relevant, productive or innovative.

There are, in fact, very few opportunities to make a difference where it counts. Well, here is one. Everyone knows that space debris may well eventually prevent access to the near-Earth space environment and eliminate the possibility of continued use of this space for science, defense and commerce. Yet, there is no organized group attempting to create open forums or discussion events to address the big issues and to change policies. So, please, somebody get on this! (1/30)

Before Booking Virgin, Think Travel Insurance, G-Force Injuries, Hearing Impairment (Source: The Australian)
Before you fork out $250,000 for a space flight, you better beware: you can't get travel insurance for that yet. And the policies tipped to go on the market soon are unlikely to cover G-force injuries, the effects of zero gravity and possible hearing damage caused by tornado-like sounds on the journey.

So far, about 580 wannabe space tourists have forked out $70 million in deposits to secure their place on a space flight. But only one travel insurer, Allianz Global Assistance, has started to think about offering insurance for space trips. Allianz is still nutting out its prices, but policies are likely to cost up to about $11,000 - and probably won't cover some of the major health hazards of space travel. (1/30)

SpaceX May Get California Tax Break (Source: Daily Breeze)
California’s state Assembly passed a bill Wednesday that would give companies like Hawthorne-based SpaceX a big tax break. AB 777, authored by Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance), classifies rocket ships built by private space exploration companies as business inventory and hence, exempt from property taxes.

Commercial Aerospace Companies Remaking The Economics of Spaceflight (Source: KUHF)
January has been an important month for NASA. The agency received a slight budget increase for 2014, and the government decided the International Space Station will stay in orbit four more years, until 2024. But NASA no longer acts alone — private, for-profit companies are increasingly critical for space exploration. Click here. (1/29)

Logjam at European Spaceport Puts Arianespace in a Ticklish Spot (Source: Space News)
Europe’s Arianespace launch operator faces a repeat of early 2013’s bottleneck for the Europeanized Russian Soyuz rocket but is less likely this year to be spared the chore of saying no to one customer in favor of another. Arianespace is facing the further complication of the fact that launch delays caused by late-arriving satellites in 2013 — for Soyuz and for heavy-lift Ariane 5 rockets — have forced the company to plan a record of up to 14 launches this year.

This includes seven or eight Ariane 5s, four Soyuz vehicles and one or two light-class Vega rockets. European Commission Vice President Antonio Tajani made clear he is determined to see six more Galileo satellites in orbit in 2014 so that the commission can declare that Galileo is ready to provide early in-orbit services. Four Galileo spacecraft are already in orbit. With 10 satellites, initial services can begin. Under ESA’s current planning, Soyuz launches of Galileo satellites, two at a time, would occur in June, October and December. (1/29)

European Govt Group Says Radar Satellites and Wi-Fi Cannot Coexist (Source: Space News)
The intergovernmental organization that coordinates European radio-frequency allocations has concluded that Wi-Fi devices cannot peacefully coexist with satellite radars in the same slice of radio spectrum, the head of the body’s technical committee said Jan. 28.

The opinion of the the 48-nation European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT) places an ostensibly disinterested arbiter squarely in the camp of radar Earth observation systems fighting a proposed incursion into their reserved spectrum by terrestrial broadband companies. (1/29)

Air Force's Mysterious X-37B Space Plane Passes 400 Days in Orbit (Source: Space.com)
The U.S. Air Force's unmanned X-37B space plane has now circled Earth for more than 400 days on a hush-hush mission that is creeping closer and closer to the vehicle's orbital longevity record. The X-37B spacecraft launched on Dec. 11, 2012, meaning that it has been aloft for 413 days as of Tuesday (Jan. 28) on the third mission for the program, which is known as OTV-3. The endurance record is 469 days, set during OTV-2, which blasted off in 2011.

OTV-1 and OTV-2 both touched down at California's Vandenberg Air Force Base. But the Air Force and Boeing, which builds the X-37B, are eyeing NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida as a landing site for future missions. Boeing announced this month that it will expand its presence in Florida by adding technology, engineering and support jobs at KSC. As part of that package, investments will be made to convert the former space shuttle facility, Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF-1). (1/29)

'Major Malfunction': The Final Launch of Challenger, 28 Years Ago (Source: America Space)
On Jan. 28, 1986, one of the worst and most public disasters in U.S. space history unfolded with horrifying suddenness in the skies above Cape Canaveral. The sight of Challenger exploding, just 73 seconds after liftoff, killing all seven crew members, is so harrowing that for all of us who witnessed it live—including myself—it still carries the power to haunt. The ramifications of the Challenger accident were so profound that they entirely reshaped the subsequent history of the shuttle program. Click here. (1/28)

Light Pollution Threatens Skywatching Around the World (Source: Space.com)
On some nights, the Milky Way would shine so brightly it was capable of casting a dim shadow! On the very best nights, I could glimpse stars to nearly seventh magnitude — generally considered to be below the threshold of naked-eye visibility for most people. Today, it’s a far different story.

I now live just to the west of Mahopac, and while I can still see the Milky Way on most clear nights, the nights now are a far cry from what they were a half century ago. Back then, the sky was almost pitch-black. Now, it's closer to a charcoal gray, and when I look south toward New York City, I see a bright, whitish glow reaching nearly halfway up into the sky. (1/29)

$1.5M Sought for Temporary Visitor Center at Spaceport (Source: Albuquerque Journal)
The idea is to start small. Spaceport America Executive Director Christine Anderson plans to ask the Legislature for $1.5 million to build a hangar that would serve as a visitor center while the spaceport gets on its feet, and temporarily shelve plans for a $13 million welcome center. It’s a thriftier option as the spaceport prepares to shift into full operations, she said, and costs ramp up.

“It’s always about budget, of course, and we’re trying to be as efficient as possible,” Anderson said. “It will get us going faster.” Anderson has projected that tourism could initially account for 30 percent of the fiscal 2015 operating budget, forecast to rise to nearly $7.7 million in the year beginning July 1 from $1.85 million currently. A visitor center – with educational exhibits, a 3-D theater, gift shop and restaurant – is key to unlocking that revenue stream. (1/29)

After tourism, 50 percent of projected revenue hinges on more regular launches, namely the start of Virgin Galactic flights, slated to begin later this year – although the company has pushed back start dates before. The remainder of revenue will stem from leases and special events, Anderson said. NMSU Economics Professor James Peach expressed skepticism that the spaceport will be fully operational this year, but added that commercial spaceflight seems “more likely this year than it has been at any time in the past.” (1/29)

i-City Unveils Malaysian Space Age Attraction (Source: Astro Awani)
i-City, a popular tourist destination in Selangor has unveiled its latest attraction - Space Mission@i-City - that provides education and entertainment to visitors in futuristic space exploration combining intergalactic travel and deep space exploration. Built on a 30,000 sq ft area, Space Mission aims to reignite the interest in space science and technology in an innovative way by making it an affair for family members regardless of age to immerse in various forms of space travel adventure, said i-City. (1/29)

ESA Preps For New Round Of Budget Talks In December (Source: Aviation Week)
After 50 years spent building and sustaining a cumbersome launch sector based on government backing for new developments, Europe is trying something new. In the first six months of 2014, the European Space Agency (ESA) will sketch the outline of a restructured industrial landscape aimed at building and launching the Ariane 6, a next-generation rocket designed to be more affordable and less costly than the Ariane 5 of today. (1/29)

Satellite To Be Moved, Renamed Afghansat 1 (Source: Space News)
Satellite fleet operator Eutelsat is moving an in-orbit spacecraft to an orbital slot covering Afghanistan and renaming it Afghansat 1 following a strategic partnership with the Afghan government. Afghanistan thus becomes the latest emerging nation to move toward its own satellite capacity instead of continuing conventional leases with established operators. (1/29)

A Brief History of Mind-Bending Ideas About Black Holes (Source: WIRED)
Physicist Stephen Hawking made headlines recently by saying that black holes – the incredibly massive astronomical objects that made him famous – do not exist. Or they exist, but not how we think. Or something. The truth is complicated.

In fact, to really understand where Hawking and the rest of the astrophysics community are coming from, it’s important to know a little history. Just how we arrived at this complex situation is strange, involving a spate of discoveries about the properties of black holes, each solving some previous problem. But, like a hydra sprouting new heads for each one cut off, the solutions generated new difficulties, eventually leading to Hawking’s recent declaration. Click here. (1/29)

Boeing Shares Tumble (Source: Bloomberg)
Boeing shares dropped the most in two years after it forecast profit for 2014 that fell short of analysts’ estimates amid a slowing pace of jet orders. Earnings fell as Boeing faces U.S. defense cuts and higher financing costs that analysts say may impede commercial aircraft sales that had risen for four years. Boeing shares fell 5.3 percent to $129.78 at the close in New York on trading volume that was more than four times its daily average. It was the biggest decline since Aug. 10, 2011. The shares advanced 81 percent in 2013, the most among the 30 stocks in the Dow Jones Industrials Average. (1/29)

Clouds on Nearby Brown Dwarf Mapped (Source: Science News)
One of the first maps of clouds on an object outside the solar system has been produced. The clouds surround Luhman 16B, a brown dwarf just 6.6 light-years away in the constellation Vela. Brown dwarfs are gaseous objects larger than planets but too small to fuse hydrogen as true stars do. Previous studies hinted that brown dwarfs’ ultrahot atmospheres contain clouds of molten iron, calcium, silicon and aluminum. (1/29)

ESA Says Rosetta in Good Shape After 31-Month Snooze (Source: Astronomy Now)
A first look at the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft after its reactivation last week shows the probe endured an unprecedented power-saving hibernation with few problems, giving engineers confidence the mission can continue the final leg of its decade-long pursuit of a little-known comet thought to harbor the building blocks of life. (1/29)

California Lawmakers Pass Space Industry Tax Exemption (Source: Sacramento Bee)
California lawmakers have approved legislation to exempt space companies from paying property tax on space-flight property. The Assembly approved AB777 by Democratic Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi of Torrance on a 64-5 vote Wednesday. Muratsuchi says the 10-year exemption in state law is necessary to help California retain companies in the growing space-exploration field.

Several lawmakers testified about the importance of the industry in the areas they represent. Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, a Republican from Bakersfield, said the governors of Texas and New Mexico regularly visit space companies in the Mojave Desert "trying to recruit them" to leave California. The state Board of Equalization estimates the loss of tax revenue would be about $1.1 million a year. The bill now moves to the state Senate. (1/29)

Russian Space Farmers Harvest Wheat, Peas and Greens (Source: RIA Novosti)
A variety of crops have been successfully harvested on board the International Space Station and verified as safe to eat, a Russian scientist said Wednesday. “The experiments with peas have been very promising,” Margarita Levinskikh, a researcher at the Institute of Biomedical Problems told an annual space conference in Moscow.

Russian cosmonauts have also grown Japanese leafy greens and a variety of dwarf wheat that has produced seeds of “just extraordinary quality,” she added. Levinskikh said that next year Russian cosmonauts will sow rice, tomatoes and bell peppers after repairing the station’s Lada greenhouse. (1/29)

Mining the Moon: Plans Taking Off, but Rules Lacking (Source: Epoch Times)
Just two years before Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, a treaty was signed by the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union. Signed even as the race to get to the moon was well underway, the 1967 Outer Space Treaty declared that no nation-state could ever own the moon.

The treaty, however, was written at a time when current threats were too real and visions of the future were too dim. Concepts like space tourism, orbital hotels, and companies mining the moon for minerals would have been written off as science fiction. Fast-forward to today and you’ll find companies like Virgin Galactic ferrying wealthy tourists into space, a man skydiving from low orbit for a Red Bull advertisement, and companies like Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries looking to mine the moon for its resources.

While the 1967 Space Treaty governs what countries can and cannot do on the moon, it leaves private companies unregulated. For countries like China, where many large companies are state-owned, the line separating the interests of government and business is unclear. Click here. (1/29)

Safety Is Next Step In NASA Commercial Crew Work (Source: Aviation Week)
The commercial crew funding level NASA received for the remainder of this fiscal year likely will force agency managers to drop their goal of supporting more than one space taxi to lift astronauts to the International Space Station at competitive prices. It also may lengthen the time it takes to get U.S.-launched crews off the ground.

As the private sector advances in the push to replace the space shuttle for U.S. access to low Earth orbit (LEO), the rules—and the potential rewards—are changing. To help ensure crew safety, NASA is shifting to a more rigorous contracting approach than the Space Act agreements used in vehicle development. (1/28)

New Mexico Senator: Spaceport Authority Misspent Funds (Source: KFOX)
A bill sponsored by state Sen. Lee Cotter, of Dona Ana County, basically would not allow the spaceport authority and the finance authority to use extra money generated by gross receipts tax on daily operations at Spaceport America. Cotter says those two authorities did that last year with about $739,000 in extra revenue generated by that gross receipts tax. The money, he says, did not go to the building. Instead it went to fire, security and other “daily” operations of the spaceport, which the state said it would pay for.

So now he hopes this legislation will fix that language in the law so that doesn’t happen again. “The tax will only be on you as a taxpayer until all the debt is repaid. So we basically have $739,000 that they did not pay back on the debt," Cotter said. Asked if he wants to see resignations from the board members who he says did this, he said no. He says he doesn’t want to get rid of people who know so much about this project. Instead he just wants to make sure they can’t pull that same stunt again. (1/28)

FAA Approves Spaceflight Courses by Florida- Based Black Sky Training (Source: BST)
The FAA/AST on Jan. 22 granted approval of 5 new courses for spaceflight training by Florida-based Black Sky Training. The addition of these courses to the BST’s first ever FAA approved space flight training course, High Altitude Physiology, given in BST’s Hypobaric Chamber, fulfills BST’s offering for the Space Flight Participant Series. These revolutionary courses allow BST to offer FAA approved courses to train as commercial astronauts for not only Space Flight Participants, but to those wanting to become pilots of rocket powered RLV spacecraft.

BST’s “modular” approach to training allows students to select courses from a 3-day package, a 5 day package or the complete 8 day course. The 8 day course is intended for those wishing to “Learn to fly to the Black SkyTM” with one of the sub-orbital or future orbital flight providers. This is the only flexible training program in the world, and now with FAA approval, exceeds most providers training requirements. (1/29)

Evidence Exposes Space Travel's Real Toll on Immune Systems (Source: Space Daily)
Evidence is now shining a spotlight on how much space missions take a toll on humans' immune systems. At least 29 cases of infectious diseases being contracted on board a spacecraft were reported on during a 2012 study that looked into 106 flights and 742 crewmembers. Head colds, fungal infections, and gastroenteritis were just some of the ailments that overtook the participants of the study.

What may be worse is the fact that they are million miles away from home and do not get to have sufficient bed-rest or comfort foods while under the weather. It could be noted as quite an oddity that space illness does not get the hype that it most likely deserves. "The immune system can go on the fritz in space: wounds heal more slowly; infection-fighting T-cells send signals less efficiently; bone marrow replenishes itself less effectively; killer cells -- another key immune system player -- fight less energetically."

In space, pathogens enjoy an easy time growing strong and creating a resistance wall to antimicrobials. Specifically, herpes and staph have been reported as thriving in gravity-free environments of a spacecraft that are in extremely sterile conditions. Induced gravity through the use of centrifuge seems to be the best bet at solving immune system errors, an idea thought of as resourceful for keeping on top of bone and muscle mass. Increasing astronauts' immunity would be a plus for their experience on space missions. (1/29)

Embry-Riddle to Host Florida Robotics Championship, Award $20,000 Scholarships (Source: ERAU)
Embry-Riddle will host the Florida finals of the FIRST Technical Challenge (FTC) at its Daytona Beach, Fla., campus on Saturday, Feb. 1, welcoming nearly two dozen teams of students in grades 7-12 from around the state who will compete with robots they’ve designed, built and programmed. Twelve students competing will receive scholarships totaling $20,000 per student over the course of four years for enrollment at one of Embry-Riddle’s residential campuses in Daytona Beach or Prescott, Arizona. (1/29)

Train Like An Astronaut at JSC for $45,000? Not Without NASA's Permission. (Source: NASA Watch)
Their Google+ page proclaims "At Waypoint 2 Space, we are proud to be the only Commercial Space Training Company in the world using NASA facilities. Operating from the global hub of space technology - NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas."

So ... how is it that Waypoint2Space is selling services - services that it is not (yet) in a position to offer? 300 seats at $45,000 a seat is $13.5 million. What does NASA get from this deal? How can they advertise prices like this (and take deposits) without an agreement in place? Click here. (1/28)

Lawsuit Alleges NASA Is Failing To Investigate Alien Life (Source: Popular Science)
ou may recall, NASA recently announced that a strange rock had somehow "appeared" in front of its Mars Opportunity rover. The explanations for the mystery rock were straight-forward: maybe some kind of nearby impact sent a rock toward the rover, or, more likely, the rover knocked the rock out of the ground and no one noticed until later.

Not so, says self-described scientist Rhawn Joseph, an author of trade books on topics ranging from alien life to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The rock was a living thing, and he's filed a lawsuit to compel NASA to examine the rock more closely. Joseph is involved with the Journal of Cosmology, online publisher of some very controversial papers. In fact, this isn't the first report of alien life to come out of the journal. Click here. (1/28)

Is Now the Time to Start Working on Space Property Rights? (Source: Space Politics)
Given the current range of space policy issues under discussion and debate, the concept of space property rights can seem a little, well, out there. Lunar bases and asteroid prospecting are still likely years in the future: can’t this issue wait? Not in the eyes of some legal experts and space advocates.

This topic came up at last month’s meeting of the FAA’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) in Washington. “We want to reaffirm to the FAA that what we are looking for is confirmation that a company that invests in extraction of resources has ability to profit from them,” Bigelow’s Mike Gold, who is also chairman of COMSTAC, said during a meeting of the committee’s business and legal working group on December 10 as they crafted a recommendation calling for such an approach.

“We want property rights recognized, but I don’t think we’re interested in a very extensive regulatory regime,” said Paul Stimers of K&L Gates, who representing Planetary Resources at last month’s COMSTAC meeting. “We do need to provide that certainty to investors, to the people who are preparing to make a significant commitment to this effort, that they will be able to enjoy the fruits of their labor.” (1/28)

Virgin Galactic Suddenly Very Chatty About Engine Progress (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The exclusive, multi-platform partnership that Virgin Galactic has forged with NBCUniversal has begun to bear fruit over the past two months. The media giant has signed on to chronicle Sir Richard Branson’s flight aboard SpaceShipTwo and all the events leading up to it.

In November, Sir Richard Branson phoned into CNBC from his Necker Island retreat in the Caribbean to announce that Virgin Galactic would begin accepting the virtual currency Bitcoin for SpaceShipTwo reservations. A month later, NBC News got into the act, with Science Editor Alan Boyle and a film crew trekking out to Mojave for a powered flight of SpaceShipTwo. They went away disappointed when the test was scrubbed due to a rare patch of bad weather in the High Desert.

But, no matter. Boyle has been giving Virgin Galactic blanket coverage ever since, in a manner reminiscent of the Life Magazine coverage of the American space program during the 1960′s. Boyle’s latest article is an in-depth look at Virgin’s development of its Newton engines, which will power the company’s LauncherOne small satellite rocket. Aside from giving too much credence to Virgin Galactic’s far-in-the-future plans for point-to-point passenger service, it’s a well-written story chock full of interesting details. And that’s precisely what makes the piece so very strange. Click here. (1/29)

Planetary Resources’ Team Reflects on Opportunity’s 10 Years on Mars (Source: Planetary Resources)
Ten years ago, an epic event shaped many of us here at Planetary Resources: humans landed a rover on Mars, and we helped put it there. Opportunity greeted the Martian surface on Jan. 25, 2004. Just three weeks prior, its counterpart Spirit also met the Red Planet and began its exploration. During the rover’s 120 million mile journey to Mars, the crew who designed, built and launched Opportunity had ample time to let their imagination run about the day it would reach its destination.

Myself, and Planetary Resources’ team members Chris Voorhees and Peter Illsley, were there. We played various roles in the development of the 400lbs. rover and were in Mission Control during the “6 minutes of terror” landing sequence, each one of us waiting for the rover to activate so that we could stop holding our breath. (1/29)

Congressional Cuts Force NASA to Send More Money to Russia (Source: Parabolic Arc)
NASA’s bill for crew transportation services to the International Space Station is expected to rise to more than $2 billion with the space agency’s latest decision to extend an agreement with the Russian space agency Roscosmos through the spring of 2018.

NASA plans to purchase six additional seats aboard Russian Soyuz transports for 2017 plus emergency crew rescue services through the spring of 2018. A similar deal the space agency signed last May for 2016 and 2017 cost $424 million, or roughly $70 million per seat. How much the new agreement will cost is unknown, but costs have risen sharply over the past several years. (1/29)

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