January 5, 2014

Decision Looms in SpaceX Race (Source: Morning Valley Star)
Cameron County is poised for the selection of a commercial rocket-launch facility site. The FAA’s decision on SpaceX’s proposal to establish a privately owned commercial rocket-launching facility in Cameron County is expected soon, according to a statement that the California-based space exploration firm provided to the Valley Morning Star Friday.

“FAA is now working toward the completion of the final Environmental Impact Statement and the subsequent issuance of a final Record of Decision,” SpaceX spokeswoman Hannah Post said. “While the timing of these critical steps are not within SpaceX’s control, we are hopeful that these will be complete in the near future,” Post added.

“SpaceX would like to thank the South Texas and statewide organizations who have been extremely helpful partners toward this effort,” Post also told the Star. Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp., which has nearly 50 launches on its manifest representing about $5 billion in contracts, plans to invest $73,650,000 in the Boca Chica project. (1/4)

City to Take Stance on Spaceport Sales Tax-Related Proposal (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
Another local government will consider taking a stance against a proposal that jeopardizes Spaceport America sales-tax dollars going to students. The Las Cruces City Council will vote Monday on a formal statement opposing a state law change that's been pitched by some New Mexico legislators.

A version of the bill in question has been pre-filed by state Rep. Sheryl Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, in advance of the Jan. 21 start to this year's legislative session, according to the New Mexico Legislature website. Las Cruces City Councilor Miguel Silva, who first raised the issue with city councilors last month, said any changes that reduce the benefit of spaceport sales-tax dollars for local school districts would go against voters' intent in passing the taxes. (1/4)

Will Entrepreneurs Rescue the Space Program (Source: Seguin Gazette)
US astronauts first landed on the moon 45 years ago, but NASA has abandoned plans to go back. Now that the remaining Space Shuttles have been retired to museums, the US can no longer send astronauts into space. Instead, NASA must rely on Russia to send our astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Meanwhile, China has landed a sophisticated scientific robot on the lunar surface and is planning a manned lunar expedition. Russia, the European Union, India and even North Korea are all making advances in space.

There is still hope for the US human space program. In 2010 the Federal government abandoned an expensive program intended to replace the Shuttle. Instead, NASA was directed to rely on private industry to develop a new human space program. A private venture funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen paved the way for NASA’s new strategy with the 2004 flight of SpaceShipOne, a manned rocket launched from a custom aircraft that reached an altitude of more than 71 miles. (1/5)

Another Shuttle Hangar Falls Under Boeing's Control (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
It looks like Boeing is making up for lost time. According to a report by James Dean appearing on the website for Florida Today the aerospace company, fresh off the heels of signing the lease for the space shuttle’s Orbiter Processing Facility 3 (OPF-3), will be taking control of Orbiter Processing Facility 1 (OPF-1). Whereas Boeing will use OPF-3 for the company’s CST-100 commercial space “taxi” – OPF-1 will have a more clandestine task in store for it.

According to Florida Today’s report, the acquisition of the structure, which has been dormant since the departure of space shuttle Atlantis in 2012, will be used to process the U.S. Air Force’s X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle. Naturally, given the secretive nature of the X-37B program, no comment has been forthcoming regarding this recent revelation from the U.S. Air Force. This effort could provide a possible boon to Florida’s struggling Space Coast.

Economically, the end of the space shuttle era severely impacted the region. While there have been statements that NASA’s commercial efforts would bring jobs to the Space Coast - to date an appreciable change has not yet taken place. For the U.S. Air Force’s X-37B program, this will mark a departure from the current processing flow. Click here. (1/4)

The Obama Legacy in Planetary Exploration (Source: Space.com)
It is frustrating, at a time when other nations are in ascendancy in space, that the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama seems committed to undermining the nation's own solar system exploration program. The Obama administration cut NASA's planetary-sciences budget by 20 percent in 2013. It has taken the National Research Council's (NRC) recommendations for prioritizing planetary investments in bad economic times and turned those recommendations upside down.

The administration continues to favor large, directed projects at the expense of programs and missions that are openly competed. Now, the Obama Administration is preparing to go after the seed corn of the U.S. solar-system exploration program: its planetary research and analysis programs. (1/5)

GSLV-D5 Rocket Launched Successfully (Source: NDTV)
The Indian Space Research Organization or ISRO achieved another milestone today as it successfully launched the Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle or GSLV-D5 from the Satish Dhawan Space Center at Sriharikota. The advanced GSAT-14 communications satellite that the rocket was carrying has also been placed into orbit. (1/5)

GSLV Ready for Commercial Use After One More Launch (Source: Business Standard)
The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) on Sunday said it was now confident of carrying heavy satellites for other countries. However, one more flight would be required before going commercial on a full-fledged basis. Speaking minutes after the successful launch of GSLV-D5, Isro Chairman K Radhakrishnan said: “After flying one more GSLV, we will be in a position to declare the rocket as commercially operational.” It might take six-12 months for the next GSLV to get ready for its mission. (1/5)

Dreamers Who Dare to Explore Buoy the Rest of Us (Source: Tennesean)
It probably seems hokey to most of us — the stuff of Gene Roddenberry’s science fantasy television, voiced by Capt. Jim Kirk: “Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

When the folks behind the Dutch-led endeavor to colonize Mars in 2024 announced their intentions in 2011, most of us did not pay attention. But when I saw the stories this week about the first pool of 1,058 astronaut-colonists, which included three Tennessee residents, I was intrigued, and a bit jealous. Click here. (1/5)

Decade-Old Rover Adventure Continues on Mars and Earth (Source: NASA JPL)
Eighth graders didn't have Facebook or Twitter to share news back then, in January 2004. Bekah Sosland, 14 at the time, learned about a NASA rover landing on Mars when the bouncing-ball video on the next morning's Channel One news in her Fredericksburg, Texas, classroom caught her eye.

"I wasn't particularly interested in space at the time," she recalled last week inside the spacecraft operations facility where she now works at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "I remember I was talking with friends, and out of the corner of my eye I noticed this thing bouncing and rolling on a red surface. I watched as it stopped and opened up, and it had this rover inside." (1/3)

John Malone's Liberty Media Wants To Absorb Rest Of Sirius XM (Source: Forbes)
Billionaire John Malone’s Liberty Media LMCA +0.65% announced late Friday a proposal to turn Sirius XM Radio SIRI +2.43% into a wholly-owned subsidiary by creating a third class of Liberty Media shares. Liberty already owns a controlling stake in Sirius XM, but would take full ownership in the potential deal. (1/4)

Why the Challenger Disaster Belongs in a Love Song (Source: WIRED)
Beyoncé Knowles’ track “XO” from her new album Beyoncé begins with a six-second sample of NASA public affairs officer Steve Nesbitt’s commentary immediately after the space shuttle Challenger exploded in January, 1986. “Flight controllers here looking very carefully at the situation… obviously a major malfunction,” Nesbitt says in a monotone punctuated by the beep of a walkie-talkie. Then the song starts, never to return to that sample, or subject.

In the post-Christmas news vacuum, that brief sample provoked a trumped-up outrage. NASA press secretary Lauren B. Worley and June Scobee Rodgers, the widow of Challenger commander Dick Scobee, laid into Rodgers laid into Beyoncé for daring to refer to something that “should never be trivialized.” Beyoncé responded with a meaningless but suitably reverential statement that she and co-writers Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic and Terius “The-Dream” Nash “included the audio in tribute to the unselfish work of the Challenger crew with hope that they will never be forgotten.”

That’s one way to spin it, the sort of thing said to smooth ruffled feathers without having to explain context. It didn’t mention, for instance, that Beyoncé’s music has drawn on the language of space flight for years. As Forrest Wickman noted at Slate, Beyoncé includes a song called “Rocket,” she sang “Lift Off” on Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne, and she suggested her hometown relationship to NASA on 2011′s “Countdown” when she sang, London speed it up, Houston rock it. She even recorded a wake-up call for the crew of the final shuttle mission, STS-135. (1/4)

UA Busy Working on Mission to Asteroid (Source: AZ Central)
The NASA spacecraft isn’t even built yet, but the clock in the Michael J. Drake Building at the University of Arizona is already ticking toward a September 2016 launch. That’s when an unmanned craft is scheduled to blast off from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport with the goal of bringing back a sample of an asteroid that may pose a hazard to Earth in the 22nd century.

UA is leading the $1 billion project, called OSIRIS-REx, which faces a major mission milestone this spring. Between now and early April, NASA will conduct critical design reviews on the mission and the spacecraft components and instruments. The reviews are a necessary step before construction can begin. The contract for the mission, which will take seven years and cover roughly 3.5 billion miles, is the university’s largest space contract to date, eclipsing the $428 million Phoenix Mars Mission in 2008. (1/4)

Main Engine Was Challenge In Chang’e 3 Development (Source: Aviation Week)
Among the challenges Chinese engineers had to overcome in achieving a landing on the Moon, one of the trickiest was developing a powerful variable-thrust engine for the job—one that could responsively throttle up and down as needed to get the probe to lunar orbit, then deliver it to its landing point, stopping on the way to survey the terrain.

Chinese development engineers overcame many roadblocks to bring the engine to fruition. It is the main powerplant for the Chang'e 3 lunar probe, says the chief designer for the propulsion program, Jin Guangming. Generating 7.5 kilonewtons (1,690 lb.) of thrust, it is three times as powerful as the main powerplant of China's Shenzhou manned spacecraft, Jin says, emphasizing that the main difficulty in development was not the large increase in output but, rather, achieving a wide range of variable thrust, precision control, high performance (presumably meaning efficiency) and durability. (12/30)

KSC Lands Secret X-37B Space Plane, Jobs (Source: Florida Today)
A secretive military space plane will move into a vacant former space shuttle hangar at Kennedy Space Center, potentially bringing hundreds of jobs. Use of the former shuttle hangar called Orbiter Processing Facility-1 will allow the Air Force’s classified X-37B program “to efficiently land, recover, refurbish and re-launch” the unmanned system in Florida, according to Boeing, which built and supports the program’s two orbital vehicles. (1/4)

TDRS L Readied for Mid-January Launch (Source: Spaceflight Now)
The next-generation NASA science-relay satellite is being prepped for shrouding in the bullet-shaped nose cone that will shield it during launch Jan. 23. At the commercial Astrotech processing campus in Titusville, the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite L, or TDRS L, is being readied to join NASA's constellation of communications satellites 22,300 miles above Earth.

The craft will be encapsulated next Wednesday, Jan. 8 and then moved across the river to Cape Canaveral on Monday, Jan. 13 for mating to its Atlas-Centaur rocket. The United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 will carry the spacecraft on a two-hour flight to geosynchronous transfer orbit, the normal dropoff point for communications satellites. Liftoff is planned for Jan. 23 at 9:05 p.m. EST. (1/4)

Why GSLV Mission is Crucial for India (Source: Business Standard)
The GSLV mission is important for the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), because it has to prove its capability, as the last three launch attempts had failed. Since its first experimental flight in 2001, there have been four failures in seven launches of the GSLV. Although the first mission underperformed, the launches in 2003 and 2004 were successful. Of the seven missions, Russian-made engines were used six times.

An indigenious cryogenic engine was first used in April 2010. After the attempt failed, the vehicle was redesigned. But this time too it did not succeeed. Again, in August 2013, the launch was called off at the last minute after Isro officials found a leak in the hydrazine fuel system on the rocket’s second stage. So, ISRO wants “to break the jinx that doomed Isro’s capability to handle GSLV”. (1/4)

Asian Powers Open New Chapter in Space Race (Source: Sydney Morning Herald)
Towards the end of last year, a six-year-old aspiring astronaut from Colorado offered up the contents of his piggy bank to help support the chronically underfunded NASA. After learning that the US government body that once put a man on the moon was now cutting funding for its planetary science division, Connor Johnson pledged $US10.41 to help keep the NASA department in business.

Barely a month later, China sent the Chang'e-3 mission, carrying the unmanned Jade Rabbit lander to the moon, raising the prospect that it will be China's taikonauts rather than US astronauts exploring space in the future. The mission put China in the select club of only two other nations – the US and Russia – to have landed moon rovers successfully. Click here. (1/4)

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