February 11, 2014

Assets and Liabilities (Source: SpaceKSC)
Members of the Congressional panel that met on Feb. 10 at KSC understand the days of OldSpace are over. In his remarks, Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) was quite blunt that the old ways of doing business have to change: "Under the old business model with NASA and the Air Force, we basically choked the Golden Goose to death with red tape and over-regulation, launch fees and other disincentives. Many in the commercial space industry found it much more advantageous to operate in other countries, where in fact instead of overregulating and essentially taxing the commercial space industry, they subsidized it."

Several members acknowledged a general lack of interest within Congress to increase NASA funding, a refreshing honesty from the usual rhetoric heard on the House and Senate space subcommittees. Those panels are loaded with members who represent districts and states that have NASA facilities and/or contractors. Those committees typically order NASA to direct limited resources to their districts, but don't provide adequate funding to execute programs on time or on budget.

This panel's purpose wasn't to protect OldSpace, but to hasten the arrival of NewSpace by removing bureaucratic obstacles to releasing federal properties to the private sector. Shiloh can be viewed as a surplus federal asset, which is why it was a large part of this event. Click here. (2/11)

Congressional Hearing Covers Shiloh Issues (Source: SpaceKSC)
The Shiloh site was included within KSC's boundaries when the government acquired the land in the early 1960s. But projected launch pads north of State Route 402 never materialized. Charles Lee of Audubon Florida said he believes it's time to transfer all land north of SR-402 to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. For land south of SR-402, “we believe that a maximum effort needs to be made to repurpose those properties for use by the private space industry, and for Space Florida.”

But Space Florida has repeatedly stated they intend to use abandoned citrus plantation property, not “pristine areas." Lee questioned the legitimacy of Space Florida's claims that the federal bureaucracy is an impediment, citing current negotiations between NASA and SpaceX for Pad 39A. But he ignores the many public statements by SpaceX founder Elon Musk that his company will take commercial launches to Brownsville, Texas and elsewhere if they cannot escape federally controlled facilities in the Space Coast.

Rep. John Mica (F-FL) raised the possibility of a commercial site south of SR-402. KSC Director Bob Cabana said the center's master plan looked at a possible location north of Pad 39B — “you can call it 39C” — that would be south of SR-402. Audubon's Mr. Lee indicated his support for the so-called 39C, and in a post-event media gathering Mica suggested this solution might be an effective compromise. It's possible that 39C might find its way into the EIS as an alternative, and into anti-Shiloh rhetoric. (2/11)

New Space Tourism Destination Planned on Space Coast (Source: 4Frontiers)
NewSpace Center, LLC, a 4Frontiers Corp. subsidiary, launched an initial private placement offering today that is intended to finance the first phase of INTERSPACE Florida, a real science interactive space themed destination located on a 75 acre master planned and zoned spaceport territory site eight miles from Kennedy Space Center at the Titusville Cocoa Airport (TICO).
A highly experienced core team of Central Florida based aerospace, financial, and themed entertainment professionals have assembled to support the offering and underscore INTERSPACE credibility. The company's target is to raise $15-20 million in equity to provide for the first tier of a three tier financing approach that also includes both public bonds and commercial debt. A total of $80 million is required to fund the first phase of INTERSPACE and bring the initial expansion to profitability.  

The company plans to raise the total amount this year and open INTERSPACE in 2016. The company expects a high return on equity, projecting a five year simple payback that includes a two year period for initial design and construction. The first phase of INTERSPACE is estimated to create 300 jobs including 200 in the company and 100 secondary positions within the local economy. Titusville and Brevard County have provided a combined ad valorem tax incentive of $1.4 million in support of this expansion. Click here. (2/11)

Shiloh Study Underway. Too Late for SpaceX? (Source: NewSpace Journal)
Public hearings—in the city of New Smyrna Beach on Tuesday and Titusville on Wednesday—are intended to solicit input from the community about what should be included in the EIS. That study will get underway later this year and will likely be the critical factor in the request by Space Florida, the state space development organization, for a spaceport license for the facility; without the license, or even with a license that contains sharp restrictions on operations based on the outcome of the EIS, the Shiloh facility may not be built at all.

Florida, though, isn’t the only state pursuing SpaceX, and the Sunshine State’s bid could be clouded out by Texas. SpaceX has been quietly buying land at a site on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico east of Brownsville, just a few kilometers north of the Mexican border. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has said on a number of occasions, including a talk last March, that Brownsville was the leading candidate for SpaceX’s planned new commercial spaceport.

That decision could be coming soon, which may be bad news for Shiloh’s supporters. The Brownsville Herald reported last month that the EIS for the Texas site should be completed and released to the public by “late winter.” Since the EIS has traditionally been the “long pole” in any spaceport licensing decision, the release may mean a license could soon follow, long before Shiloh’s EIS is complete. (2/10)

Public Invited to Comment on Proposed Shiloh Launch Complex (Source: Florida Today)
For those unable to attend the two FAA public scoping meetings for the Shiloh Environmental Impact Study in New Smyrna Beach and Titusville, public comments may be submitted via email to faashiloheis@cardnotec.com through Feb. 21. (2/11)

Space Florida Selects ATK for Launch Pad Comm Upgrade (Source: Space Florida
Space Florida has signed a contract with Alliant Techsystems to continue the refurbishment and modernization of Launch Complex 46 (LC-46) at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. LC-46 is a key launch complex for supporting future NASA, Department of Defense, and commercial missions. Additionally, under this effort, Space Florida will develop operations and maintenance tools and software to assure the site meets industry standards for interaction with the U.S. Air Force Eastern Range.

NASA intends to launch its Orion Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle Ascent Abort 2 test flight (AA‑2) from SLC-46 in 2018 with pathfinder operations in the years preceding the flight. This is another critical step in America’s return beyond Earth’s orbit after 40+ years. Additional vehicles projected to launch from SLC-46 include the Lockheed Martin Athena family, Orbital Sciences’ Minotaur and Taurus rockets, or other commercial, NASA, and/or military launch vehicles.

LC-46 is critical to Florida, as it is one of the few sites located on the Cape Canaveral Spaceport that support small- to medium-class payload launchers. As such, infrastructure enhancements at SLC-46 will improve the Spaceport’s capabilities to host such military launch programs as those tied to Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) initiatives. (2/11)

Branson Promises Commercial SS2 Flights This Year, UAE Spaceport Soon (Source: NewSpace Journal)
Richard Branson, speaking at the 2014 United Arab Emirates Government Summit in Dubai, said he was still confident that SpaceShipTwo would start carrying customers on suborbital space tourism flights before the end of the year. “We have 300 engineers beavering away on it,” Branson said, according to Arabian Business. “We have two more test flights [and we should] go into space in three to four months time.”

Branson said he expected to fly in space by Christmas 2013, a date that long since has come and gone. Yesterday, he said he would be worried if he doesn’t fly by the end of this year: “If myself and my family are not in space by the end of the year, I would be very, very worried.” Branson also said Virgin was still planning to develop a spaceport in the UAE. “I hope we’ll have a space hub in Abu Dhabi in a couple of years,” he said. (2/11)

Cubesat Constellation Begins Deployment From Space Station (Source: SpaceFlight 101)
The Flock-1 constellation of Cube-Satellites has begun deployment from the International Space Station. Flock-1, operated by Planet Labs Inc. of San Francisco, consists of a total of 28 satellites that will provide high resolution images of Earth for a number of purposes. Using the Japanese Robotic Arm and a deployment system provided by NanoRacks, the first set of satellites was released on Tuesday. More deployments will come over the coming days and weeks to establish a constellation of CubeSats with a close eye on planet Earth. (2/11)

DARPA to Test Unmanned Space Plane in 2017 (Source: Space.com)
An unmanned experimental space plane is set to launch in 2017, a project of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which wants the XS-1 to carry up to 5,000 lb. into orbit. "The vision here is to break the cycle of escalating space system costs, enable routine space access and hypersonic vehicles," XS-1 program manager Jess Sponable says. (2/11)

Nano/Microsatellite Market Assessment Released (Source: SpaceWorks)
SpaceWorks Enterprises, Inc. (SEI) has released the annual update to its nanosatellite and microsatellite market assessment. The assessment presents the latest observations, trends, and projections for the nano/microsatellite market. Projections indicate considerable growth in the nano/microsatellite market, with an estimated range of 410 to 543 nano/microsatellites (1-50 kg) that will need launches globally in 2020 (compared to 92 in 2013). Click here. (2/11)

Dripping Springs Named The First International Dark Sky Community In Texas (Source: IDA)
The stars at night remain big and bright deep in the heart of the Texas - thanks to the hard work and dedication of Texas Hill Country residents. The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) announced today it has designated the first International Dark Sky Community in Texas. In naming the Dripping Springs International Dark Sky Community, IDA is pleased to recognize local efforts to protect and preserve the character of the nighttime sky over central Texas.

"Dripping Springs joins a select club as the world's sixth Dark Sky Community," said IDA Executive Director Bob Parks. "They've embraced smart lighting through effective controls that improve visibility, while preserving the night sky." Editor's Note: Florida has three International Dark Sky Association chapters, with events planned for Feb. 28 and March 1 in the town of Harmony. (2/11)

Orion Stage Adapter Aces Structural Loads Testing (Source: Space Daily)
A test article of the stage adapter that will connect the Orion spacecraft to a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket for its first mission, Exploration Flight Test-1, aced structural loads testing Jan. 30. Now, the stage adapter that will fly on the Delta IV is officially ready for the journey to its final exam -- a flight more than 15 times farther into deep space than the International Space Station. (2/11)

Canadian Political Opposition to Space Policy (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Following the release of the Canadian government’s framework for space, the opposition party New Democratic Party (NDP) has issued a press release attacking the ruling Conservative Party’s approach to the industry. "After nearly running the Canadian Space Agency into the ground with short-sighted budget cuts and sheer incompetence, the Conservatives are now trying to convince Canadians that they’re its biggest champions."

“Conservatives are compromising middle-class jobs in this innovative sector,” said NDP Industry critic Chris Charlton (Hamilton Mountain). “Thanks to Conservative ineptitude, important projects like the Radarsat Constellation Mission are late, over budget and jobs have been lost.” (2/10)

Waiting for Word on Yutu's Fate (Source: Space Policy Online)
China has made no announcement about the fate of its Yutu lunar rover. A malfunction occurred as the rover entered the 14-day lunar "night" on January 25. Sunlight has returned to Yutu's location, but the Chinese media have not said one way or the other if the rover woke up. China's Chang'e-3 lander and its Yutu rover arrived at the Moon on December 14, 2013 Eastern Standard Time (EST). Chang'e is the name of China's mythological goddess of the Moon and Yutu is her companion Jade Rabbit. (2/10)

Google Wins Right To Lease Moffett Field, Will Restore Hangar One (Source: Tech Crunch)
Google has long operated its fleet of private jets out of NASA’s Moffett Field thanks to a long-standing deal with the U.S. government, but it looks like it’s ready to expand its presence at the Silicon Valley airfield. The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) and NASA today announced that Planetary Ventures LLC, a shell company Google occasionally uses for its real-estate deals, has been selected as the preferred lessee for Moffett Field and Hangar One.

The iconic Hangar One will be rehabilitated under this proposal. Google had previously tried to work with NASA to revamp the hangar, but was rebuffed by NASA at the time. Just a few years ago, the Navy stripped the toxic panels from the structures outside and, currently, only its skeleton remains. Under the new proposal, Google will “rehabilitate and maintain the historic integrity of Hangar One and the Shenandoah Plaza Historic District.” Google will re-skin Hangar One, upgrade the existing golf course and also create a public use and education facility on the airfield.

Google is also currently working on a project to expand the $82 million private jet center at San Jose International Airport. It’s not clear if today’s announcement will change any of these plans. In the past, Google has been widely criticized for getting tax cuts on the jet fuel it purchased at a discount from the government. (2/10)

Morpheus Lander Flies Again at Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: Hobby Space)
NASA’s Project Morpheus flew their Armadillo Aerospace quad-style vertical takeoff and landing rocket vehicle today at Kennedy Space Center. The multi-center Morpheus Team successfully completed Free Flight7 (FF7). The 5th free flight of the Bravo vehicle flew to 467 feet (142m), altitude and then traversed 637 feet (194m) in 30 seconds before landing in the hazard field. Initial data indicated a nominal flight meeting all test objectives. (2/10)

NASA and French Space Agency Sign Agreement for Mars Mission (Source: NASA)
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Jean-Yves Le Gall, president of the National Center of Space Studies of France (CNES), signed an implementing agreement Monday for cooperation on a future NASA Mars lander called the Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Heat Transport (InSight) mission.

"This new agreement strengthens the partnership between NASA and CNES in planetary science research, and builds on more than 20 years of cooperation with CNES on Mars exploration," said Bolden. "The research generated by this collaborative mission will give our agencies more information about the early formation of Mars, which will help us understand more about how Earth evolved." (2/10)

NASA Bets on Private Companies to Exploit Moon's Resources (Source: Space Daily)
NASA -- building on successful partnerships with private companies to resupply the International Space Station -- is now looking to private entrepreneurs to help exploit resources on the moon. In its latest initiative, unveiled in late January, the US space agency is proposing private companies take advantage of NASA's extensive know-how, its engineers and access to its installations to help design and build lunar robots.

But unlike NASA's contracts with SpaceX and Orbital Sciences to deliver cargo to the ISS, the moon proposal -- dubbed CATALYST (Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown) -- would get no US government economic help. Recent missions in the moon's orbit have revealed evidence of water and other interesting substances on the moon, explained Jason Crusan, director of NASA's advanced exploration systems. (2/9)

NASA Takes One Giant Leap Towards Mining Minerals from the Moon (Source: Independent)
In a giant leap that seems to have come straight from the world of science fiction, NASA today began accepting applications from private companies who want to launch mining operations on the moon. As part of a scheme that was unveiled in late January, the US space agency is inviting offers from potential business partners to help design and build lunar prospecting robots, the first major step required to explore Earth’s natural satellite for valuable resources. (2/10)

What NASA Is For -- Now Shut Up and Listen (Source: Huffington Post)
Every few years someone with a loud enough megaphone asks why we are spending so much money putting people into space, or, as in this most recent round of criticism, ask, "What is NASA for?" As usual people on both sides rush into the fray, some defending the proud legacy of NASA's astronaut corps and making the case for why humans are needed to do better science, and others arguing for how much more science we would get if we simply ended the showboating and risky waste of funds on human spaceflight and put the money into robots.

They are both right. They are both wrong. And they are engaged in a dead argument. Of course we should stop wasting taxpayer funds on ridiculously expensive government missions to nowhere that return little value and blaze no useful trail for others to follow. Of course we should spend much more on science -- and yes, use robots to do that science. Of course Congress often covers the exposed crotch of our human spaceflight program with the figleaf of science when it's an obvious lie to justify the pumping of billions of dollars into the voracious aerospace industrial complex. Click here. (2/10)

North Korea Completing Large Launch Pad (Source: Space Daily)
North Korea has almost completed enlargement of its main satellite launch pad, allowing the launch of rockets up to 50 metres in length as early as next month, a US think-tank said Friday. The closely-followed 38 North website of the Johns Hopkins University's US-Korea Institute said recent satellite imagery showed gantry modifications at the Sohae launch site in northwest North Korea were almost finished.

The images revealed a new level had been added to handle rockets up to 50 metres (165 feet) in length -- almost 70 percent longer than the Unha-3 rocket which successfully put a satellite in orbit in December 2012. That launch was condemned by the international community as a disguised ballistic missile test and resulted in a tightening of UN sanctions. "The pad will then be available for additional launches, probably of the Unha-3 rocket or a slightly longer variant, such as the Unha-9, which was first displayed as a model in 2012," it said. (2/7)

Virginia Beach Woman Makes First Round of Cuts for Project to Colonize Mars (Source: Daily Press)
If Lt. Heidi Beemer has her way, she'll die on Mars. Not anytime soon, mind you. The 25-year-old Virginia Beach native wants a long life, but she wants to live it out as a colonist on the red planet. In December, Beemer got a little closer to that dream when she made the first cut of an international effort to start sending humans on a one-way trip to Mars beginning in 2024. As envisioned by Mars One, a nonprofit group based in the Netherlands, four colonists would arrive every two years after that, building a permanent settlement. (2/10)

Virgin Galactic Helps Build the New Space Age in the Mojave Desert (Source: NBC News)
he Mojave Desert is where the Right Stuff was born. It's where Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier with the X-1 rocket plane in 1947. It's where other test pilots earned their astronaut wings in the X-15 during the '60s. Now the Right Stuff is being born again in Mojave. But it's an open question whether that renewed spirit of rocket-powered flight will grow up here — or take root someplace else, as it did in the 1960s.

This time, the rockets being tested in the desert aren't secret military projects. They're commercial ventures, focused on bringing the thrill of outer space to the masses and turning a profit. Today, the commercial center for the new space age is the Mojave Air and Space Port, where low-profile hangars conceal high-tech gear. On the airport's grounds, you can find Orbital Sciences' Stargazer jet, which launches Pegasus rockets in midflight.

You can see Scaled Composites, which built SpaceShipTwo — and before that, SpaceShipOne, which won the $10 million Ansari X Prize for private spaceflight a decade ago. Just a couple of blocks from Scaled, there's the hangar for XCOR Aerospace, which expects to begin test flights of its own Lynx rocket plane later this year. Off in the distance, you can see another hangar that covers almost twice as much area as a football field. That's where Stratolaunch Systems is building the world's biggest airplane to carry a new kind of air-launched rocket. (2/10)

Red Star Rising: China's Ascent to Space Superpower (Source: New Scientist)
To get an idea of China's burgeoning space programme, look no further than its satellites. Starting in 1970, China launched low-quality transponders and rudimentary spy satellites capable of only the most basic tasks at an entirely unimpressive rate of one per year. By 2012, the country had surpassed the US with 19 launches in a single year.

China had also sent its first taikonaut into space, conducted its first space walk and completed its first rendezvous and docking with a small space laboratory. "The manned program they are building is progressing a lot faster than the US did with theirs in the sixties," says Richard Holdaway, Director of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory Space division, one of the UK's closest collaborators on the Chinese space program. "They are catching up at an astonishing rate." Click here. (2/10)

Langley Helps Build World's Biggest Rocket (Source: Daily Press)
When NASA tries to describe its next-generation rocket to vault astronauts into deep space, to lasso an asteroid or land on Mars, it strains for superlatives. The SLS — or Space Launch System — will be the biggest, heaviest, most powerful booster in the world. It'll leave even the massive Saturn V moon rocket in the dust. It'll carry more payload than ever before and enable faster, straight-shot missions to other planets in the solar system rather than rely on gravitational pull to gain speed. (2/10)

Will SpaceX Super Rocket Kill NASA's 'Rocket to Nowhere'? (Source: Space.com)
SpaceX plans to build a rocket so big it would "make the Apollo moon rocket look small," the company's CEO, Elon Musk, announced on "CBS This Morning"on Feb. 3. The huge rocket would ultimately send colonists to Mars, but what would SpaceX do in the meantime? The company's primary focus right now is giving NASA astronauts access to the International Space Station (ISS) on American vehicles, drastically lowering prices to Earth orbit versus what the Russians are charging, Musk said.

If SpaceX is going to build this gargantuan rocket on its own dime, anyway, why is the U.S. Congress forcing NASA to develop the less capable Space Launch System (SLS) for many billions of dollars more? Earlier, SpaceX stated it could develop a rocket that would launch 150 metric tons of payload,or 20 metric tons more than the most powerful version of SLS at a fixed price development cost of $2.5 billion (an amount that comes to roughly 1.25 years of SLS's funding).

Also worthy of consideration is spacecraft launch company United Launch Alliance's (ULA) proposed — but not currently pursued — economical, large launcher that would loft 140 metric tons at $5.5 billion total development cost. Wouldn't it make more sense for NASA to buy a huge rocket from SpaceX or ULA and get much more capability for less money? (2/10)

Seeds of Life Can Sprout in Moon's Icy Pockets (Source: New Scientist)
Ice pockets on the moon could be cooking up the building blocks of life. Simulations show that cosmic rays coming from outside the galaxy have enough energy to turn simple molecules in lunar ice into more complex organics – carbon-based compounds central to life on Earth. In 2009, a spacecraft sent crashing into the moon's south pole kicked up water vapour – probably melted from ice trapped in shadowed craters. That water contained organics, but no one was sure how they got there. (2/10)

NASA Developing Muscle And Bone Regenerating Technology (Source: Huffington Post)
Every once in a while something comes along that makes you feel like we're living in the future - this is no exception. NASA is developing technology that can regenerate bone and muscle, essentially a healing machine like in 'Star Trek'. The space agency has in mind the long durations that astronauts spend in zero-gravity which leads to the wasting of body tissue, a process called osteopenia.

NASA is working with another company, GRoK Technologies LLC of Houston, who will use the technology to develop two other platforms. The first platform, called BioReplicates, will allow users to create 3-D human tissue models that can be used to test cosmetics, drugs and other products for safety, efficacy and toxicity with greater accuracy, reliability and cost-efficiency. This also has the potential benefit of reducing the industry's reliance on animal testing. (2/10)

Branson Says Space Venture to Fly Paying Customers This Year (Source: Bloomberg)
U.K. billionaire Richard Branson said his Virgin Galactic venture is on track to carry its first fare-paying passenger to the edge of space this year, and that he plans to take his family on a flight some time in 2014. Virgin Galactic, which completed the third rocket-powered supersonic flight of its SpaceShipTwo vehicle from Mojave Air and Space Port in California last month, is on course to meet its operational targets, Branson said today in Dubai. (2/10)

NASA Photos Show Possible Water Flows on Mars (Source: Space.com)
New clues are emerging about the mysterious streaks that appear on Mars' surface during warm weather, though scientists still can't say for sure that they're caused by flowing water. The marks, known as recurring slope lineae (RSL), snake down some crater walls and other inclines when the mercury rises on the Red Planet. New research finds seasonal changes in iron minerals at RSL sites, suggesting that brines containing an iron antifreeze may flow there from time to time — but direct evidence of water remains elusive.

Researchers studied images of 13 RSL sites taken by the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM), an instrument aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). They saw relatively high concentrations of iron minerals at most of the sites. Many scientists think the recurring slope lineae are created by water flowing just beneath the Martian surface. (2/10)

From Earthlings to Martians: How Will Living On Mars Affect Our Bodies? (Source: Space Safety)
As the next giant leap for humankind, the colonization of Mars receives a great deal of attention. When discussing the settlement of Mars, it is important to consider how the Martian environment will affect our human bodies in the long-term — a subject that does not receive as much coverage as colonization itself, yet is vital to ensuring our survival when we get there. Click here. (2/10)

Galileo Works, And Works Well (Source: ESA)
The in-orbit validation of Galileo has been achieved: Europe now has the operational nucleus of its own satellite navigation constellation in place – the world’s first civil-owned and operated satnav system. In 2011 and 2012 the first four satellites were launched into orbit. Four is the minimum number needed to perform navigation fixes.

In the following year, these satellites were combined with a growing global ground infrastructure to allow the project to undergo its crucial In-Orbit Validation phase: IOV. “IOV was required to demonstrate that the future performance that we want to meet when the system is deployed is effectively reachable,” says Sylvain Loddo, ESA’s Galileo Ground Segment Manager. (2/10)

Skybox Imaging Picks Loral to Build 13 Satellites (Source: Loral)
Space Systems/Loral (SSL) was awarded a contract by Skybox Imaging to build an advanced constellation of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites for earth imaging. The contract award helps SSL, which is best known for its high-power geostationary communications satellites, to further expand its capabilities building LEO imaging satellites and solutions.   

SSL will build 13 small LEO satellites, each about 60 x 60 x 95 centimeters and weighing roughly 120 kilograms, to be launched in 2015 and 2016. These satellites, based on a Skybox design, will capture sub-meter color imagery and up to 90-second clips of HD video with 30 frames per second. Once the 13 satellites are launched, Skybox will be able to revisit any point on earth three times per day. (2/10)

Bold Prediction: Intelligent Alien Life Could Be Found by 2040 (Source: Space.com)
The first detection of intelligent extraterrestrial life will likely come within the next quarter-century, a prominent alien hunter predicts. By 2040 or so, astronomers will have scanned enough star systems to give themselves a great shot of discovering alien-produced electromagnetic signals, said Seth Shostak of the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute in Mountain View, California. (2/10)

Planetary Scientists Get Into Balloon Game (Source: Voice of America)
A new device developed by NASA will help planetary scientists take advantage of high altitude research balloons, a relatively inexpensive observational platform that has long been used by other scientists. The balloons, which can climb to the edge of space, have been utilized by researchers  across multiple scientific disciplines, helping them to make groundbreaking findings. (2/10)

Union Says ‘Supervisory Mischief’ Leads to ‘Robust’ Bias at NASA (Source: Washington Post)
A federal union representing NASA employees said racial “bias is robust” in a letter last week to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). The International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers (IFPTE) told OPM that “NASA’s performance ratings are improperly influenced by demographic factors such that, on average, white employees are rated higher than minority employees. The bias is robust across centers and has been a persistent feature over time.”

The letter from Lee Stone, an IFPTE vice president, said “NASA has two levels of above-standard performance which invites supervisory mischief whereby the highest level often ends up preferentially allocated to friends-of-management, leaving the next tier for high-performing employees who are not plugged-in with management, including exceptional minority employees.”

Allard Beutel, a NASA spokesman, said the agency has worked to improve its performance management system and  ”is committed to a workplace that encourages innovation, demands excellence and ensures a level playing field for all... NASA employees voted NASA the best place to work for African Americans, Hispanics, Multi-Racial, Native Hawaiian Pacific Islanders, Veterans, and Employees with Disabilities, as well as #1 for Support for Diversity.” (2/10)

New Plans Help Diversify KSC (Source: CFnews13)
"NASA has dramatically changed over the last few years, we are looking at more of the commercialization of the space activities," said Mica, R-FL. NASA numbers show 720 buildings on KSC property. About 320 are sitting unused or vacant. Some are set for demolition. NASA has been proactive in bringing in commercial companies to take over space no longer needed.

KSC Director Bob Cabana said right now some $580,000 in lease payments are coming in. That’s money taxpayers aren't on the hook for. "We've made great strides to become more cost-effective, to divest of unneeded facilities, saving precious taxpayer dollars," said Cabana.

Meantime the panel was encouraged after hearing from Canaveral Port Authority CEO John Walsh, who is pushing to put a rail line extension on KSC property to link to the port. That alone would create jobs, he said. It could bring potentially 5,000 of them within five to seven years. "If we can send a rover to Mars, surely we can connect 10 miles of railroad," said Walsh. (2/10)

Congressman, NASA Experts Meet to Discuss Unused KSC Buildings (Source: WFTV)
NASA's Kennedy Space Center encompasses 144,000 acres and has an inventory of 720 buildings and structures. According to a congressional subcommittee, 330 of those properties are unused or vacant. "We're trying to do everything we can to turn the properties around -- the assets that are sitting idle, the property and buildings and facilities -- and get a return for the taxpayers," U.S. Rep. John Mica said.

NASA is currently collecting $580,000 in property leases at KSC, but that money is not profit. "They've been taken off the taxpayer rolls, saving us previous dollars in operating expenses while enabling commercial space operations at the same time," KSC Director Bob Cabana said. The space agency is working on new lease agreements, like a deal with SpaceX for use of launch complex 39A. "There are many facilities and launch sites I think that we missed the boat in not commercializing or privatizing earlier," Mica said. (2/10)

Rubio (R-FL) Supports NASA's Work with Commercial Space (Source: Sen. Rubio)
"NASA, the State of Florida, and the U.S. Air Force must continue to work together in an equitable partnership. This will ensure that America’s gateway to exploring and understanding our universe is a gateway that is open for all interested users and advances our commitment to space travel...  I am also encouraged by the advancements in the commercial space industry and the commitment Florida has made to commercial space entities."

"NASA must continue to utilize commercial space partners for missions in low Earth orbit while it focuses on deep space exploration. Doing so will help secure American leadership in space and ensure KSC is the multi-user spaceport in the future. This is why I believe that NASA must identify common sense savings to help prioritize and fund space operations, especially given the current budget environment and debt our nation faces."

The Agency has underused facilities and property which are beyond their design life or outdated and costing billions of dollars to keep and maintain. I hope NASA follows the intent of the Senate and pursues opportunities to transfer underutilized facilities and properties. While I am pleased the agency has done this, there is still work to be done, including on the Shiloh launch complex and Shuttle Landing Facility. (2/10)

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