February 15, 2014

NASA’s Tea Party Primary (Source: Houston Chronicle)
When Steve Stockman made the surprise move to announce his candidacy for the Senate seat of John Cornyn, few people saw it coming. Stockman served as the first House member for Congressional District 36 after its creation following the 2010 Census when Texas gained 4 seats. Stockman’s decision to challenge the long time Senator leaves behind the only open congressional seat in Texas.

Congressional District 36 is a large swathe of land that covers the easternmost portion of Harris County, stretching out to Orange County, and up to the northernmost parts of Polk and Newton counties. What is unique about this district is that it also contains NASA within its borders. The Johnson Space Center contributes about 20,000 jobs to the local economy and whoever prevails in the race for Stockman’s old seat will be responsible for representing this crucial community in Congress.

It’s almost a given that with the demographic patterns at play and the district’s voter profile, that whoever wins the Republican primary will win the general election in November. Essentially, whoever wins the Republican primary is going to be tasked with advocating for NASA. Did you hear that Tea Party voters? Whoever wins the Republican primary will need to represent NASA  and that means fighting for the programs, and yes, spending, that sustain it. (2/14)

Fattah's Federal Agenda Actually is Rocket Science (Source: Philly.com)
In his 30th year in elected office, U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah is a "career politician," and he's not afraid to admit it. He now serves as the top Democrat on the appropriations subcommittee for commerce, justice and science agencies and has become a champion for neuroscience research. But his political career has also caught the interest of federal investigators, who last year subpoenaed his property-tax records - the latest move in what Fattah's lawyer said was a seven-year probe. Click here. (2/15)

Stennis Gearing Up for Human Spaceflight (Source: Sun Herald)
The direct global economic impact of Stennis Space Center reached $940 million in 2013, and the direct impact on the local economy was $619 million. These numbers come in a year of furloughs and sequestration and Center Director Rick Gilbrech said Thursday at his annual community breakfast briefing Thursday at Infinity Science Center he expects 2014 to be as good or better than last year.

The government shutdown had an effect on the economic impact of Stennis. Last year's numbers were down from the 2012 global impact of $976 million and local impact of $654 million within a 50-mile radius. Stennis now has 41 resident agencies and 5,000 total employees, and Gilbrech said the best chance for more jobs will come if Stennis is successful in expanding the FAA restricted air space for drones. (2/14)

Responding to Potential Asteroid Redirect Mission Targets (Source: NASA JPL)
One year ago, on Feb. 15, 2013, the world was witness to the dangers presented by near-Earth Objects (NEOs) when a relatively small asteroid entered Earth's atmosphere, exploding over Chelyabinsk, Russia, and releasing more energy than a large atomic bomb. Tracking near-Earth asteroids has been a significant endeavor for NASA and the broader astronomical community, which has discovered 10,713 known near-Earth objects to date.

NASA is now pursuing new partnerships and collaborations in an Asteroid Grand Challenge to accelerate NASA's existing planetary defense work, which will help find all asteroid threats to human population and know what to do about them. In parallel, NASA is developing an Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) -- a first-ever mission to identify, capture and redirect an asteroid to a safe orbit of Earth's moon for future exploration by astronauts in the 2020s. Click here. (2/14)

Europe’s Rocket Builders Present Industrial Plan for Ariane 6 (Source: Space News)
In what ESA chief Jean-Jacques Dordain called a “Valentine’s Day present,” four European rocket-hardware builders on submitted a united proposal for how to build the next-generation Ariane 6 rocket using an organizational setup that turns ESA’s traditional practice on its head. The four companies — Airbus Defense and Space, Safran, OHB AG’s MT Aerospace, and Italy’s Avio — have been given “total carte blanche” to create a contractor team with only one goal in mind: Produce a vehicle that can be built and launched for 70 million euros ($95 million), Dordain said.

“For years industry has been telling us: ‘Give us the freedom to organize ourselves as we want and we can be much more efficient,’” Dordain said here Feb. 13 during a conference organized by the French Aerospace Industries Association, GIFAS, and by Euroconsult. “They have their chance now, as we have put absolutely no constraints on them on geographic return or anything else. The only requirement is the cost: 70 million euros.” (2/14)

NASA's On Alert For Big Scary Asteroids. What About Smaller Ones? (Source: NPR)
Earth is under constant bombardment from asteroids and comets. A recent reminder of that occurred one year ago today when an asteroid plunged into Earth's atmosphere, exploding over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk with the force of a 500 kiloton bomb, causing widespread damage and injuries. Part of being prepared is knowing what's out there. Trouble is, asteroids that may strike Earth, even big ones, can be hard to spot.

But you can spot them if you happen to have an infrared telescope in space. Amy Mainzer, an astronomer at NASA' Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, happens to have one of those at her disposal. Even though space is a cold place, asteroids that come near Earth are warm. "They're orbiting the sun at roughly the same distance as the Earth," Mainzer says. "So they absorb sunlight, and the sunlight warms them up."

NASA had actually shut WISE off in 2011 when its main infrared detectors ran out of the coolant they needed to work properly. But WISE has other detectors that are good enough to spot nearby asteroids, so NASA decided to switch it back on. Now it's called Near Earth Object WISE, or NEOWISE. (2/14)

No Environmental Hurdles for Blue Origin To Test in Texas (Source: Space News)
The U.S. government has taken a preliminary step to allow Blue Origin, the Kent, Wash., company quietly developing suborbital and orbital spacecraft that could one day carry passengers to space, to launch new vehicles from its West Texas launch site through 2019.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, in an environmental assessment posted to its website and dated February 2014, said there would be no significant environmental impacts if Blue Origin performed as many as 246 flights over six years at its facility in Culberson County, Texas.

In its assessment, the FAA assumed Blue Origin’s activities at the site would include: testing a new reusable suborbital launch vehicle powered by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen; constructing new ground systems; launching unregulated amateur-class rockets powered by both solid- and liquid-fueled motors; and performing ground-based engine tests. (2/14)

U.S.-French Deal Gives Green Light to UAE Observation Satellites (Source: Space News)
The U.S. government, after months of indecision, has agreed to permit the export of U.S. satellite components for a French contract to provide two high-resolution optical Earth observation satellites to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), European industry officials said.

The decision, which they said came only after the U.S. State Department first agreed to the deal and then withdrew its agreement and passed the subject to the White House, should enable the $1.1 billion Falcon Eye contract to begin its production phase. The Feb. 12 U.S. approval -- during summit between President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande -- of the export to France of satellite components came several weeks after a late-January contractual deadline agreed to by UAE and the French contracting team. (2/14)

USAF Examining Alternatives for All of Its Big Satellite Programs (Source: Space News)
As early as this summer, the U.S. Air Force expects to complete a series of studies that could help reshape the service’s space portfolio into the 2020s. In an interview, Gen. William Shelton, commander of Air Force Space Command, said the studies, of which there are at least five, will answer many of the broad strategic questions he has posed throughout his tenure, including what the future military space architecture could look like. (2/14)

Lockheed Eyes Partnerships to Keep MUOS Production Lines Warm (Source: Space News)
The MUOS program features four on-orbit satellites built by Lockheed Martin for the U.S. Navy, two of which have been launched to date, and one ground spare. A sixth, allied-funded satellite would keep the supply and production lines from going cold before the Navy decides to buy another block of satellites. What Lockheed Martin is looking for appears to bear closer resemblance to the deals the U.S. Air Force has struck on the WGS system.

For example, Australia invested approximately $700 million in the WGS-6 satellite and in exchange gets access to the full constellation, which ultimately will consist of 10 satellites. Similarly, WGS-9 is being built thanks to an investment by a five-country consortium of Denmark, Canada, New Zealand, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. (2/14)

U.S.-French Deal Gives Green Light to UAE Observation Satellites (Source: Space News)
The Italian government on Feb. 13 appointed a legal scholar to take the reins of the Italian Space Agency (ASI) in the wake of the resignation of ASI’s president following a corruption investigation targeting ASI and other Italian aerospace agencies. Aldo Sandulli, a law professor at a Naples university, was named ASI extraordinary commissioner by the Italian council of ministers following a recommendation by Education and Research Minister Maria Chiara Carrozza. (2/14)

Orbital Eyes Broader Antares Business, GeoStar Satellite Platform Upgrade (Source: Space News)
Orbital Sciences Corp. said it is sharpening its commercial focus this year with its first bid for a commercial launch award for its new Antares rocket and a $25 million investment in its GeoStar telecommunications satellite product line to give it an electric-propulsion capability. Orbital said the profitability of its $1.9 billion Commercial Resupply Services contract with NASA is improving as the Antares rocket and the Cygnus cargo vehicle hit their production and launch rhythm.

Orbital has conducted three Antares launches, two of them with the Cygnus capsule. All have been successful. With the medium-lift Antares now having proven itself with three successful flights in 8.5 months, Orbital has begun thinking of commercial business and non-NASA U.S. government work for the vehicle. Depending on the configuration, Antares can place payloads weighing between 2,000 and 3,000 kilograms, which puts it in about the same class, but with somewhat more power, as the European Vega small-satellite launcher. (2/14)

ORBITEC Supports NASA KSC Advanced Plant Habitat for ISS (Source: Space Daily)
Orbital Technologies Corp. is supporting the development of the Advanced Plant Habitat or (APH) at Kennedy Space Center for life science research and investigations on the International Space Station. ORBITEC's contract is to co-develop, with NASA engineering, the NASA managed APH system. The APH Flight units will then be fabricated, and qualified, with an anticipated goal of being delivered to the International Space Station in the 2016 time frame.

The support contract was recently augmented to continue ORBITEC's engineering support contract named the Payload Integration and Operational Support Services Advanced Plant Habitat, or APH. ORBITEC will continue to provide engineering support to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in designing, developing, certifying, and fabricating the APH for utilization on the ISS, an Earth-orbiting laboratory which has been approved by Congress to continue operation through the year 2014. (2/14)

Astrotech Reports Second Quarter 2014 Financial Results (Source: Astrotech)
Astrotech Corporation (ASTC), a leading provider of commercial aerospace services, today announced financial results for its fiscal year 2014 second quarter ended December 31, 2013. A net loss of $2.6 million on revenue of $2.5 million was recorded, including a one-time $0.6 million charge related to the vesting of employee stock options triggered by the Company's share price exceeding $1.50. (2/14)

Italian Space Agency Chief Quits in Wake of Investigation (Source: Physics World)
Italy's space activities have been thrown into uncertainty following the resignation of Enrico Saggese as president of the Italian Space Agency (ASI). Saggese stepped down in the wake of investigations by prosecutors regarding possible fraudulent contracting, expenses-paid holidays and questionable consultancies awarded by the agency. The organization, which has an annual budget of around €500m, will now be run by a government-appointed commissioner until a new president is nominated.

The presidency of Saggese, an electronics engineer, was controversial from the start. He took over as a commissioner in 2008, after the then government of Silvio Berlusconi removed the existing president, astronomer Giovanni Bignami. Saggese's arrival angered many scientists not only for the treatment handed out to his predecessor but also because of question marks over the new chief's independence.

The latest investigations were sparked by a whistle-blowing ASI manager who told prosecutors in Rome that he had noticed "irregularities" in the agency's operations, including "invoices for non-existent transactions", and who said that Saggese had threatened to ruin his career when he brought the matters to light. The prosecutors subsequently put Saggese and six other individuals under investigation for their alleged involvement in bribery.

Italy Taps Law Professor To Lead ASI After Corruption Probe (Source: Space News)
The Italian government on Feb. 13 appointed a legal scholar to take the reins of the Italian Space Agency (ASI) in the wake of the resignation of ASI’s president following a corruption investigation targeting ASI and other Italian aerospace agencies.

Aldo Sandulli, a law professor at a Naples university, was named ASI extraordinary commissioner by the Italian council of ministers following a recommendation by Education and Research Minister Maria Chiara Carrozza. ASI said Sandulli would oversee ASI’s affairs until a new agency management team was in place, a period expected to last no longer than three months. (2/14)

India Unveils Astronaut Capsule (Source: Science)
India is revving up plans to become the fourth nation to send humans into space. The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) unveiled a critical technology in that endeavor: an indigenously made astronaut capsule. ISRO is planning to hoist the test capsule into space during the first experimental flight of India’s latest rocket, the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III. The new rocket, capable of lifting 10 tons into a low-Earth orbit, is slated for liftoff as early as May or June from Sriharikota spaceport on the coast of the Bay of Bengal.

ISRO is seeking $2.5 billion from the government for a human space flight program; officials say that astronauts could be sent into space 7 years after final approval is given. The administration of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has so far balked at committing to the pricey project. Instead, it has given ISRO $36 million for the development of critical technologies for human space flight.

India’s human space capsule, fabricated by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, is designed for a weeklong space mission carrying two or three astronauts in a low-Earth orbit. No human crew or animals will be aboard the capsule during the test. (2/15)

New Evidence For Ancient Ocean on Mars (Source: Astrobiology)
Today, large fields of boulder-size rocks blanket parts of Mars' northern plains. By pointing to analogue geological features on our Earth, Lorena Moscardelli suggests that the boulders were delivered to their current locations by catastrophic underwater landslides--bolstering evidence for an ancient Martian ocean. (2/15)

Aldrin: Space Policy, Cooperative Efforts to Mars and the Need to Inspire (Souce: Nature)
Exciting developments in space science are coming thick and fast and showing notable progress. It is however, US President Barack Obama’s objective of a manned mission to Mars in his lifetime, preceded by a robotic landing on a real orbiting asteroid, that remains a most ambitious follow on to lunar robotic surface control by the US and the occupation of a jointly designed International Lunar Base.

Dr Aldrin would however like to see a more ambitious vision set out in Obama’s second term space policy. In his most recent book ‘Mission to Mars’, he calls for a future American President to make a commitment to establish permanent human presence on Mars.

“I see the larger advances in humanity here on planet earth will come when decisions are made to move earthlings from one planet where we’ve evolved for thousands and thousands of years, to the enormously historic beginning of a settlement and the colonisation of another planet,” he emphasizes. “It is a big objective, but I would like to see the US make a commitment within a definite time period of leading the other nations in international permanence on Mars.” Click here. (2/14)

Russian Proton Rocket Launches Turkish Satellite (Source: Voice of Russia)
The TurkSat-4A Turkish satellite launched from Baikonur on Saturday with the use of a Proton-M rocket. The satellite safely separated from the Briz-M upper stage at the planned time, a source said. The satellite was manufactured by the Japanese corporation Mitsubishi Electric. This was the first Proton launch in 2014. (2/15)

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