February 21, 2014

Meet NASA's Enormous Rocket Transporter at KSC (Source: Weather Channel)
Before a rocket can get into space, it has to get to its launch pad. But moving 12 million pounds’ worth of spaceship requires a whole lot more than your average truck, which is why, in the 1960s, NASA built a 6.5 million-pound behemoth of a vehicle, known as the crawler transporter. Now it’s getting an upgrade.

NASA’s two crawlers got the space agency through the Apollo program and the space shuttle era, trudging across the Kennedy Space Center complex at a speed of about a mile per hour. At about 26 feet high, it towers over the other vehicles (and humans) that move with it along the road to the launch site — this was particularly obvious when it carried the Saturn V rocket, itself taller than the Statue of Liberty. Click here. (2/17)

Shelton Discloses Previously Classified Surveillance Satellite Effort (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Air Force is expected to launch two high-orbiting satellites for a previously classified space surveillance system late in 2014, Gen. William Shelton, commander of Air Force Space Command, said. Shelton disclosed the existence of the Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness system (GEO SSA) for the first time at the Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando.

The two-satellite system will operate in a “near-geosynchrous orbit regime” to provide accurate tracking and characterization of man-made orbiting objects. Satellites with missions including communications and missile warning operate in the geosynchronous-orbit belt roughly 36,000 kilometers above the equator. (2/21)

NASA Launches STEM-in-Sports Online Series (Source: SpaceRef)
Teachers and students can learn the science behind scoring a touchdown, throwing a slam-dunk or a hitting a homerun with a new distance-learning program called NASA STEM Mania. NASA's Distance Learning Network (DLN) will present the two-week series Monday, Feb. 24, through Monday, March 10, and will give educators and students from kindergarten through 12th grade the opportunity to learn how NASA and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) play a role in sports. (2/21)

Russian Government Mulls Takeover of Sea Launch (Source: Space News)
The Russian government will a take closer look at the idea of buying commercial launch services provider Sea Launch, which is owned by a top Russian space contractor but whose key assets are based in California, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said. Moscow has asked the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, and Russian manufacturer RSC Energia, which holds 95 percent of Swiss-registered Sea Launch, to submit an overview of the financial situation of the maritime launch services company.

The Russian government holds 38 percent of Energia, which supplies the upper stage of the Sea Launch rocket. Should the government go forward with the deal, it likely would move the oceangoing rocket pad and command ship from Long Beach, Calif., to a Russian port on the Pacific Ocean, Rogozin said. “Something tells me that if we go for it, then the base will definitely be outside the United States,” he said.

Editor's Note: In a bid to assert itself in the Asia-Pacific region, Russia in late 2012 made some noise about potentially moving SeaLaunch to a strategically located former Russian naval base in Cam Ranh, Vietnam. (2/21)

Intelsat Faces Declining Revenue (Source: Space News)
Satellite fleet operator Intelsat on Feb. 20 reported a slight increase in gross profit in 2013 on zero revenue growth compared to 2012 and forecasted a 5 percent revenue drop in 2014 as U.S. military business and the market in Africa continue to weigh on performance. (2/21)

Call for Interest in Using ESA’s Inventions (Source: SpaceRef)
Space companies and organizations from ESA Member States and Canada are invited to submit their interest in using ESA’s inventions. As a research organization, ESA encourages, protects and licenses innovations or inventions resulting from its own activities in order to fulfil its mission of cooperation among Member States in space research and technologies and their applications, and supports the worldwide competitiveness of European industry. Click here. (2/21)

Smart SPHERES Getting a Software Upgrade (Source: Phys.org)
Intelligent Robotics Group at Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., with funding from the Technology Demonstration Missions Program in the Space Technology Mission Directorate, is working to upgrade the smartphones currently equipped on a trio of volleyball-sized free-flying satellites on the space station called Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites (SPHERES).

In 2011 on the final flight of space shuttle Atlantis, NASA sent the first smartphone to the station and mounted it to SPHERES. Each SPHERE satellite is self-contained with power, propulsion, computing and navigation equipment as well as expansion ports for additional sensors and appendages, such as cameras and wireless power transfer systems. This is where the SPHERES' smartphone upgrades are attached. (2/21)

Elon Musk Wins National Space Society Robert A. Heinlein Award (Source: NSS)
The National Space Society's 2014 Robert A. Heinlein Memorial Award has been won by acclaimed space entrepreneur Elon Musk, the Chief Designer and CTO of SpaceX. The award will be presented to Elon Musk at the 2014 International Space Development Conference (ISDC).  The conference will be held at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel in Los Angeles, CA.  The ISDC will run from May 14-18, 2014.

In the last decade, SpaceX, under the leadership of Elon Musk, has been moving directly toward accomplishing goals that many of us in NSS think are of utmost importance, such as forcing a drastic reduction in launch costs by doing the very hard task which no one else in the world has been willing and able to tackle: working to create a family of commercially successful and reusable rocket boosters and reusable spacecraft. (2/18)

Crowdfunding Sought for Year-Long Mars Simulation Mission in Actic (Source: MA365)
The Mars Society is initiating Mars Arctic 365 (MA365), an effort to conduct a one-year simulated human Mars mission in the high Arctic. The mission will take place at the Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station (FMARS), a simulated landed spacecraft and research station built and operated by the Mars Society. Situated at 75 degrees north, less than 1,000 miles from the North Pole, FMARS is perched on the rim of a 14 mile diameter meteor impact crater in the midst of a polar desert known as one of the most Mars-like environments on Earth.

Past expeditions to FMARS have lasted only a few months during the mild Arctic summer, but MA365 will see a crew of six scientist – researcher - explorers conduct a Mars surface mission simulation for a full year, including the harsh, sub-zero Arctic winter. By conducting this simulation in a realistic habitat and environment for the same duration as an actual expedition to the Red Planet, we will learn how humans can work together to effectively explore the new frontier of Mars. Nothing like this has ever been done before. You can help make it happen. Click here. (2/21)

Maritime Satcoms Market to Average 7% Growth Over Next Decade (Source: Microcom)
Euroconsult today forecasted that satellite capacity revenue in the global maritime market will nearly double over the next decade, with a compound annual growth rate of 7%. According to the firm's recently-published research report on Maritime Telecom Solutions by Satellite, growth is expected to be driven mainly by increasing data consumption across all major maritime segments and the adoption of new generation broadband satellite services. (2/20)

Virginia Launch Showcased New Range-Safety Technology (Source: SpaceRef)
A spectacular ORS-3 Minotaur launch from Virginia's eastern shore recently resulted in the successful deployment of a record-breaking 29 small satellites into orbit, but that wasn't the only first for the mission or the bustling spaceport at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The ORS-3 mission supported the first of three planned certification tests of a new technology that promises to eventually eliminate the need for expensive down-range tracking and command infrastructure to manually terminate rockets if they veer off course.

The rocket carried a compact Autonomous Flight Safety System (AFSS) unit that integrated GPS, an inertial measurement unit and Wallops-developed algorithms to track the rocket's path as it lifted off the gantry and streaked across the horizon. Developed by ATK, a supplier of aerospace and defense products from its location in Plymouth, Minn., the shoe box-size unit worked in shadow mode during its first certification test. Editor's Note: The Air Force plans tests of this system at the Eastern Range too. (2/21)

Spaceport Tax Bill Dies in New Mexico Senate (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
A bill that would have required Doña Ana County to return 75 percent of money collected from the spaceport tax for local schools back to the state sailed through the House on a 40-26 vote with plenty of time left in the 30-day session of the New Mexico Legislature that ended Thursday at noon. Then it moved to the Senate. "That never made it out of Finance," Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, said with a wry smile after the session came to a close.

It was a victory for local schools, and for taxpayers who approved the tax hike in 2007. But it may be a temporary one, given that concerns about the school equalization funding formula are still unresolved. "What we're talking about here is the complete erosion of the equalization funding formula," Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, said, noting that other communities around the state are now considering their own tax hikes to support schools. (2/21)

Is Starfleet On Mars? Dunes Bear Resemblance To Star Trek Symbol (Source: Huffington Post)
Is this an image from Mars or a scene from "Star Trek"? It may be difficult to tell, but NASA swears the photo below shows a field of Martian dunes. Yet, the formations happen to bear an uncanny resemblance to the insignia worn by Starfleet officers in the "Star Trek" series. Click here. (2/21)

SES Positioned To Overtake Intelsat in Revenue (Source: Space News)
Satellite fleet operator SES on Feb. 21 said it expected to grow its revenue and gross profit by 6.5 percent this year on the strength of new satellite capacity and that its government business, while not growing, has not declined with U.S. defense budget cuts. A growth rate anywhere near that strong is all but certain to carry Luxembourg-based SES past competitor Intelsat, for the first time, as the world’s largest commercial fleet operator by revenue. (2/21)

Skybox Imaging Ramps Up its Satellite Fleet with New Partners (Source: NewSpace Journal)
Skybox Imaging, the commercial remote sensing company that plans to deploy a constellation of small satellites to provide high resolution images and high definition video of the Earth, is ramping up its plans to deploy that fleet of satellites. The company’s first satellite, SkySat-1, was built in-house and launched with about thirty other satellites on a Dnepr rocket last November from Russia.

Now, the company is bringing in some well-known space companies to help build and launch those satellites, a departure not just for Skybox but also its partners. Last week, Skybox and Space Systems/Loral announced a contract where SS/L will build 13 Skybox satellites for launch in 2015 and 2016. Yesterday, Skybox and Orbital Sciences Corp. announced a contract to launch at least some of those satellites. (2/21)

March Falcon-9 Launch From Florida to Test First-Stage Landing Legs (Source: SpaceRef)
SpaceX is expected to take another leap towards the full reusability of their Falcon 9 launch vehicle next month, when the rocket's first stage will be commanded back to Earth for a soft touchdown on water. The CRS-3/SpX-3 Falcon 9 v1.1 will also debut landing legs on its aft for the first time, according to SpaceX Co-Founder Tom Mueller.

The next launch of the Falcon 9 v1.1 is scheduled for March 16, tasked with lofting the CRS-3/SpX-3 Dragon - for the first time on the upgraded rocket - en route to the International Space Station (ISS). Launching from SpaceX's launch site at Cape Canaveral's Space Launch Complex -40 (SLC-40), the Falcon 9 v1.1 will be conducting its fourth launch since being upgraded, its third from SLC-40. (2/20)

Spaceport America Access Road Included in House Budget (Source: KRWG)
The Spaceport Southern Access Road is slated to receive $6.4 million dollars in state funds in legislation approved by the House. The “Work New Mexico Act” sponsored by Rep. Jim Trujillo (D-Santa Fe-45) passed the House by a unanimous vote of 65-0.  The House Taxation and Revenue Committee substitute for House Bill 55, the New Mexico Works Act, authorizes approximately $232.8 million for both state-owned and local projects statewide ($184.8 in Severance Tax Bonds) and includes authorization of $48 million from “other state funds” for infrastructure improvements statewide. (2/21)

Spaceport Sheboygan to Soon Fully Move From Armory (Source: Sheboygan Press)
The new Spaceport Sheboygan looks a little bit more like a space and exploration museum — and less like an indoor recreation center — every day. The organization is in the process of moving out of the Sheboygan Armory and into the former Triple Play building at 802 Blue Harbor Drive, and executive director Daniel Bateman said he’s shooting for an April 12 grand opening. (2/21)

NASA Scrubs Spacecraft Test Off San Diego (Source: U-T San Diego)
A mission that was meant to restore the Navy's ability to recover spacecraft from the ocean was cancelled off San Clemente Island Thursday after a technical problem prevented the amphibious warship San Diego from moving the Orion capsule into the water. The crew discovered that the cable chosen to maneuver the capsule inside the ship's well deck wasn't strong enough for the job, said Brandi Dean, a spokeswoman for NASA, which scrubbed the test. (2/21)

UCF Students to Ride NASA's 'Vomit Comet' (Source: Florida Today)
This July, six UCF students will take a ride in NASA’s reduced-gravity aircraft — nicknamed the Vomit Comet. They will fly in the plane out of Houston to experience zero-gravity conditions in the name of science. The goal is research into how Saturn’s rings were formed, which remains a mystery to scienitsts. Their experiment involves re-creating the environment of Saturn by inserting a cloud of dust into the middle of a dozen tubes suspended in zero-gravity. (2/21)

Russia Approves Its Crew for Next Space Mission (Source: RIA Novosti)
A state medical commission approved the Russian members Thursday of a new expedition to the International Space Station ahead of the launch on March 26, Russia’s space agency Roscosmos said. The main crew of Expedition 39/40 comprises Russian cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev as well as NASA astronaut Steven Swanson.  (2/21)

Delta-4 Boosts GPS Satellite into Space From Florida Spaceport (Source: CBS)
A towering United Launch Alliance Delta-4  rocket thundered to life and climbed into space Thursday evening, boosting an upgraded GPS navigation satellite into orbit. Under a clear, moonless sky, the 205-foot-tall rocket's hydrogen-fueled RS-68 main engine throttled up at 8:59 p.m., followed five seconds later by ignition of two strap-on solid-fuel boosters. Trailing a brilliant plume of fiery exhaust visible for miles around, the Delta-4 quickly vaulted away from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, accelerating to the east with 1.2 million pounds of thrust. (2/20)

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