February 28, 2014

Europa Plumes May Change Flyby Mission (Source: Aviation Week)
Discovery of 200-km-high (124-mi.) ice geysers above the southern hemisphere of Europa has raised hopes that a flyby mission already in the works may raise the near-term chances of finding life in the global ocean beneath the frozen surface of Jupiter's big moon.

Scientists have long believed that Europa's ocean is one of the few places in the Solar System where life might have evolved, but mission-concept studies to date have focused on penetrating kilometers of ice to find out. Discovery of the geysers by astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope offers another option.

“If we can actually fly at 10 kilometers above Europa through a plume, we're sampling the subsurface oceans, and if we bring something like the organic analyzers that are built by the mass spectrometry group that built the sample analysis at Mars, and detect organic molecules, that would be pretty phenomenal,” says John Grunsfeld, an astronomer, NASA associate administrator for science and three-time Hubble-servicing astronaut. (2/17)

Sierra Nevada Completes Another Dream Chaser Milestone (Source: SNC)
Sierra Nevada Corp. has successfully completed a flight-profile data review milestone for its Dream Chaser spacecraft. Completed under the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) agreement, Milestone 4a gave engineers the opportunity to review data from the Dream Chaser flight test that was conducted at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., in collaboration with NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center.

To date, SNC has completed over 70 percent of its CCiCap agreement total award value, receiving 100 percent of the milestone value awarded for each milestone completed. The Milestone 4a flight test objectives included the collection of all nominal glide slope and other critical aerodynamic data for the Dream Chaser in-flight profile. The Dream Chaser team collected and evaluated data gathered from additional aerodynamic modeling instrumentation sensors specifically placed onto the Dream Chaser spacecraft prior to the flight test.

Upon thorough post flight analysis conducted by the SNC team and review by NASA, the results validated the aerodynamic performance of the Dream Chaser and significantly matured its aerodynamic database in the subsonic region of flight. In addition to demonstrating the Dream Chaser spacecraft’s autonomous flight control system in Milestone 4a, the Dream Chaser team was able to authenticate that over 40 aerodynamic predictions from extensive analysis matched within the limits of the actual vehicle performance. (2/28)

Iridium Investors Send Shares Higher Despite Disappointing 2013 (Source: Space News)
Iridium Communications asked investors to look beyond near-term headaches — including a recent in-orbit satellite failure in an aging constellation, a three-month delay in the launch of the second-generation satellites, a maritime hardware defect and debt-covenant renegotiations — and to focus on 2018, when the company expects to become a cash machine. Investors apparently agreed to do just that. (2/28)

Lawmakers Skeptical Of 2021 Human Mars Flyby Idea (Source: Aviation Week)
A hurry-up launch in 2021 for a human flyby of Mars proposed by pioneer space tourist Dennis Tito would make a good “bridge” between the International Space Station and more sustainable missions closer to Earth, according to experts testifying before a skeptical House Science Committee Feb. 27.

The mission would require an advanced version of NASA’s heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS) and other new hardware to take advantage of a unique opportunity to reach Mars with a gravity assist from Venus. Committee witnesses were unwilling to put a price tag on that work, and conservative members of the panel said they were uneasy with open-ended spending for a high-risk project on a tight deadline. Click here. (2/27)

Study To Look At Satellite Apps That Contribute To Human Progress (Source: Space Daily)
An alliance of leading satellite industry associations issued a call for application case studies that illustrate the immense contributions of the global satellite industry to business, government and human welfare. The group - made up of the Society of Satellite Professionals International, European Satellite Operators Association, Global VSAT Forum and Satellite Industry Association - is working to promote satellite's indispensable role in the economy and human affairs to help prepare for the intense spectrum negotiations expected at the World Radiocommunications Conference 2015 (WRC-2015).

Companies, academic researchers, industry trade groups and others are invited to submit stories of satellite changing the world, from supporting free elections to improving education, providing news and entertainment to raising crop yields, saving lives to maintaining security in a dangerous world. To submit a case study for consideration, email a file or link to makingthecase@sspi.org. (2/28)

Newsweek Names a Mars Crater (Source: Newsweek)
It’s good to own land; it’s even better to get to name it after yourself. But getting a piece of land all to your own isn’t cheap. In 2013, for example, it cost an average of $1,200 for an acre of field in the United States. But there’s good news for armchair emperors: for as little as $5, you can name your own crater on Mars. The craters are priced in proportion to their size, but for even just $50, you can get a nice-looking hole in the ground around 40 square kilometers, equal to 9637 acres.

And if you want to splurge, you can buy a District (360 square kilometers, or about 89,000 acres, for a mere $3,000) or even a Province (32,400 square kilometers, which is over 80 million acres, for $10,000). The Mars mapping project is run by The Uwingu Fund, a new science education program that provides grants to scientists and educators focused on space exploration, research, and education projects. Uwingu was founded and is guided by Alan Stern, a former NASA Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate – NASA’s highest science post.

All the proceeds from the map naming go to Uwingu; they hope to raise about $10 million dollars in total from the project. What does it actually mean to name your own crater? Well, technically, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) controls the naming of celestial bodies, so it’s a bit unclear what you get for your money. Uwingu’s website states that, when it comes to the publicly chosen names, “They’ll be used by anyone using Uwingu’s Mars maps. For now that’s just the public, but soon, we hope, scientists and space missions to Mars will be using these maps too.” (2/28)

Committee Democrats Emphasize Need for Exploration Roadmap (Source: Rep. Johnson)
The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing to examine the need for a strategic human exploration roadmap and whether a potential manned Mars flyby mission might fit in such a roadmap.  Although the hearing was also called to examine how NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle being developed might contribute to a potential Mars flyby mission in 2021, there were no witnesses from NASA to provide further details on their status.

Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) said in her opening statement, “It’s time for NASA to tell us how they intend to achieve that goal [of a human mission to the surface of Mars].  What technologies will be needed, what sequence of intermediate destinations should be pursued and why, and what are the risks that will need to be addressed?  We also need to hear from NASA about the progress being made on the Space Launch System and on Orion, the two systems that are critical to our exploration efforts beyond low Earth orbit. (2/28)

Recommended Road Closures Would Limit Texas Launch Tourism (Source: El Rrun Rrun)
The US Fish and Wildlife Service is asking that the road to the proposed Boca Chca spaceport site be closed at the border patrol checkpoint on SpaceX launch days. That checkpoint is located on Highway 4 almost halfway between the beach and Brownsville, which is 25 miles southwest of the gulf. It is manned around-the-clock by Border Patrol agents or highway troopers who stop all drivers headed back from the beach. Now they will halt them on the way there on launch day.

The upshot of all this is that all these people who are excited by the prospect of watching it up close will not be allowed anywhere near the launch site. If the US Fish and Wildlife people have their way, the "thousands" of tourists expected to attend the launches will also be kept at least 12 miles away from the launch itself. They might be able to hear the ruckus and see the smoke off in the distance, however.

Under the new state law, SpaceX could launch rockets up to 12 times a year, mostly between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., but not on weekends or holidays unless the company can show local and state authorities that scrubbing a launch would cause significant business consequences. At least one nighttime launch would be allowed per year. The beach would be closed for 15 hours on a launch day, up to a maximum of 180 hours per year. (2/25)

Release of SpaceX Texas Environmental Report Delayed (Source: Brownsville Herald)
The wait continues. The release of the final environmental impact statement by the FAA that would help determine whether SpaceX could build a rocket launch pad in Cameron County has been pushed back again. Officials said the final environmental assessment will be released to the public in April. The final report was scheduled to be released at the end of winter and had previously been expected in late 2013.

FAA spokesman Hank Price said the preliminary report is being reviewed by the cooperating agencies. After the draft has been finalized, it will be published to the public by April, it is hoped, Price said. The EIS draft released in April 2013 reviewed 11 resource areas for potential environmental impacts created by the proposed construction and operations there. Although the FAA draft report found “no impacts would occur” that would result in the FAA denying a permit, it did provide a summary of potential environmental impact from the proposed action by SpaceX. Click here. (2/28)

Aerospace and Defense Deal Activity at a Ten-Year High (Source: Pitchbook)
Private equity firms made more investments in U.S.-based aerospace & defense companies in 2013 than in any other year in the last ten years, according to the PitchBook Platform. The 36 investments completed in 2013 almost doubled the 19 investments made in 2009. The aerospace & defense industry bounced back strongly from the economic slowdown, jumping about 84% in deal activity from its 2009 low to the 35 completed deals in 2011. Also, the low in 2009 wasn't terrible compared to earlier years; 2005 and 2006, both healthy years for the overall economy, didn't record many more aerospace & defense deals than 2009 did, at 25 and 23, respectively. (2/27)

Lawmakers Discuss Potential Mars Flyby Mission in 2021 (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
Experts and lawmakers reviewed an alternative plan for Orion’s first crewed mission into deep space on Thursday, claiming a Mars flyby mission in 2021 could be viable. The Science, Space and Technology hearing was held without an official NASA presence and admitted a large amount of evaluations will be required to address numerous challenges associated with cost, schedule and crew safety.

At present, 2021 is the target launch date for the second launch of the Space Launch System (SLS) - NASA’s new Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle (HLV) – tasked with lofting the Orion spacecraft on its first crewed mission. Known as Exploration Mission -2 (EM-2), the crew would venture out into a region near the Moon, where a captured asteroid – tagged, bagged and dragged via a robotic mission launched two years prior to EM-2 – would await their arrival.

While the mission is technically advanced, and more ambitious than the original EM-2 – a few lap around the Moon – the captured asteroid mission has failed to get lawmakers jumping up and down in their seats with excitement. An earlier roadmap, via the since defunct Constellation Program (CxP), called for a “Moon, Mars and Beyond” approach. It would seem some space experts wish that was still the plan, with a ”moon first” plan continuing to be the preference of a large section of the political and public collective. (2/28)

Whiplash is No Way to Explore Space (Source: NASA Watch)
From Rep. Wolf (R-VA) and Rep. Smith's (R-TX) letter to NASA: "Last year the Administration championed an Asteroid Mission as a next step. However, the mission was not vetted by NASA's own advisory committees or the stakeholder community before it was presented formally to Congress. Upon review, a majority of experts said that such a mission did not demonstrate sufficient technical applicability to an eventual Mars landing."

This is beyond hilarious. It is pathetic. Lamar Smith (upon the advice of Mike Griffin's former staff on both sides of the dais) did not like Constellation's cancellation so they immediately dismiss whatever this White House and NASA puts forward. They claim "a majority of experts" (who are they?) agree with them. So what do they do? They take a multi-millionaire's ever-changing Powerpoint presentation (with no cost estimates) that NASA is expected to pay for with additional money no one has identified, and hold a hearing with NASA specifically banned - and no contrary opinions allowed. (2/28)

Inspector General Blasts NRO Secrecy Practices (Source: Secrecy News)
The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), the agency that builds and operates U.S. intelligence satellites, frequently makes mistakes when it classifies national security information, according to an assessment performed last year by the NRO Inspector General. “From the classified documents we reviewed at NRO headquarters, 114 of 134 documents contained classification errors,” the IG report said.

Agency classification officials “lack sufficient knowledge of classification principles and procedures necessary to perform their duties,” the NRO Inspector General found. “One OCA [original classification authority] had almost no knowledge of his responsibilities.” “Because of the lack of full compliance in multiple areas, the NRO is susceptible to the risk of persistent misclassification,” the IG said. (2/28)

Astronomers’ Union Won’t Recognize Crowdsourced Mars Names (Source: Space News)
The latest campaign by the crowdsource startup Uwingu to sell the naming rights for 500,000 martian craters has drawn the ire of the International Astronomical Union (IAU), the organization responsible for determining official names for celestial bodies. “Not a single Mars crater named as a result of the recently launched Uwingu campaign will be sanctioned by the IAU,” said Thierry Montmerle, IAU general secretary.

“This should be emphasized very clearly,” he said. Uwingu announced plans Feb. 26 to invite the public to select names for previously unnamed geographic features on Mars, including craters measuring more than 350 kilometers across. With prices starting at $5, Uwingu hopes to raise more than $10 million for space research and education grants. (2/27)

Unexpected Competition, Launch Delay, Are Drag on DigitalGlobe Revenue (Source: Space News)
Geospatial imagery and services provider DigitalGlobe on Feb. 26 reported sharply lower year-end revenue for 2013 than it had predicted in mid-November and said 2014 revenue would also be much lower than it had forecast. The company said unexpected competition at the low end of its product offering, mainly from Europe’s Airbus Defence and Space’s Pleaides satellites, combined with a 2.5-month delay in the launch of its WorldView-3 satellite, were to blame for most of the shortfall. (2/27)

Spacesuit Future Looks Sleek, Speedy and Commercial (Source: New Scientist)
NASA has learned the hard way that water is an extra-slippery customer in space. Water leaking around fan blades in a spacesuit life-support system almost caused an astronaut to drown last July. The malfunction highlights the complexity of spacesuits, which are much, much more than souped-up clothing. The type of suit Luca Parmitano wore has been in use for 35 years, but now space garb may be on the brink of a transformation.

From NASA "suitports" to designs from emerging commercial players, we bring you three things that look set to transform spacewear. We all know that these days, government agencies aren't the only game in space, so will private enterprise shake up spacesuit technology just as it could revolutionise space flight and exploration? Click here. (2/28)

Rule-Breaking Black Hole Blows Weirdly Powerful Winds (Source: New Scientist)
A black hole in a nearby galaxy is blowing a mighty wind. The black hole is about 100 times the mass of the sun but is causing the emission of millions of times more energy, breaking a long-accepted rule about the way black holes feed. The discovery suggests that even small black holes may play a larger role in galaxy evolution than previously realised.

When black holes consume matter from their surroundings, the incoming gas and dust reach scorching temperatures just before falling in. The hot gas emits powerful "winds" of radiation, and theory has it that the energy in these winds cannot exceed a certain limit tied to the black hole's mass, called the Eddington limit. Winds more powerful than this limit would blow the incoming gas away and halt the black hole's growth – or so we thought.

Recently astronomers have been finding black holes blowing especially powerful jets, and they wondered if they could be breaking the Eddington limit. Roberto Soria of Curtin University in Western Australia and his colleagues have measured the mass of one of these apparent outlaws and found that it does in fact blow stronger winds than its mass should allow. That suggests the Eddington limit is more of a guideline than a rule, says Soria. (2/27)

Thales Alenia Mum on Satellite Order Said To Be for Morocco (Source: Space News)
Thales Group of France said its space division has booked an order with an unnamed African nation for an Earth observation satellite, with the Thales share of the contract valued at around 300 million euros ($410 million). Given the size of the order, the contract is likely the two-satellite deal disclosed in December as being a joint bid by Thales Alenia Space and its sometime competitor, Airbus Defense and Space. Industry officials have described the contract as with the government of Morocco. The two companies have declined to comment on it. (2/28)

Florida Hit Hard by Proposed Military Cuts (Source: Florida Times-Union)
Along with the loss of possibly 10 percent of the Florida Army National Guard and a drastic cut in production of ships for which Mayport Naval Station is supposed to serve as the East Coast nerve center, Hagel also used the ugliest of four-letter words for those dependent on military jobs: BRAC.

“We will ask Congress for another round of Base Realignment and Closure in 2017,” he said. “I am mindful that Congress has not agreed to our BRAC requests of the last two years. “But if Congress continues to block these requests even as they slash the overall budget, we will have to consider every tool at our disposal to reduce infrastructure.”

Those cuts would be particularly difficult for the Florida Army National Guard that already ranks 53rd out of 54 (50 states, three territories and the District of Columbia) in Guardsman-to-civilian ratio. It would mean the loss of 10 percent of its strength in the nation’s most disaster-prone state. One of the most militarily significant cuts for the Navy was Hagel’s recommendation that littoral combat ship production be cut from a planned purchase of 52 ships to 32. Mayport has been slated to become the Navy’s East Coast hub for the ships. (2/28)

Space Launch System: 'No Longer a Paper Rocket' (Source: Huntsville Times)
Pointing to metal being bent and welded and suppliers and contractors hard at work in more than 30 states, a NASA manager told a crowd of aerospace executives in Alabama today that the space agency's Space Launch System is "no longer a paper rocket." Instead, she called it "America's Rocket."

Sharon Cobb, assistant program manager for the Space Launch System office at Marshall Space Flight Center, said giant tools are being assembled at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and test welds are already being made. The new rocket's core stage will be built at Michoud. The Vertical Assembly Facility at Michoud, where 27.5-foot diameter cylinders, domes, rings and other parts will be brought together to form the fuel tanks and core stage for the rocket, is on track for completion this summer, Cobb said. (2/28)

Small Business Alliance Talks NASA Contracts (Source: WAFF)
A team from Marshall Space Flight Center talked to small business members Thursday about what it takes to get contracts with NASA. About 500 small business members from around the country packed the Space & Rocket Center. Speakers included MSFC Director Patrick Scheuermann and Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle.

After a busy month, Battle said he wants to recruit even more businesses to the Rocket City. "Every worker that you add here and in Research Park , or add in the technology field, adds $80,000 a year to your economy. So you have and office come in with ten workers, you have $800,000 coming in year in and year out," he said. (2/28)

NASA Officials to Discuss Fiscal Year 2015 Budget (Source: NASA)
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden will brief reporters about the agency's fiscal year 2015 budget at 2 p.m. EST on Tuesday, March 4, from Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. NASA Chief Financial Officer Elizabeth Robinson and Goddard Center Director Chris Scolese will join Bolden. The news briefing will be carried live on NASA Television and the agency's website. (2/27)

China Pushing Ahead on Hi-Res Satellite System (Source: Space News)
China’s push into high-resolution optical Earth observation through its seven-satellite CHEOS system is slightly delayed but will see the launch of a second satellite this year and three more satellites by 2016, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) said. The China High-Resolution Earth Observation System, whose first satellite, Gaofen-1, was launched in 2013, includes airborne instruments and what CNSA calls a “near-space airship,” apparently a high-altitude balloon, equipped with optical, laser and synthetic-aperture radar payloads, CNSA said. (2/28)

Building the World's Most Capable Microsatellites (Source: Skybox)
SkySat-1 is arguably the highest performance micro-satellite ever built. Since its launch 3 months ago, it has delivered terabytes of spectacular sub-meter imagery and video - data of incredible business value - at a cost more than an order of magnitude less than comparable existing systems. We are regularly asked how this is possible and it boils down to two pieces. Click here. (2/28)

FAA Risks Losing Drone War (Source: Politico)
The Washington Nationals used a drone to photograph spring training. Real estate agents use them to show off sprawling properties. Martin Scorsese hired one to film a scene in “The Wolf of Wall Street.” So where does this leave the FAA, which insists that commercial drone use is illegal? Way behind — and facing turbulence as drone use explodes.

Thanks to falling prices, spotty enforcement and the fact that it’s almost impossible to spot the devices being used, the FAA is often powerless to halt the growing drone swarm. Retailers freely sell the tiny planes, quadcopters and hexacopters for as little as a few hundred dollars, and entrepreneurs continually come up with creative uses like wedding photography and crop monitoring — along with delivering beer and dropping off dry-cleaning.

The result, observers and drone users warn, could be a Wild, Wild West in the nation’s skies. As small drone operators grow used to flying them without the FAA’s permission, they could become less inclined to obey any rules the agency puts in place. And with the cost of the technology continuing to drop, the drones could eventually become far too ubiquitous for the agency to police. Meanwhile, the FAA is lagging in meeting a congressional mandate to allow commercial drones to share the skies legally. (2/27)

Florida Aerospace Sales Take Off at Singapore Air Show (Source: Miami Today)
While Florida aviation and aerospace parts suppliers as well as maintenance and repair companies expect to make millions in sales from their just-completed visit to the Singapore Air Show, this year’s financial outcome isn’t as high as in previous years.

The Singapore Air Show, which is held every second year, yielded an aggregate of about $32.5 million in sales for the Florida companies that attended – about $4.5 million in actual sales and another $28 million in expected sales – said Paul Mitchell, regional manager of international trade and development for aviation/aerospace and defense industries at Enterprise Florida Inc.

After the 2010 trip, 12 Florida companies reported a total of $35.5 million in expected sales and another $8.7 million in actual sales; and after the 2012 trip, the 12 Florida companies that attended reported an expected sales figure of $67.4 million, Mr. Mitchell said. (2/26)

Former NASA Official Says Crewed Mars Flyby is Feasible by 2021 (Source: Space Congress)
A crewed Mars flyby mission proposed last year by space tourism pioneer Dennis Tito could conceivably launch in 2021 provided that NASA immediately begins spending money on a large new upper-stage rocket engine and crew-habitation module that currently are not on the agency’s development plate, a former NASA official told lawmakers Feb. 26.

“I believe that 2021 is possible if the focus is placed on getting that mission on our books,” Doug Cooke, former associate administrator of NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate and now a private consultant, said during a hearing of the House Science Committee. “It would take a commitment to develop the full upper stage in the timeframe that we’re talking about. We would [also] need a small [habitation module], perhaps using an existing structure.”

The mission, which was the subject of the hearing, was originally proposed by a Tito-led group calling itself Inspiration Mars, in early 2013 as a privately funded venture. It was subsequently reformulated to take advantage of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion Crew capsule NASA is developing. (2/26)

U.S.-Japan Precipitation-measuring Satellite Reaches Orbit (Source: Space News)
The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) successfully launched the joint U.S.-Japan Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) core satellite Feb. 27 aboard an H-2A rocket from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center. NASA confirmed that GPM’s solar arrays deployed around 2 p.m. Eastern time, about 23 minutes after launch.

The satellite will measure global rainfall and snowfall levels from 400 kilometers above Earth using its GPM Microwave Imager and the Japanese-built Dual-frequency Precipitation Radar. With a launch mass of 3,850 kilograms, GPM is was the largest satellite ever assembled at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. GPM is a successor to another NASA-JAXA collaboration called the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission, which launched in 1997 and is still operating. (2/27)

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