February 3, 2014

Whitesides Responds to Allegations About SpaceShipTwo (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides has responded to Tom Bower’s new book, “Branson: Behind the Mask.” The author makes a series of claims about the performance and safety of the nitrous oxide-rubber engine that is scheduled to send SpaceShipTwo on a suborbital flight later this year. "Recent progress of the Galactic program, including the latest rocket powered flight, renders Bower’s main claims false," writes Whitesides.

"The company’s rocket motor has burned for the full duration and thrust multiple times... Bower also fails to note that the team has an experimental permit from the Federal Aviation Administration for the test flight program phase. The company applied for a commercial licence in 2013 as planned and to coincide with the latter stages of the test flight program. It expects to receive that licence well in advance of commercial service later in 2014."

"Most seriously, Bower attempts to cast doubt on Virgin Galactic’s absolute commitment to safety, particularly by suggesting that any potential lessons that could have been learnt by the tragic 2007 industrial accident at Scaled Composites were somehow brushed under the carpet. The opposite is true... The end result is a system that will be significantly safer." (2/3)

Let's Put More Robots in Space (Source: TEDx)
NASA scientist Philip T. Metzger explores possibilities for space mining -- which he believes may be a practical, affordable, realistic way to access a vast supply of much-needed energy, water and mineral resources within a surprisingly short time-frame. In this TEDx talk, Metzger advocates for putting robots in space. Click here. (2/3)

Environmental Study of East Coast Missile Defense Sites to Begin (Source: Reuters)
Though it says it's not committed to creating an East Coast missile defense site, the Pentagon plans to conduct an environmental impact study for four possible locations for an anti-missile system. Congress wants an East Coast site, but Defense Department says it's not certain it will construct an anti-missile system. The sites under consideration are in New York, Maine, Ohio and Michigan. (1/31)

Preventing Microbes Hitchhiking to Space (Source: Space Daily)
While astronauts might dream of discovering unknown life one day in their future career, ESA's Planetary Protection Officer oversees activities that achieve it on a regular basis. As part of the Agency's efforts to prevent microbial lifeforms hitching a ride on missions to other planets and moons in our Solar System, teams regularly scour cleanrooms and launch facilities, on the hunt for any microbial inhabitants. Click here. (2/3)

Future Interplanetary Spacecraft to be Equipped with 'Plantations' (Source: Space Daily)
In 2015 astronauts will grow rice, tomatoes and sweet pepper on board of the international space station in the framework of the experiment to create a biological life-support system of extra-long space expedition crews, chief research associate of the Institute of Medical and Biological Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Margarita Levinskikh, said. Click here. (2/3)

New NASA Laser Technology Reveals How Ice Measures Up (Source: Space Daily)
New results from NASA's MABEL campaign demonstrated that a photon-counting technique will allow researchers to track the melt or growth of Earth's frozen regions. When a high-altitude aircraft flew over the icy Arctic Ocean and the snow-covered terrain of Greenland in April 2012, it was the first polar test of a new laser-based technology to measure the height of Earth from space. (2/3)

Russia Rebuilding Lost Radar Coverage (Source: Space Daily)
Many of the Soviet Union's former allies are now in NATO. This means the holes in Russia's air and space defense system have to be closed, and closed immediately. Hence the deployment of several Voronezh missile-detecting radars and now of the Konteyner radar. The Konteyner is capable of detecting aircraft and missiles, both ballistic and cruise, popping up at 3,000 kilometers away at altitudes of up to 100 kilometers. (2/3)

Kepler's Second Act (Source: Space Review)
Last summer, NASA announced that the Kepler spacecraft could not continue its mission to look for exoplanets because of failed reaction wheels on the spacecraft. Jeff Foust reports on how the project is trying to bring new life to the spacecraft with an alternative mission, as other spacecraft seek to follow in Kepler's footsteps. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2447/1 to view the article. (2/3)

Ranger: America's First Successful Lunar Program (Source: Space Review)
As China's ongoing lunar mission, Chang'e-3, struggled with problems with its rover, it's worth remembering the problems early American lunar missions encountered. Andrew LePage examines the failure of a Ranger mission 50 years ago, and how it paved the way for successful missions that followed. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2446/1 to view the article. (2/3)

Why Not Return to the Moon? (Source: Space Review)
Four years ago, NASA set aside plans for a human return to the Moon in the foreseeable future in favor of expeditions to asteroids and Mars. In the first of a two-part article, Anthony Young reexamines the potential scientific, geopolitical, and commercial benefits of reconsidering human lunar exploration. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2445/1 to view the article. (2/3)

Sochi 2014 Olympic Medals to Include a Piece of Russian Meteorite (Source: Design Boom)
In the sochi 2014 winter olympics, a few athletes will be competing for an especially rare prize: ‘cosmic medals’ embedded with fragments of the superbolide meteor that exploded over Chelyabinsk in 2013. The special meteorite medals will be awarded to the seven athletes who win gold on February 15th, the one-year anniversary of the meteor’s fall. (2/2)

Bolden, Mikulski View Progress on James Webb Space Telescope (Source: NASA)
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland congratulated the James Webb Space Telescope team Monday for the delivery of all flight instruments and primary mirrors to NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "Going from Hubble to the James Webb Space Telescope is like going from a biplane to the jet engine,” said Mikulski. "As Chairwoman, I’ve continued to fight for funds... to keep the James Webb Space Telescope mission on track, supporting jobs today and jobs tomorrow at Goddard."

All 18 of Webb's primary mirror segments are now housed in the Goddard clean room. Its 1.3 million cubic feet of dust-free space make the clean room one of the world's largest. All four of Webb's science instruments are within feet of the mirrors. The telescope’s mirror and instruments will capture images of the universe and break down the spectra of incoming light to analyze the properties of galaxies, stars, and the atmospheres of planets beyond our solar system. (2/3)

Productiveness of Dialogue on Space with U.S. Exceeds Expectations (Source: Interfax)
The approach of the United States to confidence and transparency in space has greatly changed for the better, director of the Russian Foreign Ministry department for security and disarmament Mikhail Ulyanov believes. He said that Russia, the USA and China coauthored a resolution on transparency and confidence-building measures in space last autumn at the UN General Assembly session.

"One can say that the format was unprecedented. Over 60 counties immediately wished to become coauthors. As a result the resolution was enthusiastically adopted by consensus," he said. For several years the USA had either opposed the resolution or abstained, he recalled. At the same time the diplomat recognized that Russia and the USA "still have different approaches to a legal ban on the deployment of arms in space." (2/2)

Fixing the NASA Piloted Program After Challenger: Views from 1989 and 1993 (Source: WIRED)
Rockwell continued to argue for Shuttle enhancements at least until September 1993, when I picked up two more brochures at a conference in Houston. By then I had been working as a NASA contractor in that steamy, smelly, sprawly city for a year. In the brochures, Rockwell pointed to the B-52 bomber, which had evolved continuously since its debut in the 1950s, as a model for the Shuttle’s future.

It described upgrades that could turn a Space Shuttle Orbiter into a Long-Duration Orbiter capable of operating in space for up to 90 days while docked with the Space Station. The company also described an automated Orbiter it dubbed the Reusable Cargo Vehicle (RCV). The unmanned RCV might be coupled with a lightweight composite External Tank and Liquid-Rocket Boosters with revived and improved Saturn F-1 engines to boost up to 125,000 pounds into orbit. Click here. (2/3)

Space Station Detector Seeks Kickstarter Funding (Source: Universe Today)
There’s a coffee shop in Pasadena, California that has a cool little device that lights up whenever the International Space Station is going to passover head, providing a little science lesson for patrons of the cafe. Called “ISS-Above,” the device is the brainchild of Liam Kennedy, a web designer, amateur astronomer and space enthusiast, and there’s a new Kickstarter for the project that will make the device available to anyone. Click here. (2/3)

Falcon 9 Preparing to Stretch Her Legs via Grasshopper Trials (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
The prospect of a Falcon 9 v1.1 first stage returning to terra firma following launch is continuing to advance along a path towards reality, as the SpaceX team push forward with testing on the system’s landing legs at their Texas test facility. Photos of the Grasshopper 2 (GH2) test vehicle have surfaced, showing the leg structures that are likely to be similar to those that will fly on a real mission this year. Click here. (2/3)

'All Indications Are’ That SpaceX Will Build a Spaceport in Texas (Source: Houston Chronicle)
I asked Michael Lopez-Alegria whether he believed SpaceX would choose a site near Brownsville to build a commercial spaceport. His response: "I think all indications are that he will. They obviously have a pretty big footprint in MacGregor, so there’s some logistic logic there. I think they really are looking for a place where they can be independent of a government range, so they don’t have to worry about scheduling concerns."

"If they own the thing then they can launch pretty much whenever they want, which is a big issue for them. As I understand it there is interest in the state and local community down there. I know that there’s still some talk about Florida, and Space Florida is a member of CSF so I wish them well as well, but it will be interesting to see." Click here. (2/3)

As Commercial Space Heats Up, Wither Space City Houston? (Source: Houston Chronicle)
The rise of commercial space raises questions about the future of Houston as Space City, which for the entire history of U.S. spaceflight has been responsible for training and managing the flights of U.S. astronauts. Houston is racing to reinvent itself this decade as other parts of the country seek to chip away at its preeminence as the home of human spaceflight.

For now, Johnson Space Center will continue to be the home of NASA astronauts, but it's not clear what role the center will have in working with astronauts who fly on privately-built commercial vehicles to space. NASA, for example, chose to establish its office overseeing the development of private spacecraft that will eventually carry U.S. astronauts to the space station at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, instead of at the Houston-based center. Click here. (2/3)

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