March 13, 2014

New Virginia Launch Pad Earns National Engineering Honor (Source: ACEC)
RS&H, of Merritt Island, Forida, has earned a National Recognition Award for exemplary engineering achievement in the American Council of Engineering Companies’ (ACEC) 48th annual Engineering Excellence Awards for its design of Pad-0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island, Virginia. Unlike traditional launch pads, Pad-0A is the first in the U.S. to be specifically designed and built as a multi-user facility, accommodating liquid-fueled rockets from different private companies.

Features include common interface points that allow for quick removal and replacement of key vehicle-specific structural, mechanical, and electrical systems, and communication data trays to facilitate future expansion. This versatility will allow faster turnaround between launches, allowing a more diverse range of missions to take place, such as resupplying the International Space Station, satellite launches, and space transportation initiatives. (3/12)

Space Diaries Reveal 6 Things on an Astronaut's Mind (Source: New Scientist)
While you are in space, could you keep a diary? That is the unusual request that Jack Stuster of Anacapa Sciences in Santa Barbara, California, has been making of NASA astronauts for the last decade.

NASA wants to learn how to keep astronauts happy during future missions. "It's all based on the assumption that the more someone writes about a topic, the more important it is to them at that time," says Stuster, who presented his latest analysis of the diaries at a NASA workshop in Houston last month. "We don't want to stress astronauts to the point of breaking, so we need to know the limits." Click here. (3/11)

NASA Reveals Hovering Prototype Planetary Lander Morpheus (Source: Space Daily)
NASA's latest test vehicle may not survive in its current form going forward, but its ability to hover like a helicopter and land on tough terrain could prove integral to future missions to Mars and other interplanetary locations. Dubbed "Morpheus," the new rocket prototype was successfully tested last week at the Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida.

While vehicle's design looks strikingly like an alien aircraft or something you'd expect to see out of a science fiction movie, it's Morpheus' capabilities that have scientists and engineers most excited. The vehicle launches vertically into the air, flies around the landscape and can hover in place like a helicopter. Importantly, it can also control its descent back down to Earth and land upright.

Morpheus probably won't become an operational vehicle in its own right. Instead, the project has been designed specifically to experiment with features that could potentially be borrowed and used in other designs - such as its hover capabilities and ability to land on unstable terrain. Perhaps just as important is the fact that Morpheus runs on a new propulsion system using liquid oxygen and methane as fuel. (3/13)

Budget-Crimped Military Needs Cheaper Satellites (Source: Reuters)
In a bid to save money, the Air Force is considering outsourcing more of its satellite launches, piggybacking sensors on existing commercial satellites and forge satellite partnerships with other nations. "Status quo is just not going to work for us," said Gen. William Shelton, head of Air Force Space Command, who noted that the tight budget comes at a time when the U.S. faces increased competition in space surveillance from other countries. (3/13)

Military Warns Space Junk Cleanup Moving Too Slowly (Source: National Journal)
The U.S. must act faster to clean up space debris -- or at least better track it -- if it wants to avoid collisions in an increasingly cluttered Earth orbit, Gen. William Shelton, head of Air Force Space Command is warning lawmakers. "This is a very serious problem, and I've seen nothing yet that will be technically viable for active debris removal," Shelton told the Senate Armed Service's Subcommittee on Strategic Forces. (3/12)

Hagel Names Lt. Gen. John Hyten Head of Air Force Space Command (Source: The Gazette)
Lt. Gen. John Hyten, vice-commander of the Peterson Air Force Base command, will now run the Air Force Space Command, following his appointment by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. Hyten has a 33-year career in the Air Force and is considered an expert on the topic of space warfare. (3/12)

Shorten Dependence on Russia for Spaceflights (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
It's been almost three years since the U.S. lost the capability to blast astronauts into orbit when the space-shuttle program ended. Congress hasn't made restoring that capability a priority. If lawmakers aren't kicking themselves now for their myopia, they should be.

That's because the only way for U.S. astronauts to reach the $100 billion International Space Station — U.S. taxpayers covered about half that investment — is by hitching rides, at $70 million a seat, on Russian rockets. And with relations strained between the two countries over Russia seizing territory from its neighbor, Ukraine, Washington's dependence on Moscow is looking increasingly unwise and untenable. (3/13)

NASA’s Next Discovery Competition Has More Than Strings Attached (Source: Space News)
NASA has ruled nuclear power off limits for its next Discovery-class planetary mission and likely will require any such mission going farther than the Moon to carry an experimental laser communications payload, officials said here March 12. The 25-kilogram payload, which draws 75 watts, would be provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., as part of an interplanetary laser communications demonstration.

The so-called mass and power tax that carrying such a payload would entail “is a lot” for a planetary mission that can cost no more than $450 million, not counting launch. As such, Michael New said, NASA could still decide to drop the requirement to demonstrate JPL’s laser communications package if it ultimately proves unfeasible. “If it works, great. The mission is welcome to use it for its own data return. If it doesn’t work ... the mission should have its own radio system to back it up.” (3/13)

Sebastian Teacher Relishes Role of Spreading Word About Mission to Mars (Source: TCPalm)
Melissa Sleeper, a teacher at Sebastian River Middle School, is one of 29 people from across the nation to serve as an 'educator ambassador' for the current Mars MAVEN mission. Melissa is a Nationally Board Certified Teacher who has taught in both private and public schools in Grenada, Barbados, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and the United States. She has been a science coordinator in a primary years program school, an elementary science resource teacher, and a science curriculum and instructional resource teacher.

The MAVEN Educator Ambassador (MEA) project focuses on topics that are fundamental to space science. This national project provides inspiring material on magnetism and spectroscopy for middle school and high school students. The project relies on a train-the-trainer approach: MAVEN personnel train teachers in the project, and those teachers go on to train a second tier of teachers. (3/13)

Stennis Offers Series on How Vendors Can Get Inside Track (Source: South Miss. Business Journal)
Opportunities exist for small businesses at Stennis Space Center, but they don’t come without work experience, knowledge of the process and proper preparation. That was the message from Laurie Jugan’s presentation, “How to do Business at Stennis Space Center,” part of the award-winning small business series from the Hancock County Chamber of Commerce Business Resource Center. (3/12)

Shelton Fires Back at SpaceX (Source: SpaceX)
The head of Air Force Space Command has a response to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, who, during a spirited March 7 Senate hearing, asked why if SpaceX’s rockets “are good enough for NASA, are they not good enough for the Air Force?” “I’ll tell you why,” Gen. William Shelton said during a National Space Club Florida Committee luncheon.

“At about $1.5 billion — and sometimes higher — national security payloads have to get there. We have to make sure we’ve done due diligence on the part of the government to make sure that that rocket is going to deliver safely and reliably,” Shelton said. High cost is just part of the concern, he added. “It’s also the opportunity cost. If we lose one of those precious payloads, it takes us a long time to produce a replacement,” Shelton said.

Shelton, who is expected to be succeeded this year by his deputy, Lt. Gen. John Hyten, has praised SpaceX and Musk as recently as January. “I don’t doubt that guy anymore, by the way,” Shelton said in a Jan. 7 speech. “What he says, he’s going to do.” Shelton has said he expects SpaceX to earn the certification necessary to bid on national security launches later this year. (3/12)

Bad Soldering Pushes 3rd MUOS Satellite Toward End of the Launch Queue (Source: Space News)
A soldering problem has delayed the completion of the third satellite in the U.S. Navy’s next-generation satellite communications system, according to a top executive from Lockheed Martin, the satellite’s prime contractor. The setback means Lockheed Martin and the Navy will launch the fourth satellite in the Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) production line in January 2015, instead of the third satellite as previously scheduled. (3/12)

SpaceX Prepares for Soft Landing the Falcon 9 Rocket (Source: Extreme Tech)
SpaceX is about to attempt the first ever soft landing of a heavy space launch vehicle. On March 16, SpaceX mission CRS-3 will lift off from Cape Canaveral on a resupply mission to the International Space Station. Usually, the massive primary stage of the rocket would fall into the Atlantic ocean after launch — but in this case, it will sprout some metal legs and use what’s left of its rocket fuel to slowly return to Earth.

This is perhaps the single most important step in SpaceX’s stated goal of reducing the cost of space travel by a factor of 10, eventually leading to the human colonization of Mars. Basically, after the first stage detaches from CRS-3, it will use its Merlin rocket engines to slowly return to Earth. For this flight, the first stage will still land in the water — but once SpaceX is confident that it can do so safely, future launches will see the first stage fly all the way back to to the launchpad. After that, SpaceX will start bringing the second stage back to the launchpad, too.

The eventual goal, according to SpaceX, is to create a launch system that is reusable within “single-digit hours.” Basically, SpaceX would give these rockets a quick once-over, fill them back up with fuel… and off they go again. The fuel is still very expensive, but it’s nothing compared to the cost of the hardware. If everything goes to plan, the total cost per pound to launch into Earth orbit could drop to $500 or less — one twentieth of what today’s unreusable rockets cost. (3/12)

Musk Soon To Launch Heaviest Rocket In Existence — And It Can Reach Mars (Source: Business Insider)
Later this year, Elon Musk's private rocket company, SpaceX, will launch a test flight of what it claims is the most massive rocket in existence: the Falcon Heavy. It looks a little like SpaceX's standard rocket, the Falcon 9, with two other Falcons strapped to its sides. Put another way, this one ship is the equivalent of 15 Boeing 747s tied together and running at full power.

Only one other rocket has been heavier than the Falcon Heavy will be, SpaceX claims. That was NASA's Saturn V ship, which carried the Apollo and Skylab missions into space from 1966 until 1973. It has a "Low Earth Orbit" payload of 53,000 kg (116,845 pounds), and could carry 13,200 kg to Mars on its 27 Merlin engines. "Falcon Heavy can lift the equivalent of a fully loaded 737 jetliner — complete with passengers, luggage and fuel — to orbit," SpaceX says. (3/12)

Virgin Galactic Eyes Launch Later in Year (Source: Travel Weekly)
Virgin Galactic said last month that it hoped to begin suborbital space tourism operations in the second half of this year, depending on the progress the company makes on test flights and on the FAA's licensing process. While awaiting an FAA commercial operator's license, the company has to move the operation and vehicles from Mojave, Calif., to New Mexico, where it will prepare to fly a few preservice flights to test customer experience. (3/12)

NASA Langley Keeps Fingers Crossed, Eyes Focused Forward (Source: Daily Press)
Steve Jurczyk, acting director of the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, breathed a sigh of relief last week when the national space program was allocated $17.5 billion in President Barack Obama's proposed budget for fiscal year 2015. True, that budget would represent about $186 million less than fiscal year 2014 – but in difficult financial times, especially for federal programs, Jurczyk was not about to complain.

"Overall, the budget was very good news," he said, especially since the president's Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative (OGSI) would direct an additional $885 million to NASA, about $93.7 million of which would go toward the construction of Langley's planned Measurement Systems Laboratory. While he was pleased with the president's proposal, Jurczyk said now he is nervously waiting to see if the U.S. Congress approves it. (3/12)

Exelis Settles GPS Patent Infringement Claim Against Blackberry (Source: Exelis)
Exelis has reached a license agreement with Blackberry regarding patent infringement claims related to Exelis assisted Global Positioning System (GPS) technology. The license agreement resolves all issues regarding the company’s claim that the mobile devices and components sold or supported by Blackberry, incorporating assisted GPS technology, infringed Exelis patent rights. Specific details of the license agreement will remain confidential. (3/12)

The Coming Revolution in Orbit (Source: Foreign Policy)
The orbital revolution is being driven first and foremost by the fact that satellites are getting smaller, cheaper, and ever more capable. The miniaturization of electronics has led to new markets of small satellites with better capabilities -- variously called microsats, nanosats, picosats, and the like. "A lot of the growth we're seeing in small satellites is in the 10-kilogram range," says Jeff Foust, a senior analyst with Futron.

"A lot of developments out of universities can weigh as little as 1 kilogram, as opposed to the 100-kilogram microsatellites that constituted most of the small-satellite market a few years ago." This shift is partly the result of space technology finally catching up with the electronics revolution. Because of the enormous costs of building and launching satellites, the space industry puts payloads through stringent testing to ensure they can withstand the forces of launch, the vacuum and radiation of space, and limited Earth-based troubleshooting options.

Nobody wants to explain why their multimillion-dollar satellite keeps rebooting. So, advances on Earth can take years to percolate into the heavens. But now that more tech has been proved spaceworthy -- several successful test satellites, in fact, have been built from the guts of smartphones -- institutions are free to use ever-smaller off-the-shelf components. That makes satellites cheaper to build, and their smaller size makes them cheaper to launch. (3/12)

Lost Einstein Paper Posed Alternate Cosmic Theory (Source: Discovery)
Albert Einstein wasn’t always convinced that the universe began with a big bang. In a newly discovered manuscript, the famed physicist pondered over a so-called “steady state” theory and described a cosmos that can continuously and spontaneously replenish itself with new matter to form stars and galaxies. That would mean the overall density of space would remain stable, even as the universe expands.

Researchers believe Einstein’s manuscript, found “hiding in plain sight” in the Hebrew University’s online Albert Einstein Archives, was written in 1931 — nearly 20 years before British astrophysicist Fred Hoyle championed a similar and controversial theory. Physicist Cormac O’Raifeartaigh, with the Waterford Institute of Technology in Ireland, tells Nature magazine he “almost fell out of his chair” when he realized what he had found. The document, written in German — Einstein’s native tongue — was mistakenly identified as a first draft of another paper. (3/12)

Largest Ever Yellow Star is 1300 Times Bigger Than Sun (Source: New Scientist)
A monster version of our sun has been found, the largest known member of the family of yellow stars to which our sun belongs. The whopper sun emits light in similar wavelengths as our sun but its diameter is over 1300 times larger. That means it would engulf all the planets between Mercury and Jupiter if placed at the center of our solar system. (3/12)

Russia Lost $550M From Failed Satellite Launches in 4 Years (Source: RIA Novosti)
Over the past four years the Russian government has lost nearly $550 million from uninsured failed satellite launches, the Vedomosti newspaper reported Wednesday, citing an aerospace industry audit. A letter from the Russian Association of Aviation and Space Insurers responding to a Kremlin audit said that five of the six failures among 100 launches in the past four years were of uninsured payloads.

Russia’s space agency is expected to submit a draft law by the end of this year on compulsory insurance in the space industry, according to the Russian government’s website. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who oversees the space and defense industries, said last week that Russia must focus on profits in the space sector to ensure a return on state investments. (3/12)

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