March 18, 2014

Tito on SLS: The Spaceship to Everywhere (Source: Huffington Post)
After nearly a year of study and collaboration between the Inspiration Mars Foundation and some of the best and brightest minds in the space industry, the most logical systems architecture for a Mars flyby mission has become crystal clear. It is the deep space exploration system being built for NASA by the most experienced and skilled space manufacturing workforce in the world -- the Space Launch System and Orion crew vehicle. And by logical extension, it is also the right solution for our nation's broader deep space goals.

Short-sighted critics like to call it the "rocket to nowhere," an incredibly uninformed reference that sells short the accomplishments of NASA and industry over a relatively short period of time, and which carelessly dismisses the significant investment and progress already made in "SLS/Orion." SLS/Orion is much more than a rocket. It is a new generation of space systems by which humans will finally leave our planet's influence for the first time and explore deep space -- indeed, a rocket and space ship to everywhere. Click here. (3/14)

When Heroes Lead Us Astray (Source: Space KSC)
Armstrong and Cernan sat before the Senate Science Committee. Why no Apollo astronaut with a favorable view was invited went unexplained; Buzz Aldrin had been present at Obama's April 15 speech and endorsed the new direction. Nor was it explained why heroic icons of the 1960s were considered to be experts about U.S. space technology and economics fifty years later. Sally Ride and Leroy Chiao, Shuttle-era astronauts much closer to the current state of affairs, served on the Augustine Committee but weren't invited either.

Armstrong and Cernan minced no words. Their opposition to the President made national headlines. But their comments not only ignored one finding after another that Constellation was a failed government program, but also displayed a fundamental ignorance about the commercial cargo and crew programs that were becoming known as NewSpace. Almost four years later, history has proven these heroes to be totally wrong.

We can only speculate about how much damage the three did that spring to the future of the U.S. space program. In my opinion, they were useful pawns for more powerful forces behind the scenes trying to protect OldSpace pork. Even without their testimony and their column, it's likely that Congress still would have gutted the administration's commerical crew program in favor of Constellation's pork replacement, the Space Launch System. Click here. (3/18)

Another Aldrin Sets his Sights on the Moon (Source: Space News)
Moon Express, a leading contender in the race to send the first commercial robotic spacecraft to the Moon, has hired Andrew Aldrin to become its president. Aldrin, the former business development director at Denver-based United Launch Alliance and son of Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin, is scheduled to move to California later this month to take over the job currently held by Bob Richards, the Moon Express co-founder who also serves as the firm’s chief executive.

As Moon Express president, Aldrin will oversee the firms approximately 40 employees located at its headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., and its propulsion development and test facilities in Huntsville, Ala., which the company is expanding as it prepares for its first flight to the Moon in 2015. Moon Express has raised more than $15 million in its quest to become the first privately funded robotic spacecraft to reach the lunar surface and win the Google Lunar X Prize, Richards said.

The competition promises a $20 million grand prize to the first team that succeeds before the end of 2015 in landing a commercial spacecraft on the Moon, traveling 500 meters and sending high-definition images and video back to Earth. The second team to achieve those goals stands to win $5 million. The X Prize Foundation promises additional $1 million bonus prizes for teams that succeed in completing various tasks including detecting water and conducting operations at night. (3/18)

Agency Plans Satellite Launches from Canada's West Coast (Source: Alberni Valley News)
One man’s dream of using the West Coast as a location to launch satellites into space has taken another step closer to reality. Space Launch Canada has signed a three-year agreement with the University of Victoria to construct three space satellites. Work on the design and construction has already started, and the first satellite should be completed in one year and launched within two years, said Space Launch Canada director Redouane Fakir.

The $840,000 project is being underwritten with a $420,000 grant from the Natural Sciences Engineering and Research Council of Canada, and the other half with private investors. The satellites will be built at the UVic Center for Aerospace Research, a first for the facility, Fakir said. Specifically, the team at UVic will construct three Space Launch Moon-5 satellites, each of which has a 10-year lifespan once in orbit. A third group — AGO Environmental Electronics — is also involved with the research.

In 2011, Fakir proposed building a launch site somewhere on the West Coast: Port Alberni, Ucluelet or Tofino. The idea is still percolating and hasn’t been forgotten, Fakir said. His plan is to build a satellite then launch it from another country. Next, to bring another country’s launch infrastructure here to launch the second satellite from a barge on the West Coast. And finally, to build a third satellite and launch it from a dedicated launch facility on the West Coast. (3/15)

Nash Provides Wallops Overview to Area Chamber (Source: DelMarVa Now)
Some 70 people at the Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce annual membership meeting heard an overview of the past year’s activities at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport and an appeal for the group’s continued support of the spaceport. “It has been a very impressive 12 months,” said Dale K. Nash, executive director of the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority.

The authority developed and oversees the spaceport at Wallops Flight Facility. Nash told chamber members solid evidence of economic benefits to the region will help elected officials defend requests for state and federal funds for the spaceport. “What I’m soliciting your help on is, we really do need to compete as Virginia, Inc. or Eastern Shore, Inc. It certainly will help if the Chamber of Commerce or others could take a very serious look at what has happened to the tax base, what’s happened to the economy around here,” he said. (3/18)

NASA Redesign of NRO Telescope Would Add Capabilities, Cost (Source: NASA Watch)
The opportunity to increase the aperture and resolution on NASA’s planned Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) would significantly expand the scientific capabilities of the mission, but the risk of cost growth is significantly higher than for NASA’s original design, says a new report from the National Research Council.

The inherited hardware was designed for another purpose, and the degree to which changes to the hardware must be made to accommodate a different launch vehicle and scientific requirements is uncertain at this time. This uncertainty contributes to higher technical risk and a greater likelihood that costs will increase beyond current estimates, the report says. The WFIRST/AFTA without the coronagraph was estimated to cost $2.1 billion, up from an estimate of $1.8 billion for an earlier design. (3/18)

Military Satellite Launches Push First Orion Flight to December (Source: Space News)
“The Air Force came to us this month asking us to move [the Orion launch] to December to help alleviate a busy manifest, and we agreed,” NASA spokeswoman Rachel Kraft said in a March 17 email. NASA disclosed the schedule change in a March 14 mission update. ULA said the missions that bumped Orion to December are Air Force Space Command-4 and GPS 2F-6. Like Orion, both of these Air Force missions are scheduled to launch on ULA Delta 4 rockets from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. (3/18)

S. Korea Completes Engine Test for Space Rocket (Source: Global Post)
South Korea has successfully conducted ground combustion tests for what will be the third-stage engine of its own space rocket. The seven-ton thrust engine successfully passed five separate combustion tests that checked both the steady injection of fuel and stability of the engine, according to the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning.

The successful tests mark a significant chapter in the country's development of an indigenous space launch vehicle with a view to test launching a three-stage rocket in 2020. Under the current program, the space rocket will have a first-stage rocket consisting of four 75-ton thrust engines and a second-stage rocket made up of a single 75-ton engine. The ministry said the country also plans to begin engine combustion tests for 75-ton thrusters. (3/18)

A Saying in the Space Business Will Make You Rethink Risk (Source: Business Insider)
"What the scariest thing you've ever done?" That's how retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield opened his TED 2014 talk in Vancouver on Monday evening. Hadfield is an expert when it comes to facing danger. In space travel, Hadfield said, "there is no problem so bad you can't make it worse." He was referring to a popular phrase in the astronaut business.

It makes you rethink your concept of risk and danger on Earth. During liftoff, Hadfield said, "you are in the grip of something vastly more powerful than yourself." He added: "It feels like being in the jaws of an enormous dog and a foot in your back pushing you into space." When dealing with such complicated machinery, the only thing you can do is prepare. (3/18)

A Conversation With Steve Jurvetson, Space Investor and Rocket Maker (Source: New York Times)
Steve Jurvetson is a partner at Draper Fisher Jurvetson, a Menlo Park, Calif., venture capital firm that has invested in SpaceX, Tesla Motors and Planet Labs, a satellite company we profiled in Monday’s newspaper. Mr. Jurvetson sees space exploration as the next big business in Silicon Valley. He even dabbles in his own supersonic experiments, building rockets that he deploys from Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. Click here. (3/18)

Start-Ups Aim to Conquer Space Market (Source: New York Times)
It was party time at the Planet Labs satellite factory, in an unkempt office in the trendy South of Market neighborhood here. A man in a blue tuxedo shared pancakes with about two dozen young engineers at the space start-up. The air was filled with the smell of bacon and the voices of Russian and Japanese astronauts. The astronauts communicated over a video hookup to the International Space Station, 230 miles above the kitchen, one morning last month.

“Now we’re going to push the boundaries,” said Chester Gillmore, the company’s director of manufacturing. He was referring to his cooking skills, but he could just as well have been talking about his 40-employee company, which has already put dozens of small satellites in space. Once they are connected, they will be able to provide near-constant images of what is going on back on Earth. (3/16)

From Indiana to Outer Space (Source: Herald Argus)
In April of 1991, Indiana native Jerry Ross was crawling out onto the heaviest civilian satellite ever launched. Called the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, it weighed some 35,000 pounds and cost around $670 million, its purpose being to study the bursts of gamma radiation coming from the heavens. And it wasn't working. Click here. (3/18)

Watch This Space (Source: The Australian)
I ask Andy Thomas, the Australian astronaut who flew his first mission into space in 1986, if he thinks the suborbital flight will be worth the price tag. “Virgin Galactic’s product is really a high-altitude plane ride,’’ he says. “You get to feel weightless for a few minutes, not the genuine feeling of being in orbit and having permanent weightlessness.’’

Thomas adds: “You’re not going to get the whole breath­taking view of Earth. The real space experience will be when hotels are in orbit.’’ He believes this could be just 10 to 15 years away, with guests staying for weeks at a time. (3/18)

NASA’s Plan to Create Public Asteroid Hunters is Full of (Black) Holes (Source: Palm Beach Post)
NASA’s looking for help in identifying potentially dangerous asteroids. This usually isn’t a good sign. When authorities ask the general public to help them do their jobs it’s an indication of trouble. Police detectives solicit the public in providing leads for their investigations only when those investigations have reached a dead end.

And when the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission came up with the 2013 Python Challenge, a call for members of the public to compete for prize money in a hunt for Burmese pythons in the Everglades, it was a sure sign that the traditional methods for getting rid of those big snakes had failed. So I’m not cheered by NASA’s latest plan to do a better job at identifying the number, size and location of asteroids hurtling by the planet.

“Be an asteroid hunter in NASA’s First Asteroid Grand Challenge Contest Series,” the space agency announced for the contest that began on Monday. I’m a little rusty on my algorithms these days, and by that, I mean, I’m clueless when it comes to astro-physics math. But I do understand the backdrop to all this. Outer space is full of flying debris, some of it as big as houses, and most of it undetected by us. In fact, we track only a small percentage of the space rocks that zoom by us. (3/18)

Space Thief or Hero? One Man's Quest to Reawaken an Old Friend (Source: WABE)
More than 30 years ago, Robert Farquhar stole a spacecraft. Now he's trying to give it back. The satellite is hurtling back toward the general vicinity of Earth, after nearly three decades of traveling in a large, looping orbit around the sun. If Farquhar, a former mission design specialist for NASA, gets his way, the agency will command the spacecraft to fire its thrusters.

It would veer close to the moon, and slip back into the spot where it was intended to be when it was launched in 1978 — and where it was when Farquhar and his accomplices "borrowed" it. Back in the 1980s, space agencies were racing to Halley's comet. But NASA wasn't going — officials said a comet mission was too expensive. That did not sit well with Farquhar, who had dreamed of achieving the first comet encounter ever.

So he figured out how to divert an existing satellite, called the International Sun-Earth Explorer-3 (ISEE-3), that was stationed between the Earth and the sun in an innovative halo orbit that he had pioneered. Farquhar came up with a complicated trajectory that would let this spacecraft intercept a different comet. Click here. (3/18)

Sea Launch Chief Responds to Talk of Russian Takeover (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
With ground crews at Sea Launch's California home port preparing for liftoff of a Eutelsat communications spacecraft in April, the company's chief executive says he would be open to a Russian government takeover of Sea Launch if it yielded greater access to the market for launching Russian satellites. Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin said the Russian government was considering purchasing Sea Launch from RSC Energia, a Russian space contractor which owns 95 percent of the Sea Launch consortium.

Sergey Gugkaev, CEO of Bern, Switzerland-based Sea Launch, said the crisis in Ukraine has not threatened Sea Launch's planned operations this year. All the rocket hardware for the April 15 launch of the Eutelsat 3B communications satellite has been delivered to Long Beach, and Sea Launch has components for another Zenit 3SL rocket on order for delivery in late 2014 to the company's Long Beach home port.

According to Gugkaev, the proposed government takeover of Sea Launch was not discussed at the company's recent board meetings. He said Sea Launch plans to conduct preparations for all of its upcoming flights at its home port facility in Long Beach, despite Rogozin's call for a move to a port in Russia's Far East, should the Russian government buy the company. Click here. (3/17)

Rep. Brooks: White House 'Seriously Underfunded' Space Launch System (Source: Huntsville Times)
U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) says the Obama White House's 2015 budget request "seriously underfunded" the Space Launch System (SLS) NASA is developing in Alabama. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden disagreed in Huntsville last week. "If you don't need it, you don't ask for it," Bolden said. The budget request "keeps us on track," Bolden said, adding, "I don't see anything we said we were going to do that we're not planning to do."

The White House budget request for fiscal year 2015 seeks $1.38 billion to develop SLS. The program got $1.6 billion this year - a difference of about $200 million. "I would like to see SLS receive a minimum of $1.6 billion for vehicle development in FY 2015," Brooks said. "Anything less than $1.6 billion delays SLS availability." (3/17)

Bolden: An Exemplary Trans-Atlantic Achievement (Source: Space News)
Our recent meetings in Paris and Washington gave us significant opportunities to discuss how we will move forward together to achieve mutual goals for human spaceflight and scientific exploration and to build on the longstanding partnership between NASA and CNES. While discussing the future of space exploration, it was clear to us that our shared investments in space are helping to make a bright future possible for people across the planet. Click here. (3/17)

Editorial: Measuring Space Choices by Our Real Purpose (Source: Space News)
A quarter-century ago, a small group of space activists created the Space Frontier Foundation. Now a new generation has picked up the torch, because despite a lot of progress, humanity still doesn’t have a free and open space frontier. This failure reflects many problems, but central is a continuing failure of U.S. government space policy.

Civil space certainly struggles with many of the same circumstances that aggravate most public policy issues, but those only mask our core challenge: an endless debate about proper goals. President Barack Obama has embraced the idea of visiting a near-Earth asteroid before pursuing Mars. Many Republican congressmen believe that returning to the Moon should be our focus. Still other leaders, including many scientists, say that Mars itself is the only proper objective. Click here. (3/17)

Editorial: It’s the Cost (Source: Space News)
Big money is not returning to the U.S. federal space sector. Trends in the factors that make up the federal budget make increases to the space budget improbable. The aerospace industry must think about costs very differently — or face almost certain decline.

Fiscal trends limit our budget choices. Economic growth could be a source of future budget increases, but the United States is in its lowest growth period since World War II. In only one year since 2000 has gross domestic product (GDP) annual growth exceeded the 3.4 percent average of the last 80 years, and then only by 0.1 percent. The average growth over the last 12 years has been 1.6 percent. A big change in economic trends would be needed for GDP growth to enable budgetary growth. Click here. (3/17)

Editorial: U.S. and German Tax Dollars at Waste (Source: Space News)
Whether or not astronomers are outraged by the White House’s plan to ground an airborne observatory shortly after the start of its mission, U.S. and German taxpayers certainly should be. Because if the decision, announced March 4 with the unveiling of NASA’s $17.5 billion budget request for 2015, is allowed to stand, that’s $1 billion of their hard-earned money down the drain.

That’s how much money NASA and the German space agency, the DLR, spent to develop the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), a 2.5-meter telescope mounted on a modified Boeing 747 aircraft. SOFIA, which has been undergoing flight-testing for the past three years, is only slated to begin full-scale science operations this year. (3/17)

First Hints of Waves on Titan's Seas (Source: Nature)
After years of searching, planetary scientists think they may finally have spotted waves rippling on the seas of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. If confirmed, this would be the first discovery of ocean waves beyond Earth. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft spied several unusual glints of sunlight off the surface of Punga Mare, one of Titan’s hydrocarbon seas, in 2012 and 2013. Those reflections may come from tiny ripples, no more than 2 centimeters high, that are disturbing the otherwise flat ocean. (3/17)

Planetary Society Announces Its Largest Single Donor Gift (Source: Planetary Society)
The Planetary Society, co-founded by Carl Sagan and today the world’s leading space interest group, has announced a donation of $4.2 million, the largest single donation in its history. The donor, who wishes to remain anonymous, is a member of the Society.

“This remarkable gift from a Planetary Society Member will enable us to further carry out our mission: We advance space science and exploration for the betterment of humankind,” said Bill Nye, The Science Guy and Planetary Society CEO. “We want everyone everywhere to understand the cosmos and our place within it. This gift will have a major impact on getting us there. I share our donor’s confidence that this gift will spur others to give, knowing their donations will go even further.” (3/17)

NASA Extends Cargo Mission Contract at Johnson Space Center (Source: SpaceRef)
NASA has exercised a $22 million, one-year extension option for a contract with Lockheed Martin Integrated Systems of Houston to provide support to International Space Station activities at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The contract provides support consisting of analytical and physical processing activities to support pressurized cargo requirements for visiting vehicle flights to and from the International Space Station, including cargo mission planning, cargo coordination, stowage integration, cargo processing, international shipping and the capability to build hardware to support pressurized and unpressurized cargo transportation, as needed. (3/17)

“Clear, Unified, and Long-Term Direction” for NASA (Source: Space Policy Online)
According to NASA, its new strategic plan, released last week, provides the agency with a “clear, unified, and long-term direction” for all its activities. NASA’s previous strategic plan was criticized in a 2012 National Research Council (NRC) report requested by Congress that found a lack of “national consensus” on the agency’s strategic goals and objectives.

Government agencies are required to prepare strategic plans every four years in the year after a presidential election by the Government Performance and Results Modernization Act.  The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) sets detailed requirements for the plans. NASA was given an extra year to produce its last version as the Obama Administration debated the agency’s future, so it was released in 2011 rather than 2010. Click here. (3/16)

QinetiQ Develops Water Innovation for Space (Source: Space Newsfeed)
QinetiQ Space has signed a 1.1 million euro contract with the European Space Agency (ESA) for the development of a ground prototype water treatment unit to recycle urine and waste water for use in space. The prototype will be used to develop a system that will be used in future space missions to treat water for re-use by astronauts to wash, or to be purified further to drinking water.

The ground prototype and testing will ensure the future system works successfully in space, with a design that has to take into account the lack of gravity, the launch and the life expectancy of the components in different environments. Along with the prototype development and preliminary design, QinetiQ will provide project coordination with a consortium that includes NTE, who will carrying out requirements analysis, VITO, who will work on membrane technology and UGent who are responsible for the urine related subsystem and overall life testing. (3/10)

U.S. Space & Rocket Center Seeks $70K For Shuttle Park (Source: Huntsville Times)
The U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville today formally announced the launch of its first-ever crowdfunding campaign for the installation of a Grumman Gulfstream II Shuttle Training Aircraft in Shuttle Park. The G-II aircraft, a business jet converted by NASA to be used as a shuttle astronaut training tool to land the Space Shuttle Orbiter, was acquired by the space center two years ago and is currently stationed at Birmingham Shuttlesworth International Airport.

The 60-day "Land the STA" Indiegogo campaign to raise $70,000 will fund site preparation and structural supports to install the training aircraft at Shuttle Park, which is home to Pathfinder, the world's only full-stack shuttle display. Held in conjunction with the space center's 44th birthday, today's news conference brought together area leaders, former astronauts and Space Camp alumni. (3/17)

Mojave Spaceport: We’re “Financially Viable and Solvent” (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The CEO of the Mojave Air and Space Port (MASP) announced that independent auditors have completed an initial investigation and report that the District remains financially viable and solvent following a special examination of the District’s finances. The special examination was prompted by the unexpected resignation of the MASP CFO the day prior to a planned audit of the District.

Upon learning of the CFO’s resignation the District Board President in conjunction with the CEO tasked the firm of Lance, Soll and Lunghard to complete the special examination as soon as possible and provide the feedback to the MASP Board and senior management. The District has also engaged an outside expert, a former public sector CPA, who will be temporarily directing the MASP accounting office staff in the wake of the CFO’s departure. (3/17)

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