March 25, 2014

NASA Seeks Suborbital Flight Services Proposals (Source: SpaceRef)
NASA is seeking proposals from U.S. commercial suborbital reusable launch vehicle providers to integrate and fly technology payloads for the space agency. NASA uses companies for suborbital flights to encourage and facilitate the growth of this important aerospace market while also providing a means to advance a wide range of new launch vehicle and space technologies. (3/25)

Virgin Galactic Seeks Businesses to Supply Spaceport America (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
Whether manned commercial flights to space will begin at Spaceport America anytime soon remains to be seen, anchor tenant Virgin Galactic is on the lookout for companies to provide a variety of products and services at the facility near Upham. Any business that is "willing to push the limits of normal (because normal is boring)" as the company puts it, but be able to do business at the spaceport.

"Procurement will be ongoing," said Bruce Jackson, a vice president with the company. "Contracts put in place will be rebid in the future, likely two to three years after their original effective date." He said that in most cases a bidding process does occur, and in all instances a proposal is required. "Our supply chain team determines the best way to procure based on several factors, including: product/service requirements, likely contract value, operational criticality, available supply base, etc.," Jackson said. (3/25)

DARPA Picks Boeing To Demonstrate Airborne Launcher Concept (Source: Space News)
DARPA has awarded Boeing a contract worth as much as $104 million to build and demonstrate a low-cost airborne launching system for small satellites. The contract is for DARPA’s Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA) program, which is intended to field a system to launch satellites weighing up to 45 kilograms into low Earth orbit for $1 million each.

The base value of Boeing’s contract is $30.6 million, with a first option worth $72 million and a second option worth $2 million, according to the posting. The program is aiming for a demonstration launch in fiscal year 2015. DARPA requested $55 million for the program in 2015, up from $42 million in 2014, according to the budget documents. DARPA in 2012 awarded ALASA design contracts to Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Virgin Galactic, along with related technology development contracts to three other companies. (3/24)

Thuraya Touts 15 Percent Revenue Growth in 2013 (Source: Space News)
Mobile satellite services provider Thuraya Telecommunications Co. reported $122 million in revenue in 2013, up 15 percent from 2012, and is forecasting its revenue will surpass $200 million by 2018. EBITDA, or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, was up 29 percent, to $36 million, the company said in a statement emailed March 25, adding that among the principal mobile satellite services providers, it is the least indebted as a multiple of EBITDA after it restructured its debt. (3/25)

Cinemas See Satellite Tech as Ticket to Bigger Revenue (Source: LA Times)
Tim Warner, chief executive of Cinemark Holdings Inc., admits he'd never heard of the popular science fiction series "Dr. Who." So the Montana native was skeptical when executives at BBC America approached him about the idea of screening a simulcast of the 50th anniversary episode of the cult-classic British TV series in Cinemark theaters across Latin America and the U.S.

In late November, hundreds of "Whovians" showed up at more than 700 theaters from Los Angeles to New York and Sao Paulo, Brazil, many dressed as their favorite characters, to watch screenings of the special Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor. "To be honest, many of us had never heard of 'Dr. Who,'" recalled Warner, who runs the nation's third-largest theater chain. "They told us it was going to sell out. We said, 'Yeah, right.' Not only did it sell out, but people showed up in costumes."

The event convinced Warner that what happened with "Dr. Who" was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of TV shows, sports programs and other types of so-called alternative entertainment that could help redefine the way Americans think about the multiplex. Now they plan to offer TV shows, concerts and sporting events at their venues, capitalizing on a new satellite network that makes it possible to beam live entertainment to most theaters in America. (3/25)

Thousands Vote on NASA's Next Spacesuit Design: You Can, Too (Source: NBC)
Want to help design a spacesuit? NASA is taking one small step toward crowdsourced space exploration by letting Internet users select the cover layer for its next prototype suit. NASA engineers drew up the choices in collaboration with spacesuit manufacturer ILC Dover and student designers from Philadelphia University.

You can vote for the "Biomimicry" pattern, inspired by the look of bioluminescent sea creatures; the "Technology" pattern, with glowing panels that seem to pay homage to the classic video-game movie "Tron"; or "Trends in Society," which mimics swoopy sportswear patterns. Click here. (3/25)

Mitsubishi Remains Prime for New Japanese Launcher (Source: JAXA)
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) made an announcement to the private sector on Feb. 27 to compare proposals and select a prime contractor who can be responsible for launch and space transportation services for a newly developed flagship launch vehicle. As a result, after carefully evaluated proposals including confirmation of application prerequisites and conformity with requirements, we have selected Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. (MHI) as the prime contractor.

JAXA will begin developing the new national flagship launch vehicle in early Japan Fiscal Year 2014 in cooperation with a group of private companies led by MHI. The new flagship launch vehicle is aiming to enter the international satellite launch market on a full scale with high competitiveness while being responsible for Japan's space transportation after the 2020s by renovating our current flagship rockets, the H-IIA and H-IIB Launch Vehicles, and by improving usability through launch cost reduction by half and other enhancements. (3/25)

Studying Crops, From Outer Space (Source: Carnegie Institution)
Plants convert energy from sunlight into chemical energy during a process called photosynthesis. This energy is passed on to humans and animals that eat the plants, and thus photosynthesis is the primary source of energy for all life on Earth. But the photosynthetic activity of various regions is changing due to human interaction with the environment, including climate change, which makes large-scale studies of photosynthetic activity of interest.

New research from a team including Carnegie's Joe Berry reveals a fundamentally new approach for measuring photosynthetic activity as it occurs around the planet. Their work is based on a breakthrough in the capacity to use satellite technology to measure light that is emitted by plant leaves as a byproduct of photosynthesis. This light is called fluorescence and it is produced when sunlight excites the photosynthetic pigment chloropyll.

The method offers a direct measurement of activity occurring as the satellite passes overhead. Other approaches to detecting photosynthetic activity on a large scale are less direct, so until now, models have been the primary tool for estimating photosynthetic productivity on a planetary scale. The accuracy of these models has been difficult to evaluate. "This new method uses satellites to sense fluorescence emitted during photosynthesis," Berry said. "It changes everything. It gives us a direct observation of photosynthesis on a large scale for the first time ever." (3/24)

Sierra Nevada and Lockheed Martin Expand Dream Chaser Manufacturing (Source: SNC)
Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC) and Dream Chaser strategic partner Lockheed Martin announced the expansion of SNC Dream Chaser spacecraft orbital vehicle manufacturing operations. Lockheed Martin is under contract to manufacture the next Dream Chaser composite structure which will be for the first orbital vehicle scheduled to launch on November 1, 2016.

The MAF, which is owned and operated by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, has been operational since 1961 and has played a significant role on our nation’s space programs ranging from Apollo to the space shuttle. Today, leveraging the experience, technical expertise and current infrastructure at Michoud, next generation vehicles such as SNC’s Dream Chaser and Lockheed Martin’s Orion are being fabricated within the same walls as   legendary programs. (3/25)

Inmarsat Aided Search for Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight (Source: Aviation Week)
Inmarsat used data analysis to help investigators pinpoint the final flight path of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which ended in the Indian Ocean. The flight pinged one of Inmarsat’s 10 satellites every hour, and Inmarsat was able to establish the flight was airborne for six hours after losing contact. (3/24)

Vivisat Claims Orders for its Satellite Life-Extension Spacecraft (Source: Commercial Space Blog)
Alliant Techsystems (ATK) subsidiary Vivisat, a "satellite-servicing startup developing life-extension vehicles for end-of-life commercial communications satellites in geostationary orbit," has booked "two customers for three missions, and expects to start building its specialized spacecraft by the end of 2014," according to Aviation Week.

But details of the "final financing" to fund the missions are still to be settled, according to the article, which quoted both Vivisat CEO Craig Weston and COO Bryan McGuirk. The system uses a Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV) to dock permanently to an orbiting satellite and take over operations from the original propulsion system. (3/24)

On Colorado Aerospace Day; Legislators Criticize Feds for NASA Cuts (Source: Denver Business Journal)
Colorado legislators lauded the state's aerospace industry Monday and criticized the U.S. government for yanking funding from NASA. Members of the state House and Senate passed a resolution declaring March 24 as Colorado Aerospace Day. With executives from some of the state’s major space-travel companies in attendance, they noted that Colorado receives $1.8 billion in prime NASA contracts each year, is home to 170,000 aerospace jobs, and ranks first in the nation in per-capita aerospace employment. (3/25)

Palazzo, Edwards Push for SLS/Orion, Human Spaceflight, in Budget (Source: SpaceRef)
Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Space Subcommittee, respectively, today sent a letter to President Barack Obama in support of NASA’s Space Launch System and Orion as part of prioritizing human space exploration within NASA’s budgets. The letter was signed by a bipartisan coalition of 30 House members. Click here. (3/25)

US More Dependent on Russia in Space, Than Russia on US (Source: Voice of Russia)
The United States in the space area is more dependent on Russia than Russia on the United States, said John Logsdon, a member of the NASA Advisory Council, when asked whether astronauts would not be carried by Russian rockets to the International Space Station in connection with the current situation over Ukraine.

The United States and Russia were mutually dependent to ensure the ISS functioning, Logsdon said. He believes the station cannot work successfully without the support of the American mission control centre based in Texas. Thus, Russia needs support of the American side, but not to the same degree as the United States needs Russia, he noted. (3/25)

Launches a Source of Pride on Space Coast (Source: Florida Today)
A.J. Holbeck grew up watching Space Coast launches like the rest of us, enjoying the rockets’ glare and rumble with little idea how many parts and personnel came together to make each mission possible. “I did not realize how much support it actually takes,” said Holbeck, a 26-year-old Rockledge native who joined United Launch Alliance last year as a subcontract administrator. Holbeck remembers his first time seeing the pad’s maze of pipes and pressure gauges up close and marveling at “how much engineering, how much design went behind just the ground support to launch the rocket.”

Now, he helps provide the equipment and services that ensure a launch pad works, a technician has the right safety gear, the grounds are mowed and specialists are on standby in case a system has a hiccup during a countdown. That support system will be put to the test again soon when ULA counts down to liftoff of a powerful Atlas V rocket carrying a classified National Reconnaissance Office satellite from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport.

The nearly 200-foot rocket rolled to its pad Monday morning, but a planned launch this afternoon was postponed at least one day by an outage in range instrumentation. In a statement Monday evening, the Air Force's 45th Space Wing said it was assessing the problem and how long repairs would take. (3/25)

Shotwell on SpaceX Launch Delay, Reusability Plans (Source: NewSpace Journal)
SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said contamination in the trunk of the Dragon spacecraft was one of several factors to cause of the launch delay from Mar. 16 to Mar. 30. Others included “struggling on some buffering with data transfer between here and Houston” and more time needed to work with the range on recovery of the first stage. And she hinted that the Dragon team needed some time to catch their breath. “So, it was really the combination of those four things where we said, ‘You know what, we need to step back.’”

Shotwell also discussed some of the changes SpaceX made since their previous attempt to try and recover the Falcon 9 first stage from September. She said engineers are “optimizing” the reentry burn by the first stage after separation and the landing burn before splashdown. “In addition, we have to get a little more stability on that stage as it comes in,” she said, which they’re doing with the optimized burns and an attitude control system.

Shotwell emphasized that these were test flights: “This is a really hard problem. I do believe we will solve it.” She did state that the company hopes to return a Falcon 9 stage to a landing site on land (rather than in the ocean, as this stage will do) later this year, and reuse a Falcon 9 first stage next year. The reusability won’t have any affect on the published payload capacity. “[It] has about 30 percent more performance than what we put on the web, and that extra performance is reserved for us to do our reusability and recoverability demonstrations right now,” she said. (3/25)

Elaborate New Mexico Spaceport Visitor’s Building on Hold (Source: KRQE)
Commercial space flight is a new industry and the New Mexico Spaceport Authority has had to make a lot of adjustments along the way. The latest adjustment means plans for an elaborate, stand-alone visitor’s center will be put on hold. The standalone Visitors Center was supposed to greet guests as they arrived at Spaceport America – an elaborate building full of hands-on exhibits, games and artifacts.

It was envisioned as a way to immerse visitors into the Spaceport experience, whether they were taking a $250,000 space flight or not. “Besides all the space customers, space launch customers we have in terms of revenue,” said Christine Anderson, NMSA executive director. “Getting another source of revenue stream is really important so the visitors are extremely important.” But getting to that revenue stream from a separate visitor’s center takes capital the Spaceport just doesn’t have.

Last fall, NMSA explored private financing for the building, but the terms weren’t favorable. When the NMSA asked the legislature for about $1 million for a temporary hangar to house the visitor experience they received about $115,000. Now, they have a new plan. “It’s going to be the same show, it’s just not as elaborate a building on site as it would have been,” Anderson said. They’ll divide the exhibits and activities between a planned Visitor’s Center in T or C and a sectioned off a portion of the already-built Gateway to Space building. (3/25)

Aerospace Project May Get Millions from Florida (Source: Florida Today)
The state of Florida may award nearly $21 million to a mystery economic development project planned at the Melbourne International Airport. State legislators on Tuesday will vote on whether to go along with Gov. Rick Scott’s request to spend the money for “Project Magellan.” If approved it would mark one of the largest single economic development projects approved during Scott’s tenure as governor.

Brevard County officials earlier this month voted to award a grant to cover city and county impact fees. Documents show that the company receiving the money is promising to spend up to $500 million between now and 2020. One group critical of the state’s economic development efforts said the state should at least identify the company before approving such a large amount of money. (3/25)

NASA Astronomer Finds First Earth-Sized Planet in Habitable Zone (Source: Sploid)
The search for a new Earth outside the solar system seems to be nearing its end. NASA's Ames Research Center astronomer Thomas Barclay has found a planet nearly the size of Earth in the habitable zone of a star in the Milky Way. Barclay's announcement at the Search for Life Beyond the Solar System conference hasn't been officially published yet, so the details are scarce. We know that:

1. It's an M1 red dwarf star (maybe we should call it Krypton); 2. It's a goldilocks planet, orbiting within the zone where liquid water (and life) can exist; 3. It's radius is only 1.1 times the size of Earth. Until now the minimum size for a new Earth candidate was 1.4 times—Kepler-62f, which orbits a star about 1,200 light years away from us; and 4. At least five other planets are orbiting this red dwarf. (3/25)

Atlas Launch Delayed with Eastern Range Equipment Outage (Source: USAF)
The March 25 Atlas-5 NROL-67 launch has been delayed due to a range instrumentation outage. 45th Space Wing personnel are currently assessing the situation and working to identify the extent of repairs needed. (3/24)

FAA Seeks Comment on Midland Spaceport Environmental Assessment (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The FAA has initiated a public review and comment period for the Draft EA. Interested parties are invited to submit comments on the Draft EA, preferably in writing, on or before April 21, 2014. The FAA will hold an open house public meeting on April 8, 2014, from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin, Center for Energy and Economic Diversification. (3/24)

Britain Looks To End Tax on Satellite and Launch Insurance (Source: Space News)
The British government, which has promised to be friendlier to commercial space companies, is proposing to eliminate a 6 percent tax that British satellite operators pay for satellite launch and in-orbit insurance. The government’s 2014 budget proposal, released March 19, would permit satellite operators to benefit from the same Insurance Premium Tax exemptions already afforded to commercial aircraft, commercial shipping and other buyers of insurance. (3/24)

Why Earth Remains Capable of Supporting Life Despite Greenhouse Gas Emissions (Source: Kurzweil)
“Fresh” rock — nature’s atmospheric carbon dioxide regulator — explains why the Earth has become neither sweltering like Venus nor frigid like Mars. Scientists have long known that “fresh” rock pushed to the surface via mountain formation effectively acts as a kind of sponge, soaking up the greenhouse gas CO2. Left unchecked, however, that process would deplete atmospheric CO2 levels to a point that would plunge the Earth into an eternal winter within a few million years during the formation of large mountain ranges like the Himalayas — which has clearly not happened.

That’s because fresh rock exposed by uplift also emits carbon through a chemical weathering process, which replenishes the atmospheric carbon dioxide at a comparable rate — keeping things balanced for millions of years. "Our presence on Earth is dependent upon this carbon cycle. This is why life is able to survive,” said Mark Torres. Scientists studied rocks taken from the Andes mountain range in Peru and found that weathering processes affecting rocks in the Andes unearths abundant pyrite, and its chemical breakdown produces acids that release CO2 from other minerals.

Like many other large mountain ranges, such as the great Himalayas, the Andes began to form during the Cenozoic period, which began about 60 million years ago and happened to coincide with a major perturbation in the cycling of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Using marine records of the long-term carbon cycle, they reconstructed the balance between CO2 release and uptake caused by the uplift of large mountain ranges and found that CO2 release by rock weathering may have played a large, but thus far unrecognized, role in regulating the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide over the last roughly 60 million years. (3/24)

Giant Starshade Could Help Find an Alien Earth (Source:
A flower-shaped spacecraft may help scientists see Earth-like alien worlds like never before. Called a "starshade," the huge, sunflower-like spacecraft would deploy to its full size in space, blocking the light of distant stars so that a space-based telescope can image exoplanets in orbit around the stars. With this technology, researchers could directly image other worlds and potentially find long sought-after Earth twins, a historically difficult task for alien planet hunters.

While still in the early phases of development, the starshade could hunt for small planets around bright, nearby stars. This would help scientists learn more about the planets and even hunt for signs of potential life by peering into the alien worlds' atmospheres. (3/24)

DARPA Moves Forward With Phoenix, ALASA and XS-1 Projects (Source: Parabolic Arc)
DARPA’s proposed budget for FY 2015 calls for a significant increase in its Experimental Spaceplane One (XS-1) program and smaller boosts in the Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA) program and Project Phoenix, budget documents show. The defense agency has requested $27 million for re-useable XS-1 space plane this year, a significant boost over the $10 million being spent for FY 2014.

With the increase in funding, DARPA plans to conduct a preliminary design review (PDR) and select a single vendor for final design, fabrication and flight test in the coming fiscal year, which will start on Oct. 1. The XS-1 program is designed to launch payloads weighing 3,000-5,000 lbs (1,361-2,268 kg) to low earth orbit at a cost at least 10 times less expensive to current launch vehicles. Click here. (3/24)

Editorial: Status Quo Minus a Few Things (Source: Space News)
Aside from the proposed grounding of an airborne astronomy telescope that is just entering full-scale science operations, U.S. President Barack Obama’s 2015 budget request for NASA is a mixed bag for the space community. The good news is that no other major programs are marked for cancellation, and there’s startup funding for large-scale planetary and astronomy missions.

On the other hand, the relentless fiscal pressures facing the government are beginning to take their toll, as evidenced by uncertainty surrounding ongoing science missions, plans to defer or scrap development of other projects, and NASA’s call for industry’s help to fund a laser communications experiment slated to fly as a hosted payload aboard a commercial satellite. Click here. (3/24)

Editorial: Technology Drives Exploration of Tomorrow (Source: Space News)
As we approach a new cycle of debate on the NASA budget for fiscal year 2015, we are reminded of a famous quote by the renowned management guru Peter Drucker: “The enterprise that does not innovate inevitably ages and declines. And in a period of rapid change such as the present ... the decline will be fast.”

Sobering words, ones we hope will not define the nation’s space agency 10 years from now. However, if we closely examine Congress’ fiscal year 2014 appropriation for research-and-development (R&D) funding at NASA, one must worry that Drucker’s words may be a foreboding premonition for NASA. Click here. (3/24)

Editorial: Time for U.S. To Collaborate with China in Space (Source: Space News)
The U.S.-China bilateral relationship is the most important of the 21st century. In order to maintain the fidelity of this relationship and bring to bear the potential advances in productive and technological capacity it could unlock, a U.S.-China bilateral approach to space exploration is needed. Click here. (3/24)

NASA Counts on Congressional Assist To Save Lunar Orbiter (Source: Space News)
NASA has a plan to keep the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) flying though this year and well into 2016, but the strategy hinges on a helping hand from Congress. The Moon-mapping orbiter is one of seven planetary science missions NASA is reviewing this spring to determine whether their remaining scientific potential justifies their continued operations.

The $17.5 billion budget proposal NASA sent to Congress earlier this month for 2015 includes continued funding for all of the missions except two: the 10-year-old Mars Opportunity rover and LRO, a seven-instrument spacecraft launched in 2009 to reconnoiter the Moon in advance of human lunar expeditions the Obama administration took off the table. NASA says it wants to keep both LRO and Opportunity in service a while longer assuming their mission-extension proposals win approval during the biannual Senior Review of Operating Missions, which is set to conclude in June.

But funding for LRO and Opportunity was deliberately excluded from NASA’s core 2015 budget proposal. Instead, the agency is counting on congressional approval of a $35 million “Planetary Science Extended Mission Funding” line the White House included in President Barack Obama’s Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative, a $52 billion spending wish list that received a chilly reception from the House of Representatives’ Republican majority, dimming prospects for passage. (3/24)

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