March 26, 2014

Eastern Range Troubles: Blame Sequestration? (Source: SPACErePORT)
It has now been announced that a downrange radar fire is behind this week's Atlas-5 launch delay, but could the range's recent history point to a deeper problem? Over the past five years, the Air Force's budget for operating and maintaining the Eastern Range has been reduced by tens of millions of dollars. These cuts are the result of government-wide budget reductions, including mandated sequestration cuts.

Unique capabilities and redundant systems have been eliminated (like optical tracking) and personnel numbers have been minimized. Although GPS metric tracking is being implemented for some vehicles, radars are still required for backup. Other upgrade plans have been delayed in favor of sticking with legacy systems. In the near term, maintaining these legacy systems is less expensive than investing in upgrades, even though the upgraded systems would be cheaper to operate and more efficient in the long term.

If you were to build the Eastern Range from scratch today, it would probably look nothing like the Eastern Range we now have. It would be interesting to see whether the current range equipment problem is a direct or only an indirect consequence of the Air Force's penny-wise, pound-foolish austerity. (3/26)

Lockheed Martin Aims to Carry NASA Astronauts in Mini-Shuttle (Source: WDSU)
Executives with Lockheed Martin and Sierra Nevada Space Systems gave the media a look at the beginning stages of the Dream Chaser spacecraft being constructed at the site. It is one of three being built to shuttle astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS). Lockheed Martin has been contracted by Sierra Nevada to begin building the Dream Chaser mini-shuttle for space orbit. It is in early stages of development, but the Michoud facility is where things like the cabin and wings will be constructed for the space vehicle. (3/26)

New Rain-Sensing Satellite Can X-ray Tropical Cyclones (Source: WIRED)
Scientists now basically have the ability to X-ray rainstorms and cyclones from space. NASA and the Japanese space agency JAXA just released the first images from the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory satellite, which launched on Feb. 27.

This image, taken with GPM’s space-based radar, provides a snapshot into an extratropical cyclone that spun through the northwest Pacific Ocean on Mar. 10. Red indicates heavy rainfall, yellow is less intense, and blue indicates light rain or snow. Previous satellites, like the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission, have used space-based radar before but were designed to monitor heavy rain, not snow. (3/26)

Remaining SOFIA Science Budget Earmarked for Closeout Costs (Source: Space News)
NASA might have to raid an international airborne astrophysics observatory’s remaining science budget just to pay the costs of canceling the mission, an agency official said. NASA proposed grounding the billion-dollar Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) as part of its 2015 budget request, requesting $12 million for the U.S. government budget year that begins Oct. 1 to close out the program. (3/26)

Editorial: Accountants Lost in Space (Source: Washington Times)
NASA pays no attention to its cell phone bill. A recent audit of the space agency’s books found that the bureaucrats who helped put man on the moon can’t keep track of its telephones. The NASA inspector general reveals that 14 percent of agency-issued smartphones, tablets, cell phones and wireless modem aircards — a total of 2,280 mobile devices — went unused for at least seven months.

This failure to maintain an accurate inventory of such devices cost American taxpayers $679,000 over the seven-month period from June through December 2013. And that’s a conservative estimate. Over the course of a year, taxpayers are likely paying out nearly $1.2 million for mobile devices that are never taken out of the box. NASA’s negligence extends to laptops as well. The agency doesn’t even know how many laptops it has. (3/26)

NASA Visitor Center Offers a Look at Wallops Programs (Source: DelMarVaNow)
As Rob Marshall of Temperanceville studied a sounding rocket timeline inside the NASA Wallops Visitor Center here last Saturday, families from Maryland and New Jersey were trickling into the center behind him. Marshall, who has been a part of the sounding rockets program at Wallops for nearly 15 years, and his wife Kim and daughter Paige blended in with the crowd while looking at the small exhibit posted with pictures of various experiments.

With this month’s debut of new visitor hours and weekend educational programs, Saturdays at the visitor center are a time for locals and visitors to intermingle as they learn more about Wallops, its programs and science in general. Before taking a brief tour through the center with her parents, Paige Marshall attended the Saturday morning children’s story time that began at 11. (3/26)

Rocket Woman Makes History Leading ULA's Alabama Rocket Plant (Source: Huntsville Times)
Cindy Nafus has gone from “the only woman in the room” at management meetings to the only woman in America running a rocket plant. At 53, she’s the new “site lead” at United Launch Alliance’s Decatur plant, where 800 employees build the Atlas and Delta rockets that provide most of the lift to America’s space program. (3/26)

Galileo Brochure Conjurs Up ‘Inconceivable’ GPS Cutoff Scenario (Source: Space News)
The European Commission’s argument that its Galileo satellite positioning, navigation and timing program is a hedge against the day when the U.S. government arbitrarily shuts off GPS — for whatever reason — has been a driving political motivation for Galileo since the project’s beginning in the mid-1990s. So has the idea that GPS, which is funded mainly by the U.S. Defense Department, should be seen as inherently unreliable for non-military users compared to compared to Galileo, which is 100 percent financed by civil authorities.

U.S. government officials — military and civil — have gone hoarse over the years explaining that GPS has been formally declared a dual-use system overseen by a civil-military board. The infrastructure, often described as a global utility, generates thousands of jobs and billions in annual commercial revenue and underpins the global financial system in addition to being the default positioning and navigation service for the NATO alliance. Click here. (3/26)

Robonaut Legs Headed for International Space Station (Source: Parabolic Arc)
NASA’s built and is sending a set of high-tech legs up to the International Space Station for Robonaut 2 (R2), the station’s robotic crew member. The new legs will be delivered to the space station aboard the SpaceX-3 cargo resupply mission, due to launch March 30 from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport in Florida. (3/26)

After Engine Problem, Soyuz to Dock With Station Friday (Source: RIA Novosti)
A Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying a trio of crew members is scheduled to dock automatically with the International Space Station on Friday. Vitaly Lopota, the head of the company that oversees the manufacture of the craft, said cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev along with NASA astronaut Steven Swanson are "in good health" and will rendezvous with the station early Friday morning.

The Soyuz spacecraft was originally scheduled to dock with the ISS on Wednesday, but was unable to complete a fine-tune burn of its engines for an expedited approach, a flight path that has only been recently tested in an effort to reduce the time astronauts spend in the cramped craft. (3/26)

Bolden: Bringing Space Launches Back to America (Source: NASA)
Later today, NASA astronaut Steve Swanson will liftoff towards the International Space Station, not from the Space Coast of Florida or some other American spaceport, but from Kazakhstan on a Russian spacecraft. And unfortunately, the plan put forward by the Obama Administration to address this situation has been stymied by some in Congress.     

Since the retirement of the Space Shuttle – a decision made in 2004 – the United States has been dependent on the Russians to get our astronauts to the International Space Station. Recognizing that this was unacceptable, President Obama has requested in NASA’s budget more than $800 million each of the past 5 years to incentivize the American aerospace industry to build the spacecraft needed to launch our astronauts from American soil.     

Had this plan been fully funded, we would have returned American human spaceflight launches – and the jobs they support – back to the United States next year. With the reduced level of funding approved by Congress, we’re now looking at launching from U.S. soil in 2017. (3/25)

GeoMetWatch Taps Exelis for Weather Sensors (Source: Space News)
Exelis Geospatial Systems will provide the infrared sounding instruments that commercial weather satellite startup GeoMetWatch plans to fly as hosted payloads on commercial and possibly government satellites operating in geostationary orbit. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed and they did not say how many sensors Exelis would deliver under the deal, but GeoMetWatch’s remote sensing license from the U.S. Commerce Department permits it to operate up to six sounders in geostationary orbit. (3/26)

Future Ukrainian Space Tourist Takes Government Post (Source: Kyev Post)
Borys Filatov, the newly appointed deputy governor of Dnipropetrovsk, earlier this month exited his glossy S-class Mercedes. Wearing a dapper blue suit, the millionaire businessman headed to the entrance of a drab administration building like he had done for about two weeks, since his long-time business partner and friend Ihor Kolomoyskiy became the oblast’s governor in early March.

He began his career as a lawyer with an interest in journalism. In 2010, he went on a trip through eight African countries and developed a TV film from the adventure. His flair for adventure has also led him to sign up for Virgin Galactics’ space tourism program (a ticket that cost him some $200,000). His flight is set for this fall. Click here. (3/26)

Could a Facebook Deal Revive Armadillo Aerospace? (Source: NewSpace Journal)
Last August, gaming entrepreneur John Carmack announced that his small space venture, Armadillo Aerospace, was in “hibernation mode” because of a lack of funding. He said he was actively looking for outside investors willing to fund operations. “If we don’t wind up landing an investor, it’ll probably stay in hibernation until there’s another liquidity event where I’m comfortable throwing another million dollars a year into things,” he said at the time.

There’s been no news about Carmack finding an outside investor for Armadillo, but there may have been a “liquidity event” for Carmack. Days after his QuakeCon appearance, Carmack announced he had joined Oculus VR, a startup company pursuing virtual reality technology with a headset called Oculus Rift, as the company’s chief technology officer. Yesterday, Facebook announced it was acquiring Oculus VR in a cash-and-stock deal valued at about $2 billion. That is a pretty big liquidity event. (3/26)

NML Sues SpaceX Over Argentina Contracts (Source: Space News)
Billionaire Paul Singer’s NML Capital Ltd., seeking to enforce $1.7 billion in judgments over Argentina’s defaulted bonds, sued billionaire Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. along with the South American nation for its rights to at least two satellite launches.

Through its National Space Activities Commission, Argentina has contracted with SpaceX for launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, scheduled for 2015 and 2016, according to the complaint filed today in Los Angeles federal court. In doing so, NML said, the country has acquired property in the U.S. that can be seized, according to the complaint.

“Argentina’s contract for SpaceX launch slots clearly constitutes property used for a commercial activity, which means a creditor, like my client NML, can seize it under the applicable law,” Robert Cohen, a lawyer for the firm, said in a statement. (3/26)

Third Annual California Aerospace Week Was March 24-26 (Source: AIAA)
The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) and NASA co-hosted California Aerospace Week, March 24–26, in Sacramento, California. Featuring a mix of panels, exhibits, hearings and discussions, the event focused on the importance of aerospace to California. A resolution was introduced in the California State Senate on the afternoon of March 24, proclaiming the week of March 24–28: “California Aerospace Week.” Click here. (3/19)

Shrinking Visitor Center Threatens Spaceport America Tourism Plans (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Plans for a visitor’s center at Spaceport America have continued to shrink due to a lack of funding and revenues. And that could pose significant risks to New Mexico’s plans to boost the local economy by attracting more than 200,000 visitors to the remote facility where Virgin Galactic plans to launch tourists into space.

In fact, the New Mexico Spaceport Authority appears to be going down the very path that its own Strategic Business Plan warns will result in a poor visitor experience and fewer tourists paying money to see the high-tech spaceport. Original plans called for an elaborate stand-alone visitor’s center at the spaceport that would house exhibits, theater, restaurant and other amenities.

According to NMSA’s Strategic Business Plan, the effort will require adequate marketing of the remote location by an experienced hospitality management firm. The plan noted a slowdown in previous years in travel to New Mexico due to the recession and higher gas prices. It also warned that any cutbacks in the planned visitor experience could adversely impact the number of tourists. (3/25)

NASA Solicits New Collaborative Commercial Space Partnerships (Source: NASA)
Building on the success of NASA's commercial spaceflight initiatives, agency officials announced Monday plans to solicit proposals from U.S. private enterprises for unfunded partnerships to collaboratively develop new commercial space capabilities.

The Collaborations for Commercial Space Capabilities (CCSC) initiative will advance entrepreneurial efforts through access to NASA's spaceflight resources. Using Space Act Agreements (SAAs), NASA and its partners would agree to a series of mutually beneficial activities. New partnerships must identify benefits under one or more elements of NASA's 2014 Strategic Plan, which include expanding human presence into the solar system and surface of Mars to advance exploration, science, innovation, benefits to humanity and international collaboration. (3/25)

Editorial: It's Time to Extend Routine Space Operations to the Moon (Source:
When the XPRIZE Foundation announced the Google Lunar XPRIZE in 2007, Astrobotic Technology chairman Red Whittaker declared his intention to compete on the first day. Since then, we have worked methodically on the technology and operations for the $20 million Grand Prize. We have approached this from the outset as an opportunity to build a business.

With only a few lunar landings since Apollo, there remains a deep cultural belief that they are extraordinarily difficult and expensive. Bold, risky pursuits are called "moon shots." Indeed, NASA estimated that the Apollo program cost $170 billion in 2005 dollars — about $28 billion for each of the six landings.

Although the technology is now in reach, bootstrapping a new market is always challenging. Businesses and research institutions won't routinely develop lunar payloads until regular, affordable transport is assured, but the transport business won't mature until reliable payload customers justify the investment. (3/24)

Spacecraft Returns Seven Particles From Birth of the Solar System (Source: Science)
After a massive, years-long search, researchers have recovered seven interstellar dust particles returned to Earth by the Stardust spacecraft. The whole sample, reported here this week at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, weighs just a few trillionths of a gram, but it’s the first time scientists have laid their hands on primordial material unaltered by the violent birth of the solar system. The Stardust spacecraft, launched in 1999, has already accomplished its prime objective: collecting dust particles in the tail of comet Wild 2 and returning them in a reentry capsule ejected as Stardust passed by Earth in 2006.

NASA went to all that trouble because comets were supposed to be the repository of the primordial ice and rock—the product of eons of star birth and death—that went into building the solar system. But it turned out that the minerals in the comet dust that Stardust managed to collect weren’t that pristine: They had been heated, melted, and totally transformed somewhere near the nascent sun and then carried outward to be incorporated into comets in the ultradeep freeze far beyond the outermost planets. (3/25)

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell Wins Space Society Pioneer Award (Source: NSS)
The National Space Society takes great pleasure in awarding its 2014 Space Pioneer Award for the Entrepreneurial Business category to SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne R. Shotwell. NSS will present the Space Pioneer Award to Mrs. Shotwell on May 16, at NSS's annual conference, the 2014 International Space Development Conference (ISDC). The conference will be held at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel in Los Angeles, CA, and will run from May 14-18, 2014. (3/25)

This Chamber Simulates Mars Right Here on Earth (Source: The Verge)
Researchers in Spain have developed a vacuum chamber that can recreate most of the physical conditions found on Mars. The chamber, which cost over $200,000 to make and took a year to build, allows scientists to test the electromechanical gear that's being considered for use in future missions to the red planet. Their results were published today in Review of Scientific Instruments.

In the study, scientists were able to mimic Mars' temperature, gas composition, total pressure, and UV radiation using environmental data collected from previous NASA missions. The researchers also included a system that allows them to douse instruments with Martian dust directly, to see how they hold up while in use. "In my view, the main problem for devices on Mars is the dust, which covers all the instrumentation and therefore decreases their average lifespan," said Jose Angel Martin-Gago, a physicist at the University of Madrid. (3/25)

UD Researchers to Test NASA Mars Mission Power Generators (Source: Dayton Daily News)
The extreme day and night temperatures on Mars will be simulated in a new University of Dayton Research Institute laboratory to test the power generator used in NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover. UD researchers were chosen to test the performance of two Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators under an ongoing five-year, $3.75 million contract with the U.S. Department of Energy, said Chadwick Barklay, a UDRI distinguished research scientist. (3/25)

NASA is Shutting Down 'Space Station Live' (Source: NASA Watch)
JSC is pulling the plug on Space Station Live due to budget cuts. You are encouraged to contact the space agency and ask to reconsider the decision. As suggested on the site, you can submit your concerns by emailing NASA official Jennifer B. Price at with ISS Live Web Site in the Subject.

ISS Live is a unique resource. It displays real-time telemetry data on the space station's electrical, environmental, attitude control, communications, and other systems. Mobile apps for Android and iOS are also available for checking the telemetry on your smartphone or tablet. Live telemetry, from a real spaceship. A lot of the same data flight controllers have on their console displays at NASA's Mission Control Center in Houston. This is possibly one of the geekiest resources ever. (3/25)

Soyuz Flies US-Russian Crew to Space Station (Source: Voice of America)
The United States and Russia may be at odds over Ukraine, but they are still cooperating in space. A Russian Soyuz rocket took off from Kazakhstan Tuesday to fly two cosmonauts and a U.S. astronaut to the International Space Station. Oleg Artemyev, Alexander Skvortsov, and Steve Swanson will spend the next six months aboard the station carrying out a series of scientific experiments. (3/25)

Have We Spotted Dark Matter in the Milky Way? (Source: Sky & Telescope)
So what is this elusive matter? A popular theory is that it consists of a yet-undiscovered exotic massive particle that barely interacts with normal matter. These particles have so far eluded detection. But theoretically they act as their own antiparticles, and can annihilate to produce a cascade of familiar particles, including electrons and positrons. The collision should generate gamma-rays — the most energetic photons in nature.

NASA’s Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope has been scouring the sky in search of this tell-tale annihilation signature since its launch in 2008. While the telescope has spotted a large number of gamma rays pouring outward from the center of our galaxy, astronomers have not been able to determine if this detection is due to dark matter annihilation or other natural particle accelerators. A team of astronomers led by Tansu Daylan has further scrutinized the excess Fermi signal, and has ruled out pulsars as the cause.

This leads to the conclusion that the signal must be due to annihilating dark matter — a claim that would resolve one of the biggest mysteries in physics. “If our interpretation is correct, this signal would constitute the discovery of an entirely new particle that makes up the majority of the mass found in the universe,” says coauthor Dan Hooper. “I can't find words that are strong enough to capture the significance of such a discovery.” (3/25)

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