April 22, 2014

Rockets that Return Home – SpaceX Pushing the Boundaries (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
SpaceX is continuing to advance the technology that is aimed at creating a fully – and rapidly – reusable launch system, with the recent addition of two key milestones towards that goal. While the F9-R Dev-1 rocket enjoyed a debut hop at the McGregor Test Facility in Texas, the first stage of the Falcon 9 v1.1 – that successfully lofted the CRS-3 Dragon en route to the ISS – achieved a soft splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean.

The ambitious plans for creating an advanced flyback booster-style vehicle were unveiled by SpaceX founder Elon Musk back in September 2011, featuring first and second stages that would fly back to the launch site under their own power – something no other aerospace company has achieved. Industry sources believed the concept had potential to work, but cautioned that SpaceX would lose so much performance in their payload-to-orbit capability, the plan wouldn’t be financially viable.

Elon Musk tweeted about last week's attempt: “Data upload from tracking plane shows landing in Atlantic was good! Flight computers continued transmitting for 8 seconds after reaching the water. Stopped when booster went horizontal,” added the SpaceX boss. This information pointed to a successful landing burn, which involved the relighting of the center engine to stabilize the stage and reduce the vehicle’s velocity prior to contact with the water. (4/22)

We’re the Asteroid: Elizabeth Kolbert on Species Extinction, Climate Change (Source: The Nation)
The last wave of extinctions came when an asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs and their world. What’s different about the species extinction that threatens now? Scientists say now we’re the asteroid. This extinction event is unique because it’s being caused by a living thing. Click here. (4/22)

B612 Foundation Explains Asteroid Impacts in New Video (Source: B612)
The B612 Foundation is proposing a Sentinel Mission to monitor near-Earth asteroid traffic and provide an early warning capability for Earth impacts. They produced this video to explain the frequency and magnitude of recent impacts. (4/19)

Arizona Senate To Review Spaceport Measure (Source: KJZZ)
The Arizona Senate is to take up legislation today to pave the way for a spaceport in the state. Tucson-based Paragon Space Development wants to send a helium balloon with a capsule attached, containing two crew members and six passengers, up about 20 miles above the Earth, where they would float for a couple hours.

Taber McCallum of Paragon says a steerable parachute would then be used to glide back to Earth, but he says where they would land is a little unpredictable. “It varies with the time of year,” McCallum said. “Sometimes you have lots of high winds and sometimes you don't. There could be days when we come right back to where we started, and there certainly could be days when we're 300 miles away.”

Paragon wants passengers to sign a waiver absolving the company of all liability should something go wrong. It wants lawmakers to vote to make that waiver enforceable. The cost of the flights would be about $65,000, with the first launch expected in 2016. (4/21)

The Coolest Destination for Exchange Students: Mars (Source: US Dept. of State)
The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) is launching a new type of exchange with a virtual field trip to Mars. ECA’s newest initiative, The Collaboratory, in partnership with NASA’s Digital Learning Network, Google’s Connected Classrooms Program, and the U.S. Embassies in Buenos Aires and Managua, will engage middle school students from classes in Argentina, Nicaragua, as well as those in New Jersey, Texas, and Washington, D.C. in collaborative science activities.

The program will take place at the USA Science and Engineering Festival (USASEF) in celebration of National Science Week, in an effort to attract youth around the world to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. During the festival on April 25 the students will connect via Google+ Hangouts to explore the Red Planet and hear from Mars subject matter experts. NASA will use current photos from Mars Curiosity and its Mars Yard to simulate the field trip. (4/21)

The Only Watch That NASA Astronauts Trust With Their Lives (Source: WIRED)
Back in the 1960s, NASA had a problem: To keep track of time while bagging moon rocks, astronauts needed a wristwatch with otherworldly ruggedness. Many high-grade chronographs were auditioned. One lost its crystal under extreme decompression; the hands on another warped in the test oven. But the Omega Speedmaster—and its particularly robust movement—had the right stuff.

The watch has since been strapped to every astronaut’s wrist from Gemini and Apollo to Skylab and the shuttle. Its movement, now known as the Calibre 1861, has seen a few changes over the years to improve its precision, but it’s been requalified by NASA for each new mission, and it remains the most strenuously tested movement in history.

It’s even performed a few tasks those neurotic engineers couldn’t have foreseen: After shutting down their computers to save power, the troubled Apollo 13 crew navigated back to Earth using their hand-wound Speedmasters. (4/22)

Russia Mulls Over Huge 60 m Telescope (Source: Physics World)
The rector of Moscow State University, Viktor Sadovnichy, has unveiled plans for a massive 60 m optical telescope on the Canary Islands. If built, the telescope would be the world's largest and would hunt for Earth-like planets around other stars, says Sadovnichy. But the plans have divided researchers, with some Russian astronomers saying the country should not build its own facility but join the European Southern Observatory (ESO) instead. (4/22)

Orbital Sciences Corp. Surged Despite Weak Earnings (Source: Motley Fool)
Orbital Sciences Corp. missed estimates by $0.02 on Thursday, hardly the kind of news you'd expect to spark a 5.2% rally in its stock -- yet that's exactly what shareholders were treated to last week. Despite reporting a $0.23 per share profit when analysts expected $0.25, Orbital Sciences shares surged Thursday. Why? Click here. (4/22)

Space Command Leader Calls for Innovation Amid Budget Cuts (Source: AFSPC)
Innovation and cost-saving ideas will help ensure the Air Force keeps its warfighting readiness despite significant, ongoing budget cuts, the commander of Air Force Space Command General William L. Shelton said. "If there ever was a time for innovation, this is it," General Shelton said. "That's the only way we're going to get through these next few years of declining budgets. We have to think our way through this. "There's that famous old saying - we've run out of money and now we have to think. That's where we're at." (4/22)

Stennis Cuts Ribbon on SpaceX Raptor Rocket Testing Facility (Source: Gulf Live)
The engines which propelled Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins to the moon on Apollo XI were tested at Stennis Space Center in Hancock County. One day, Stennis may also test the engines which take man to Mars. At least that's the hope of Stennis, SpaceX and other officials who gathered to cut the ribbon Monday afternoon on the SpaceX rocket testing program at the NASA facility.

SpaceX will conduct initial testing of its Raptor methane rocket at Stennis. Calling space an "unforgiving business," Stennis Director Rick Gilbrech said SpaceX was a welcome addition to NASA's growing commercial spaceflight contracts. (4/22)

Editorial: Tough Balancing Act for Arianespace (Source: Space News)
Launch services provider Arianespace routinely juggles a complicated manifest involving three rockets, the largest of which is designed to carry two satellites at a time — typically for different customers. This task is made immeasurably more difficult by late-arriving satellites, which force the company to constantly rearrange schedules and delay launches, sometimes at the expense of a customer that delivered its satellite on time.

On rare occasions, this process can lead to situations where Arianespace must choose between two late-arriving customers vying for the same backup launch slot. The company faced that uncomfortable prospect recently with two key customers: the European Union, owner of the Galileo satellite navigation system, and O3b Networks, the broadband services startup whose majority shareholder is SES, the world’s second-largest satellite operator by revenue. (4/22)

Google's Project Tango & NASA's SPHERES (Source: Space News)
Google Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) Project Tango team is collaborating with NASA Ames Research Center's Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) program. Project Tango is developing 3-D tracking and sensing technology within its Google Android phones. The phone senses its motion as its being handled while also mapping its environment. SPHERES consists of three free-flying satellites onboard the international space station used to test various hardware and software. Click here. (4/22)

Sky's Not the Limit for Ireland's Space Tech Sector (Source: Silicon Republic)
The date 3 April marked an important day for Europe’s space endeavours, as the first of six Sentinel Earth-observation satellites, Sentinel-1A, launched from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) spaceport near Kourou, French Guiana. The purpose of the satellites is to give European organisations and businesses a treasure trove of scientific data for the foreseeable future.

Ireland's own space-technology sector is behind the technology that sends astronauts and satellites into space. Workers in the sector have been busy sending almost all the ESA's space projects into orbit, whether it be the launcher rockets that take them up there, or the software that manages life-support systems on the International Space Station. (4/22)

SpaceX Revs Up Reusable Rocket Testing (Source: PC)
"The F9R testing program is the next step towards reusability following completion of the Grasshopper program last year," SpaceX said. "Future testing, including that in New Mexico, will be conducted using the first stage of a F9R... which is essentially a Falcon 9 v1.1 first stage with legs. F9R test flights in New Mexico will allow us to test at higher altitudes than we are permitted for at our test site in Texas, to do more with unpowered guidance and to prove out landing cases that are more-flight like." (4/22)

Most Americans Doubt Big Bang Theory (Source: Space.com)
A majority of adults in the US are not convinced that the universe began with the Big Bang, according to a new poll. he poll found that 51 percent of respondents question the validity of the Big Bang theory, the AP reports. Although many scientists think that the Big Bang is the best explanation for how the universe became what it is today, only about 21 percent of the 1,012 adults surveyed were "extremely confident" or "very confident" that universe started with the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago. (4/22)

What Makes an Alien Intelligent? (Source: New Yorker)
Even as the Kepler mission gets closer to finding a mirror image of our own planet, many scientists have ceased believing that we should be looking for ourselves in space. There are other ways for a planet to support life, they argue—and there are other ways for life to be intelligent. Click here. (4/22)

Official Warns of 10- to 16-month Weather Satellite Gap (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Commerce Department’s inspector general is projecting a 10- to 16-month gap in weather satellite coverage that would limit the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s ability to forecast three to seven days out. In written testimony submitted in advance of an April 10 hearing of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on commerce, justice, science and related agencies, Todd Zinser cited cost overruns, schedule delays and the age of NOAA’s current satellites as likely causes. (4/21)

Space Coast Project Could Destroy Bird Habitat (Source: Brevard Times)
Although Florida and Brevard County taxpayers have spent more than $48 million to preserve natural lands in Brevard County to protect threatened and endangered species, the North Brevard Economic Development Zone (NBEDZ) is proposing that taxpayer money be used for a project that could destroy the habitat of the threatened Florida Scrub Jay and gopher tortoise.

On the agenda for an April 22 Titusville City Council meeting is a request from NBEDZ for $50,000 for an engineering study to further develop Spaceport Commerce Park in an effort to attract more businesses to that site. According to the January 2014 NBEDZ meeting minutes, an environmental consultant told the NBEDZ Board that the 178-acre Spaceport Commerce Park is comprised of 19 acres of occupied Scrub Jay habit.  Additionally, 43 gopher tortoises were identified on site in a recent survey.   

The environmental consultant estimated that it would cost $1,200 to permit and relocate a gopher tortoise plus $59,000 per acre to offset Scrub Jay habitat, and $85,000 per acre to offset wetland impacts. (4/21)

Launch Unlocks Manifest for Orbcomm, AsiaSat (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
Friday's liftoff of a Falcon-9 rocket cleared a bottleneck in SpaceX's Florida launch schedule that forced two commercial customers, Orbcomm and AsiaSat, to keep their completed satellites at their factories to wait out launch delays. SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said Friday the company still expected to launch 10 Falcon-9 rockets this year despite the delays.

With the Jan. 6 liftoff of the Thaicom 6 telecom satellite and Friday's launch of a Falcon-9 rocket with SpaceX's Dragon cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station, eight more missions are on the Falcon-9 manifest this year. Four of the launches are booked by New Jersey-based Orbcomm and AsiaSat of Hong Kong.

Not all of the delays leading up to Friday's launch were the fault of SpaceX, which found itself at the mercy of the U.S. Air Force's Eastern Range and the often-tricky scheduling of operations involving the International Space Station. SpaceX needs to achieve about one Falcon-9 launch per month to pull off 10 flights this year, replicating a one-month turnaround SpaceX demonstrated between two Falcon-9 missions in early December and early January with the SES 8 and Thaicom 6 television broadcasting satellites. (4/22)

Tricks Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos Use To Run Meetings (Source: Business Insider)
Musk has incredibly high standards. He has a reputation for firing people if they miss a deadline. So if you're meeting with him at Tesla or SpaceX, you have to be ready. As one anonymous Musk employee shares on Quora: "When we met with Elon, we were prepared," the commenter shared. "Because if you weren't, he'd let you know it. If he asked a reasonable follow up question and you weren't prepared with an answer, well, good luck."

Bezos likes to get people arguing. If you work at Amazon, you'd better be comfortable with conflict. Bezos is famous for hating "social cohesion," that tendency people have for finding consensus for no other reason than it feels good. "Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion." (4/21)

Pentagon Protects Basic Research with R&D Budget (Source: Defense News)
The Pentagon plans to shift how it spends its research and development dollars, putting more emphasis on basic research and the creation of prototypes -- the kind of risk-taking investment that can pay off in new, cutting-edge technologies, experts say. "We're going to be asked to create more prototypes, but then not field them, to put them on a shelf," said Al Shaffer, acting assistant secretary of defense for research and engineering. (4/21)

Experts: Missing Jet Shows Satellite Coverage Gaps (Source: Defense News)
The hunt for the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 shows gaps in satellite coverage, said experts gathered at the Defense Services Asia exhibition in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur last week. "I think not only Malaysia but the whole world should relook at their defense needs, capacity and capabilities in the context of MH370," said Datuk Seri Hishammuddinis Hussein, defense minister for Malaysia. (4/19)

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