April 27, 2014

Will Nuclear-Powered Spaceships Take Us to the Stars? (Source: BBC)
In the 1950s, rocket scientists dreamed of atomic-powered spaceships. Now these far-fetched designs might help a new generation explore the cosmos. Project Orion has to be the most audacious, dangerous and downright absurd space program ever funded by the US taxpayer. This 1950s design involved exploding nuclear bombs behind a spacecraft the size of the Empire State Building to propel it through space. The Orion’s engine would generate enormous amounts of energy – and with it lethal doses of radiation.

Plans suggested the spacecraft could take off from Earth and travel to Mars and back in just three months. The quickest flight using conventional rockets and the right planetary alignment is 18 months. There were obvious challenges – from irradiating the crew and the launch site, to the disruption caused by the electromagnetic pulse, plus the dangers of a catastrophic nuclear accident taking out a sizable portion of the US. Click here. (4/23)

Space Traffic Management Conference - Call for Papers (Source: ERAU)
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is planning a Space Traffic Management (STM) Conference in Daytona Beach on Nov. 6-7. This will be the first of an annual series of conferences focused on emerging issues in space traffic management, spaceflight situational awareness, and related challenges for spaceflight. A call for papers is available here, with abstracts due at the end of June. (4/25)

NASA’s SOFIA Flight Reaches for the Stars (Source: LA Daily News)
We are zipping through the night sky at 647 miles per hour, 43,000 feet somewhere above the Midwest and closing in on a stunning target far, far away: The Galactic Center, the sweet spot of the Milky Way Galaxy that contains a super massive black hole. It’s a trip in a flying time machine, gazing back through the light years to when the universe was much, much younger. Click here. (4/26) 

Astronomer Finds Ice Cold Brown Dwarf… and It’s Right Next Door (Source: Slate)
Stars are hot, right? You might think that’s one of their defining characteristics. But that’s not entirely true. Brown dwarfs are star-like objects that are more massive than planets, but not quite massive enough to ignite sustained fusion in their cores. Hydrogen fusion is what powers the Sun, and makes it hot; it’s the mighty pressure of the Sun’s core that makes that happen. Brown dwarfs don’t have the oomph needed to keep that going*.

Brown dwarfs are born hot, then cool over time. And now one has been found that is literally as cold as ice. Not only that, but it’s very close to our solar system: Just 7.2 light years away! That makes it the 7th closest known star to the Sun. The object is called WISE J085510.83-071442.5. WISE observed the entire sky several times over its short 13-month lifetime, looking at cooler and downright cold objects in the Universe. It saw stars, dust clouds, galaxies… and brown dwarfs. Hundreds of brown dwarfs, in fact. Click here. (4/27)

Space Club's Debus Award Goes to Floyd (Source: SPACErePORT)
The National Space Club, Florida Committee's annual Debus Award, in honor of the first director of Kennedy Space Center, was presented on Apr. 27 to Charlie Floyd, an industry veteran with a history of leadership dating back to the Gemini program, through Apollo and the Space Shuttle. Mr. Floyd remains involved as a senior manager at QinetiQ, where he supports NASA expendable launch programs and the Space Launch System. Editor's Note: Special thanks to ASRC for sharing their bottle of red wine during the award ceremony. (4/27)

Congress Must Fund Deep-Space Travel for U.S.'s Sake (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
With our economy stuck in a slow recovery, voters want leaders in Washington to create high-tech jobs, support new technologies for American industry and help inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers and innovators that will grow our economy for the future. It's a tall order, but I'm glad to see so many congressional representatives from Florida are meeting this challenge, in part by supporting NASA missions to explore deep space.

In a recent letter cosigned with 28 other members of the House, Reps. Frederica S. Wilson, Corrine Brown, Bill Posey and Alan Grayson urged the White House to put a greater emphasis on efforts to send American astronauts to explore space beyond earth's orbit. Deep-space missions would restore America's forward-leaning space leadership in a way not seen since the Apollo program that landed us on the moon and generated thousands of technology spinoffs — like the integrated circuit. (4/27)

SpaceX’s Lawsuit Against the Air Force: Meh! (Source: Parabolic Arc)
I understand the reasoning behind it. The Air Force has locked SpaceX out of competing for most defense launches for the next few years. And that will cost the company launch business. And it will cost taxpayers more. My objection primarily comes down to the fact that although SpaceX’s Falcon 9 has proven reliable thus far, the company has failed to launch them on any sort of regular basis. I’m also a bit baffled that the company wants to add more launches to an already crowded manifest that keeps slipping to the right.

National security missions require launch vehicles that are extremely reliable over many flights, and can put payloads into orbit payloads on a regular schedule. Cost is the least important factor... SpaceX’s launch pace has been unimpressive. It wanted to do five launches last year, and it accomplished three. It’s the end of April and they’ve managed exactly two launches out of a total of 10 on the schedule for 2014... Ramping up production and then launching on a regular schedule are not trivial.

SpaceX runs the risk of introducing flaws in the production process and overtaxing the launch crews to the point where they lose a Falcon 9 or two. That would be a massive setback for the company. I know my position on this will be quite unpopular in certain quarters. But, I don’t see this matter in black and white. ULA has done a great job, even if its prices are high. The Air Force is not wrong in stressing reliability and schedule above price. SpaceX still has some things to prove, which I’m sure they will. We need competition for government launches, but if it means driving ULA out of business and replacing its monopoly with a SpaceX one, I’m not we’ll gain that much in the long run. (4/26)

SpaceX’s Plan Shows Aggressive Investment In R&D (Source: Aviation Week)
SpaceX founder Elon Musk has always acknowledged the debt his company owes to NASA. Much of SpaceX’s technology is rooted in the space agency’s research. As the entrepreneur says, “I would not have been able to start SpaceX without the amazing work NASA has done in the past. Nor would SpaceX be where it is today without the help of NASA.”

But standing on the shoulders of giants is also the first step to becoming one yourself, and SpaceX’s ambitious test of a reusable booster this month may have done as much to prove it is on a trajectory to greatness as all its other spectacular successes put together. The risk involved is testing a radical concept for a reusable booster concept during a vitally important cargo resupply flight to the International Space Station (ISS).

Success is far from guaranteed, and the pieces of Musk’s low-cost launch puzzle still need to be fitted together. But the ambitious effort shows a more aggressive investment in R&D than by the established players, either those supported in the U.S. by the Defense Department or those in Europe backed by the EU and European Space Agency. If Musk can get so far so quickly, who is to say his vision of human settlements on Mars is beyond reach. (4/27)

Sending Humans to Mars: Nice Idea, but Fraught with Risks (Source: CBC)
Interestingly, the biggest push to get footprints on the red sands of Mars is not coming from NASA, the only agency to put humans on another world. The impetus is coming mostly from the private sector. And they think they can pull it off. Denis Tito, the first private space tourist, who paid $20 million for a week on the International Space Station, is now supporting a Mars fly-around mission called Inspiration Mars.

Of course, NASA has been talking about sending astronauts to Mars for decades, but they are restricted by budget cuts and are currently focused on building their own heavy-lift rocket and a mission to capture an asteroid. They don't see a Mars mission until 2030 or so. In the past, the biggest obstacle has been developing the technology to leave the Earth, make a soft landing on another planet and survive on the surface. Now, that technology exists. It's just a matter of paying for it. (4/25)

Defying Gravity (Source: Business Standard)
Going on an African Safari, an Australian cultural jaunt or a European tour is passe. Make the summer of 2014 a truly memorable one by embarking on a zero gravity flight into space. "It feels like flying in a dream," says US-based Noah Fulmor who made headlines in 2009 when he tied the knot with Erin Finnegan in a zero gravity wedding. The couple grew up as huge fans of science fiction and had aspirations of becoming astronauts as children.

They approached ZERO-G Corporation, the first commercial company to gain permission from the Kennedy Space Center to use the shuttle runway and landing facilities to operate its weightlessness flights. On June 20, the couple and a handful of guests stepped in the Boeing 727 to be part of a truly unique ceremony. With space-themed music, space food sticks on the menu and a custom-made zero gravity wedding gown, the wedding ceremony took place during 15 parabolic arcs, or roller coaster-like dives made by the plane.

"Since each weightless parabola lasted only 30 seconds, we split the ceremony into segments of what we could accomplish during that time - the vows were one segment, the ring exchange another and the kiss was the other segment," smiles Fulmor, "We even saved a few parabolas for retakes." Moving around was difficult as every motion was amplified. "Not to mention that everything floats! We were so afraid of losing the rings that we tied them to a little string around our wrists," he says. Click here. (4/26)

Space Florida Sponsors "Innovation Awards" Business Plan Competition (Source: Innovation Coast)
The Innovation Awards are a business plan competition presented by Innovation Coast, Space Florida, and the Florida SBDC Network. The Awards are a chance for high-tech entrepreneurs to win cash prizes, get expert coaching, and to get noticed by investors. (The Innovation Coast is in Northwest Florida.) Click here. (4/27)

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