April 9, 2014

Is It Time for the U.S. to Partner With China in Space? (Source: National Journal)
Only three countries have ever managed to launch humans into space: the United States, Russia and China. The U.S., however, hasn't done so for three years since the retirement of its space-shuttle program, and NASA pays Russia $70 million a seat to send its astronauts to the Space Station. But the Ukraine crisis is starting to take a toll on U.S.-Russian space relations, and transporting astronauts with private American spaceflight technology is still a few years away.

It may be time for the U.S. to acknowledge the elephant in the room, and invite it to join us in space exploration. "China is an obvious addition to the international [human spaceflight] partnership, both for the ISS program and beyond," Leroy Chiao, a former NASA astronaut, said during a hearing of the Senate Science and Space Subcommittee on Wednesday. "China is in a position to provide hardware and capability in-kind."

Chiao's remarks echoed the geopolitical climate of the early 1990s. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the U.S. asked Russia to join its International Space Station project. At the time, Russia couldn't afford to build a station of its own, and the U.S. was behind schedule and needed help. It was a win-win situation. The U.S. could reach out to China in the same way now, said Susan Eisenhower (President Dwight Eisenhower's granddaughter). Click here. (4/9)

Iridium Aims For Bigger Aviation Market Share (Source: Aviation Week)
With a new generation of satellites coming, ushering in greater bandwidth capacity and new surveillance capability, Iridium Communications is aiming for an increasing share of the aviation market. But rather than compete for a piece of the airline-passenger connectivity business, the satellite operator is focused on satcom applications beyond the cabin.

“We have a strategy of owning the cockpit long-term,” says CEO Matt Desch. Inmarsat and Iridium are the only providers of certified satcom links for safety and operational services via the Aircraft Communication Addressing and Reporting System (Acars). But where Inmarsat is targeting passenger broadband with its new Global Xpress Ka-band geosynchronous-orbit (GEO) satellites, the Iridium Next low-Earth-orbit (LEO) constellation has pilots and maintainers in its sights. (4/9)

New Export Rules Will Be Looser, More Complicated (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The good news is that the U.S. government is about to loosen the restrictive export rules governing satellites and components that have been blamed for destroying America’s dominance in the satellite market over the past 15 years. The bad news is that the rules are about to get a lot more complicated to interpret. And, for those who fail to interpret them properly, a jail cell could be in their future. Click here. (4/9)

Aldrin: UAE to Play a Role in Space Exploration (Source: Gulf News)
The UAE will play a role in the next stage of space exploration as the industry moves from being government policy-driven to commercial development-driven, according to former American astronaut, Buzz Aldrin. Aldrin, who was speaking at the Global Aerospace Summit in Abu Dhabi. He said the UAE is showing a growing commitment to the space industry and that the country will be involved in future projects and industry developments. (4/9)

Borg Assimilation of the ISS? (Source: New Scientist)
The Borg collective has targeted the International Space Station and is assimilating the crew. Resistance is futile. Only kidding. This is European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst trying out an eye bath that works in microgravity. Click here. (4/9)

Where Astronauts Land When They Leave NASA (Source: Muckety)
Space Adventures, a for-profit firm that sends private citizens into space, has an astronaut advisory panel whose members include Buzz Aldrin. But even earthbound enterprises clamor for NASA veterans. Former astronaut and four-star Gen. Kevin Chilton sits on four major corporate boards - Level 3 Communications, Aerospace Corporation, Orbital Sciences and Anadarko Petroleum. Former astronauts Thomas Stafford and Mae Jemison, the first African American woman to travel in space, each sit on three. Click here. (4/9)

Progress Begins Six-Hour Journey to Space Station (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
A Soyuz rocket lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Wednesday with a Russian Progress resupply spacecraft, kicking off a six-hour flight to the International Space Station with 2.9 tons of fuel, water and supplies. (4/9)

Recycling Astronaut Urine for Energy and Drinking Water (Source: ACS)
On the less glamorous side of space exploration, there’s the more practical problem of waste — in particular, what to do with astronaut pee. But rather than ejecting it into space, scientists are developing a new technique that can turn this waste burden into a boon by converting it into fuel and much-needed drinking water. Their report, which could also inspire new ways to treat municipal wastewater, appears in the journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering. Click here. (4/9)

Israel Space Project Gets $16 Million Boost from Casino Mogul Adelson (Source: Reuters)
SpaceIL, a nonprofit organization aiming to land the first Israeli spacecraft on the moon, said on Wednesday it has received a $16.4 million grant from the foundation of U.S. casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. With a budget estimated at $36 million, the Israeli scientists and engineers building the shuttle - temporarily named "Sparrow" - believe it will land on the moon by the end of 2015, a feat only the United States, Russia and China have managed so far.

SpaceIL, which is backed mainly by philanthropists, was founded to compete for Google's LunarX Prize, unveiled in 2007. The $20 million prize will go to the first team to land a spacecraft on the moon, make it jump 500 meters and transmit images and video back to earth. Thirty-three teams started out in the running and they are now down to 18, including competitors from the United States, Italy, Japan, Germany, Brazil, Canada, India and Chile. (4/9)

Defense Hawks May Look to Boost Competition in Air Force Satellite Launches (Source: Roll Call)
The Air Force’s space program is facing tough scrutiny on Capitol Hill as influential lawmakers in both parties publicly question the service’s commitment to competition in the increasingly lucrative area of satellite launches. United Launch Alliance currently has a stranglehold on the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program. The firm, which won a multibillion-dollar deal for 36 rockets, is the only one certified to do the complex work of launching satellites into space.

But other companies are close to getting a piece of the business, with as many as 14 future launches up for grabs. The Air Force plans to certify new entrants by the end of this year for so-called light launches, while others will be certified in 2017 for the heavy satellite launches. The Air Force’s certification process is particularly arduous, considering the price of individual satellites — which can exceed $1 billion — and the potentially catastrophic consequences of a failed launch.

Editor's Note: Remember Delta-2 and its stellar record of successful launches? This record was built on a steady stream of nearly identical GPS launch missions, which allowed McDonnell Douglas to perfect its vehicle processing operations. This would be a good low-risk approach to getting the Falcon-9 going for military missions. (4/9)

All Set for Our First Comet Landing (Source: Cosmos)
For an event intended to celebrate a scientific milestone, the January gathering inside the European Space Agency’s control room in Darmstadt, Germany, was unexpectedly tense and muted. Officials and scientists had assembled to listen out for the world’s most expensive morning wake-up call. A computer on ESA’s Rosetta spaceship was supposed to rouse the probe, then several hundred million kilometres from Earth, from its two and a half-year hibernation and prepare it for a rendezvous with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. (4/9)

NASA Eyes June Launch for Next Cygnus Cargo Mission from Virginia (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
Preparations for the next Orbital Sciences cargo delivery mission to the Space Station are on track for launch in early May, but NASA plans to ask the company to reschedule its resupply run for some time in mid-June after delays in launching a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft to the complex, sources said. All rocket and spacecraft components have been delivered to Orbital's launch site at Wallops Island, Virginia.

Editor's Note: So if the Falcon-9/Dragon mission's delay had anything to do with the Eastern Range radar problem, then this Antares/Cygnus delay is an indirect result, and the costs for both delays can be tied to bad budget decisions that led to the Eastern Range problem. (4/9)

Opinion: Drones Should Fly While FAA Crafts Rules (Source: Forbes)
It's an unconstitutional infringement on free speech to stop journalists from flying news-gathering drones while hobbyists fly planes, and the FAA shouldn't bane drone use while it figures out rules for the aircraft, argues technology writer Sean Lawson, writing in collaboration with attorney Cynthia Love and University of Utah journalism professor Avery Holton. "[S]ome regulation is certainly sensible as there are foreseeable safety concerns" with drones, Lawson writes, but until the FAA follows its congressional mandate for drone rules, it should suspend enforcement. (4/8)

FBI: Man Planned to Fly Drone Bomb Into School (Source: Business Insider)
The FBI has arrested a 27-year-old Moroccan national in Connecticut on immigration charges but says the man also planned to fly a bomb-carrying drone into a school and a federal building. The FBI says it found tools and wires in El Mehdi Semlali Fahti's apartment and recorded him discussing the drone-bomb plot. (4/8)

Drone Trade Groups to FAA: Hurry Rules Along (Source: Homeland Security Today)
The Federal Aviation Administration is being urged to expedite drone-flight rules by a coalition of more than 30 drone trade groups, which say the FAA's pace on regulation is being outstripped by technology's advance. "[W]e strongly encourage the FAA to simultaneously expedite its small [unmanned aircraft systems] rulemaking and issue notice and public comment as soon as possible," says the letter from the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, the Academy of Model Aeronautics and 31 other groups. (4/9)

NASA Watchers Await Effect of Russian Crisis (Source: Forbes)
The Russia-Ukraine crisis is spooking some in the orbit of NASA who wonder what effect the suspension of U.S.-Russia space relations -- with the notable exception of the International Space Station -- may have. Most expect scientific cooperation to be primary casualty. "As long as diplomatic relations are maintained and ISS cooperation is not impacted, I don't see current events as a major setback," said Scott Pace, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University. "The relationship has gone through cycles in the past when Russia was part of the Soviet Union." (4/8)

Space Superiority Remains Vital to National Security (Source: Space Daily)
Gen. William Shelton, the commander of Air Force Space Command, highlighted a successful satellite launch to the House Armed Services Committee's subcommittee on strategic forces during a budget hearing for national security space activities. "Our nation's advantage in space is no longer a given," Shelton said. "The ever-evolving space environment is increasingly contested as potential adversary capabilities grow in number and sophistication."

"The evolving strategic environment increasingly challenges U.S. space advantages," Loverro explained. "Space is no longer the sole province of world powers. It is a frontier that is now open to all. In the last several decades, space has become more competitive, more congested and more contested. What worries me the most is the contested nature of space, which we now face." (4/9)

Washington View: Shuttle-Less U.S. Losing Ground in Space Race (Source: The Columbian)
When President Obama permanently grounded America’s space shuttles a couple of years ago, he made a huge mistake. He gave Russia carte blanche over the International Space Station, and we now pay $70 million each for our astronauts to hitch a ride. With Vladimir Putin flexing his muscles in the Ukraine and thumbing his nose at the U.S. and rest of the world, what happens if he gives our astronauts the boot? We’d be up the creek without a paddle.

Not only did Obama tube the shuttles, he canceled the Constellation program, the successor to America’s historic space shuttle program. Although the complex program was plagued by delays and cost overruns, taxpayers lost the $11 billion they’d invested when the president shut it down. Obama says he also opposes returning to the moon — another huge blunder. Instead, he plans to send astronauts to asteroids and, eventually, to Mars.

To reach Mars from Earth, Obama’s budget funds the design and production of massive new heavy lift rockets. But because gravity on the moon is one-sixth that of the Earth, it would be far easier to launch Mars missions from the moon. China thinks so, as well. Editor's Note: Once again, someone blaming President Obama for the decisions of President G.W. Bush. And he's also wrong about SLS and launching to Mars from the Moon. (4/8)

Why NASA and Congress Spent Four Hours Shouting At Each Other About Russia (Source: Motherboard)
The discussion quickly devolved into a shouting match, with Bolden, John Culberson (R-TX), Andy Harris (R-MD), and Frank Wolf (R-VA) all talking over each other—the lawmakers kept rephrasing their questions, asking for any sort of indication that NASA might be thinking about getting astronauts home in some other way if necessary, Bolden kept telling him he’d already answered their questions.

“The big thing the Russians [rely on America for] is day-to-day operations: the environmental control, life support, access to laboratories,” he said. “The people that would be hurt by a break in our relationship with Roscosmos are the Russians.” But Putin hasn’t exactly acted rationally so far and relying on the Russians forever isn’t a great way of doing business. What would make NASA abandon the ISS, Culberson asked?

“I cannot foresee of any circumstances short of the national command authority directing NASA and all government agencies to curtail all activities with any branches of the Russian government. That’s the only reason,” Bolden said. The “contingency plan is to take $858 million to give to an American company over the next three years. That is a defined period of time for a defined amount of money that is in the President’s budget,” Bolden said. (4/9)

NASA Grilled on Airfare Upgrades (Source: Scripps News)
The chairman of a House Appropriations subcommittee pquestioned NASA Administrator Charles Bolden this morning citing apparent “massive overuse” of premium first and business class air travel upgrades for agency employees. “I don’t travel first class,” Bolden told the committee. Among the trips cited by Rep. Frank Wolf was a $14,773 flight NASA reported booking for Ames Research Center Director Simon “Pete” Worden to travel first class from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco in 2011.

Wolf also asked why Bolden charged taxpayers $1,641 for a one-way first class flight from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles in June 2010. NASA records say the average coach fare for the flight is less than $200. Bolden said he often uses frequent flier miles to upgrade at no cost. He was unable to explain why the costlier fares were reported in NASA records, and said he would get answers. (4/9)

Future Space Efforts Don't Have to Look Like the Past (Source: NBC News)
So strong is the symbolism of the International Space Station that some believe all future big space projects must be international, and that interplanetary exploration ought to be an endeavor of the planet as a whole. Astronaut veterans in particular, from Apollo-Soyuz to shuttle-Mir to ISS, take pride in describing how their achievements contributed to world peace.

But worsening diplomatic relations with an increasingly nationalistic Russia have now raised anxieties that the partnership, however operationally robust it might be in its mutual co-dependence, is under threat. Logic dictates that the current arrangement is a good-enough deal for all the players. Engineering realities dictate that no single partner can go it alone with the space station as currently built.

The realities behind international relations as well as space technologies are continuing to evolve. As a result, space strategies must also evolve, or suffocate from efforts to preserve old policies in amber. Far from being the forerunner of a succession of major international space partnerships, the space station may be the last. The factors that made its mode of construction logical at the time may not apply to future projects. Click here. (4/9)

Chance Meeting Creates Celestial Diamond Ring (Source: ESO)
Astronomers using ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile have captured this eye-catching image of planetary nebula PN A66 33 — usually known as Abell 33. Created when an aging star blew off its outer layers, this beautiful blue bubble is, by chance, aligned with a foreground star, and bears an uncanny resemblance to a diamond engagement ring. This cosmic gem is unusually symmetric, appearing to be almost circular on the sky. Click here. (4/9)

Embraer Gets Incentive Nod for Space Coast Expansion (Source: Florida Today)
The Melbourne City Council tonight unanimously approved a more than $7 million, 15-year tax incentive package for an incoming Embraer Executive Aircraft development at the airport. As approved, Embraer will receive: 10 years of property tax breaks, the maximum allowed by city code; and an additional five years of tax reimbursements if the company keeps a certain number of jobs.

After discussion about the potential of getting their money back, the council OK'd kicking in $1 million to the airport to help pay for cost of construction of the building Embraer will lease. Greg Weiner of the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast said the Embraer project could not move forward if the council did not approve that $1 million transfer to the airport.

Editor's Note: Aerospace projects like this have been an important source of employment for space industry workers laid off at the end of the Space Shuttle program. (4/9)

NASA Awards Aerojet Rocketdyne Contract for CubeSat Propulsion System (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Aerojet Rocketdyne has been awarded a contract from the Flight Opportunities Program Office at Armstrong Flight Test Center to develop propulsion technology for miniature satellites that could possibly lower cost and accelerate mission schedules. Under the first phase of the contract, Aerojet Rocketdyne will develop and perform hot-fire tests on its MPS-120 CubeSat High-Impulse Adaptable Modular Propulsion System. If selected for a flight demonstration in a second phase, the MPS-120 would be the first chemical propulsion system ever used on a CubeSat. (4/8)

Images From NASA Mars Rover Include Bright Spots (Source: NASA JPL)
Images taken by NASA's Curiosity Mars rover on April 2 and April 3 include bright spots, which might be due to the sun glinting off a rock or cosmic rays striking the camera's detector. If the bright spots in the April 2 and April 3 images are from a glinting rock, the directions of the spots from the rover suggest the rock could be on a ridge about 175 yards (160 meters) from the rover's April 3 location.

The bright spots appear in images from the right-eye camera of the stereo Navcam, but not in images taken within one second of those by the left-eye camera. Maki said, "Normally we can quickly identify the likely source of a bright spot in an image based on whether or not it occurs in both images of a stereo pair. In this case, it's not as straightforward because of a blocked view from the second camera on the first day." (4/8)

Like Last Year, New House NASA Bill Prohibits Asteroid Mission (Source: Space Policy Online)
The 2014 NASA authorization bill, H.R. 4412, seems to include only minor changes from the version approved by the committee last year. Like last year, the new bill would prohibit spending on development of the Asteroid Redirect (or Retrieval) Mission. It would establish a NASA Advisory Council, with members appointed by Congress, that would review the Administration's proposed budget for NASA for the next fiscal year and provide advice to the President and Congress about it. And it would change how NASA deals with termination of and termination liability for major programs. (4/8)

2000 Student Projects to the Edge of Space (Source: KickStarter)
PongSat 2 !!!!! On September 27, 2014 we are going to send 2000 student projects to the edge of space. 2000 students will build experiments, art and projects that will be carried above the world by balloon. All the projects fit inside ping pong balls. We call them PongSats. Students from all over the world send us their PongSats we fly them to 100,000 feet on weather balloons. After the landing the PongSats are returned to their creators along with data from the flight a DVD with video of the launch and on board scenes and a certificate showing they flew. Click here. (4/8)

Possible Mars Mission 'Showstopper': Vision Risks for Astronauts (Source: Space.com)
Mars may possess a stark and austere beauty, but a manned Red Planet mission will likely not be easy on the eyes. Recently, scientists have begun realizing that spaceflight can cause serious and perhaps permanent vision problems in astronauts. NASA researchers are working hard to understand the issue, which could present a major hurdle to mounting manned missions to Mars and other faraway destinations.

"This is one that we don't yet have a good handle on, and it can be a showstopper," Mark Shelhamer, chief scientist for the NASA Human Research Program at Johnson Space Center in Houston, said last week. Though they don't yet know for sure, researchers think these eye problems stem primarily from an increase in pressure inside the skull. Cerebrospinal fluid flows into the head more in space than it does on Earth, where gravity pulls it down toward the lower body. (4/8)

Russia, Angola to Launch First African Satellite in Three Years (Source: Itar-Tass)
A Russian-Angolan joint project to build and launch Angola’s national communication system Angosat, the first satellite operated by an African nation, will be implemented in three years, Foreign Minister Georges Rebelo Pinto Chikoti said on Tuesday after talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

“We have launched the project,” Chikoti said. “A team of specialists is formed at the moment to work on this project. It is necessary to create certain conditions in the country to start implementing it. I think we will do everything necessary within three years to make the project work." (4/8)

NASA Security Matters (Source: America Space)
A little over a year ago, NASA was directed, largely if not solely by the efforts of Rep. Wolf, Chairman of the House Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Subcommittee, to commission an independent study from the National Academy of Public Administration, chaired by former Attorney General Thornburgh. The purpose of the study was to look at NASA’s Foreign National Access Management policies after several security issues at NASA centers arose, primarily at Ames Research Center and Langley Research Center.

The full Thornburgh report was completed and submitted to NASA. In February, NASA provided the full report, although with restricted access, to certain members of Congress, such as Rep. Wolf. NASA publicly released an Executive Summary that was as innocuous as the full report itself was, according to sources, explosive. There have been calls by Rep. Wolf and others for NASA to publicly release the full report, which the space agency has so far refused to do. Click here. (4/8)

Arianespace's Soyuz Order to Cover Market Until 2019 (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
Arianespace has ordered a batch of seven Soyuz rockets from Russia, covering the French launch service provider's demand for medium-lift missions until 2019. The agreement gives Arianespace up to 16 Soyuz launches from French Guiana over the next five years, enough to maintain the company's pace of three or four Soyuz missions annually alongside up to a half-dozen Ariane 5 heavy-lift missions and about two launches of Europe's light-class Vega booster. (4/8)

Boeing Hands GPS 2F-5 to the Air Force (Source: Space News)
Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems of El Segundo, Calif., has handed over the fifth satellite in the GPS 2F series of positioning, navigation and timing satellites to the U.S. Air Force, according to an April 8 press release from the company. The GPS 2F-5 satellite launched Feb. 20 from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport aboard a Delta 4 rocket after a five-month delay prompted by questions about the rocket’s upper stage engine. (4/8)

Behold: The First Instagram From Space (Source: Daily Dot)
Yes, Instagram, the photo sharing network known for its artsy filters, has made its way to outer space. On Monday, astronauts aboard the International Space Station posted the first Instagram from space. And though it's no "Earthrise," it does mark another small step for social media in the universe.

The image, posted to the official ISS Instagram account is—befitting of our times—a selfie. The photo shows American astronaut Steven R. Swanson in the station's scenic seven-window observatory module. Swanson, who has flown one previous mission to the station, captioned the photo with, "Back on ISS, life is good." Obviously, no filter was needed. (4/8)

Google May Buy Skybox (Source: Silicon Valley Business Journal)
According to a report, Google is interested in buying Skybox Imaging, a California-based startup that builds high-resolution imaging microsatellites and provides a platform to view the data. Because apparently Google needs satellites now that Facebook has drones. The purchase would line up nicely with Google’s mapping ambitions. Skybox Imaging’s microsatellites would provide Google with its own fleet of cameras in the sky, allowing the search giant to capture its own imaging for Google Earth.

Currently, SkyBox Imaging provides businesses and investors with sub-meter imaging captured by its constellation of satellites. The company produces and provides everything from the satellites in the sky to the data-analytics platforms used by its customers. (4/8)

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