May 28, 2014

Hurricane Prediction Gets an Assist from Drones (Source: Washington Times)
Researchers plan to deploy drones this year to study how hurricanes form and move, gathering data they hope will help them better predict the intensity of the storms. "We really need to get a better idea of what's going on down there before we even look to improve our intensity forecast," said Joe Cione, researcher at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Hurricane Research Division in Miami. Cione will test a handful of drones this year in a project funded through Hurricane Sandy relief legislation. "A lot of people talk about first responders ... but we're sort of like pre-first-responders," he said. (5/27)

Up in the Air, Junior Birdmen (Source: The Economist)
The object that is making a career in the aerospace industry more attractive fits in the palm of your hand. Tiny satellites are providing students an opportunity to quickly design, test and put into orbit equipment that can conduct serious science. This in turn is enabling Silicon-Valley-style innovation and speed—far more fun than working in the slow-moving and risk-averse world of the conventional space industry.

Traditional large-scale satellites consume hundreds of millions of dollars, involve thousands of people and take decades to design—meaning that their technology is often out of date by the time they launch. Engineers who want to build quickly often turn instead to consumer electronics and software startups, which work in small teams and iterate rapidly.

“If I was lucky I'd get a new dataset every decade,” says William Pomerantz, in charge of special projects at Virgin Galactic, a space-travel firm. He has a degree in planetary science, but left university in part to work on faster-moving projects. Until recently, students were also deterred because so much was staked on single missions, which could be canceled, fail or not deliver any useful data, says Mr Pomerantz. (5/27)

Texas Runoffs: Hall Loses, Babin Wins (Source: Space Politics)
Texas held several primary runoff elections on Tuesday, and two of the results had some space policy implications. In the 4th district, former House Science Committee chairman Ralph Hall lost a Republican party runoff to former US Attorney John Ratcliffe, 53 to 47 percent. Hall was chairman of the committee in 2011–2012, and served as ranking member in 2007–2010 when the Democrats were in the majority. Hall was first elected to Congress in 1980 as a Democrat, but changed parties in early 2004.

In the 36th Congressional district, near Johnson Space Center, Brian Babin won the Republican primary by a 58-42 percent margin. The seat is currently held by Rep. Steve Stockman (R), who challenged Sen. John Cornyn for the Republican Senate nomination and lost in the primary earlier this year. Babin’s campaign trumpeted an endorsement by retired NASA flight director Gene Kranz. “I firmly believe Dr. Brian Babin is committed to NASA and the space industry and will work hard to maintain the Johnson Space Center as the leader in space operations, engineering and science,” Kranz said. (5/28)

Orbital Antares Launch Postponed (Source: SpaceRef)
Orbital has rescheduled the launch of its Antares rocket for the Orb-2 mission to a date of no earlier than (NET) June 17, 2014. Orb-2 is the second of eight cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station under Orbital’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA. The new launch schedule has been established to allow the engineering teams from the main stage propulsion supplier Aerojet Rocketdyne and Orbital to investigate the causes of an AJ26 engine failure that occurred last week at NASA’s Stennis Space Center. (5/28)

Suborbital Operators Face Some Big Unknowns, Underwriters Say (Source: Space News)
Companies planning to fly tourists or scientists to the edge of space still face potentially serious liability issues depending on how U.S. courts view the nascent industry, insurance underwriters said. Despite the efforts of the FAA in licensing new commercial space ventures, and initiatives in several states to promote and protect the new businesses, the financial exposure of these companies in the event of an accident remains unknown, insurers said.

Global Aerospace President Jeffrey Cassidy said “no one really knows” what would be the likely outcome of a lawsuit filed behalf of a wealthy space passenger. “On the one side, the government is working with the [space transport] operators to keep liability controlled and constrained, to help grow the industry,” said Cassidy. “On the other side, we have plaintiffs’ attorneys and the risk of common-carrier designation.”

In addition to the U.S. government, at least six state legislatures [including Florida] have enacted immunity statues aimed at protecting the industry, Cassidy said. Not all have extended these protections to the vehicle manufacturers. All include exceptions for negligence and all are written in broad language, he said. In some legal jurisdictions, being labeled a “common carrier” means you are held to stricter liability standards than might otherwise be applicable. (5/28)

Soyuz Poised for Launch to Station (Source: CBS)
A veteran Russian cosmonaut, a U.S. Navy test pilot-turned-astronaut and a German volcanologist are set for a six-hour flight to the International Space Station Wednesday to boost the lab's crew back to six and kick off a busy summer of scientific research and multiple U.S. and Russian spacewalks amid a steady string of visiting cargo ships.

Soyuz TMA-13M commander Maxim Suraev, flight engineer Reid Wiseman and European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst are scheduled for launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:57:41 p.m. EDT Wednesday (GMT-4, 1:57 a.m. Thursday local time), roughly the moment Earth's rotation carries the pad into the plane of the space station's orbit. (5/28)

Google Said to Hold Acquisition Talks With Skybox Imaging (Source: Business Week)
Google is in talks to buy Skybox Imaging Inc., a provider of high-definition imagery that could enhance the Web company’s maps, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The negotiations are early and a deal may not take place, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private. It’s also not clear how Google would use Skybox, which provides detailed photos and analytics to customers via satellites of locations around the world. (5/24)

Despite Exits, Aerospace Deals Are Crashing To Earth (Source: Tech Crunch)
With Google and Facebook both interested in drone and satellite companies, perhaps other investors are taking the time to look to the skies. Google is in advanced discussions to acquire the satellite company Skybox Imaging in a deal that could easily top $1 billion. It follows the search giant’s acquisition of Titan Aerospace, a drone manufacturer which had also caught the eye of Facebook once upon a time.

While Facebook and Google are providing financial exits for drone and satellite investors, SpaceX has made incredible strides to bring down the costs associated with launching satellites. It’s all creating a heady environment for investors who feel that the time for the venture-backed disruption of the space and aerospace industries may no longer be on the other side of the event horizon. Click here. (5/28)

False Alarm of Cosmic Blast Sends Astronomers Racing to Telescopes (Source: Nature)
NASA’s Swift satellite has detected a burst of high-energy gamma rays coming from the Andromeda galaxy, the closest large galaxy to the Milky Way. The rare cosmic explosion is likely to deliver a flood of data to astronomers, who are swiveling their telescopes to capture its aftermath. UPDATE: A message posted “on behalf of the Swift-XRT team” on NASA’s Gamma-ray Coordinates Network (GCN) on 28 May says that the astronomers now “do not believe this source to be an outburst”.  

Swift team member Kim Page, a nova and gamma-ray-burst astronomer at the University of Leicester, UK, told Nature that the source had been initially mistaken for a new outburst, and that its intensity had been overestimated due to measurement error. Instead, she says, it was a relatively common, persistent x-ray source — possibly a globular cluster — that had previously been catalogued. (5/28)

Oops. CNN Runs Bogus Story Saying Killer Asteroid Approaching Earth (Source: KSJ)
Before they pulled the post, Keith Cowing of NASA Watch captured a screenshot showing the CNN logo and a headline, “Giant Asteroid Possibly on Collision Course with Earth.” The original post was taken down with the explanation that NASA has now confirmed that the story is false. A spokeswoman for NASA-JPL said the story ran for hours after she informed CNN that the there was no 10-mile asteroid headed for Earth, at least as far as NASA knows.

The message is clear enough. It’s not a nice thing to contemplate the first day back at work after a three-day holiday weekend, but the good news is that it looks like the only impact story here is the fact that the cable news network has slammed the Earth with an enormous bolide of B.S.

The post is from iReports, which is apparently an experiment in citizen journalism. CNN lets random people with no qualifications post stories under the CNN banner. The asteroid scare illustrates the hazard of this approach. Click here. (5/27) 
Space Club Event Features Blue Origin, XCOR, Space Adventures (Source: NSCFL)
The National Space Club (Florida Committee) will feature a panel discussion on space tourism during its monthly luncheon on June 10 in Cape Canaveral. "Your Personal Future in Space" will include officials from Blue Origin, XCOR Aerospace, and Space Adventures. The luncheon event begins at 11:30 at the Radisson Resort at Port Canaveral. Click here. (5/27)

SpaceX Completes Qualification Testing of SuperDraco Thruster (Source: SpaceX)
SpaceX has completed qualification testing for the SuperDraco thruster, an engine that will power the Dragon spacecraft’s launch escape system and enable the vehicle to land propulsively on Earth or another planet with pinpoint accuracy. The testing program took place over the last month at SpaceX’s Rocket Development Facility in McGregor, Texas.

The program included testing across a variety of conditions including multiple starts, extended firing durations and extreme off-nominal propellant flow and temperatures. The SuperDraco is an advanced version of the Draco engines currently used by SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft to maneuver in orbit and during re-entry. SuperDracos will be used on the crew version of the Dragon spacecraft as part of the vehicle’s launch escape system. (5/27)

Responding to Critics, ULA Discloses Pricing Information (Source: Space News)
Seeking to blunt critics who say it is overcharging, rocket maker United Launch Alliance released previously undisclosed pricing information, including the value of a controversial Air Force contract for 36 launch vehicle cores. CEO Michael Gass said ULA’s average per-launch price to the U.S. government is $225 million, a figure that includes the block buy contract as well as pre-existing launch backlog. That figure represents the combined value of the contracts divided by the number of missions.

The value of the block buy contract, which covers 36 launch vehicle cores and was concluded in June 2013, is $11 billion, according to ULA spokeswoman Jessica Rye. The contract is being challenged in U.S. federal court by rocket maker Space Exploration Technologies Corp., which argues that a large subset of those missions should have been put out for bid as opposed to being awarded to ULA on a sole-source basis.

ULA has long faced questions about its pricing as a virtual monopoly provider to the Pentagon, and the scrutiny has become more intense thanks to an aggressive lobbying campaign by SpaceX, which seeks to break ULA’s hold on the market. SpaceX and others have said each of ULA’s launches costs well over $350 million and sometimes as much as $460 million. Those numbers were arrived at by dividing the Air Force’s total Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle budget by the number of launches, Gass said. (5/20)

Hill Staffers: Commercial Space Launch Bill Coming This Year (Source: Space News)
U.S. lawmakers are preparing to update the Commercial Space Launch Act for the first time in a decade, congressional staffers said. The 1984 law that created the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation to promote and regulate the U.S. launch industry has been updated several times over the last 30 years. The most recent overhaul was in 2004.

Staffers said the legislation would address whether to allow the FAA to begin writing human spaceflight safety regulations after October 2015, when the current regulatory grace period expires; changes to the formula FAA uses to determine how much insurance commercial launch providers must carry; and unspecified changes to NOAA’s licensing regime for commercial remote sensing satellites. (5/26)

Space-Based Power Stations [Still] on the Horizon (Source: Japan Times)
Space-based solar power could eventually prove to be an alternative source of electricity for Japan, as the country struggles to find the best energy mix to lessen its dependence on thermal and nuclear power. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has been conducting studies in the hopes of erecting huge solar panels in space to generate electricity in the near future.

The basic idea is simple: Build a solar power station in geostationary orbit to gather sunlight; convert the energy to solar electricity, and then direct it via microwaves or laser beams to receiving antennas on Earth. The Space Solar Power System (SSPS) would be able to collect the same amount of solar energy almost 24 hours a day, since it would not be affected by the weather. It could generate five to 10 times more power compared to solar power operations on Earth, JAXA says.

One SSPS with a 2.5 km by 2.3 km panel would have the capacity to generate 1 gigawatt of electricity, the agency says, which is about the same as a nuclear power plant. For a country with few natural resources, an SSPS sounds like it would be a dream come true, and currently Japan is leading the world in research on space-based solar power. (5/27)

The Complex Quest to Take Out our Orbital Trash (Source: Ars Technica)
Active debris removal is technically challenging, but potential solutions exist. Things like "laser brooms," electrodynamic tethers, nanosatellites, solar sails, space grapples, and tugs are being considered (more on these to come). Some of these technologies even exist as more than prototypes, although they’re sequestered away under military control.

The bad news is that our international space policy and governance lag behind our technologies. Orbital debris has reached its current disastrous status largely because during the last decade—and there’s no other way to put this—a giant pissing contest has played out in orbit between factions in the US and Chinese militaries. Click here. (5/27)

Senate Bill Gets Tough on Russia (Source: Aviation Week)
The impact of Moscow's aggression against Ukraine is finding its way into U.S. defense legislation, where lawmakers aim to curb America's dependence on Russian technology in bills that stand to benefit domestic manufacturing interests in some key congressional districts. This week the Senate Armed Services Committee approved a bill that limits military-to-military security cooperation with Moscow and prohibits new Pentagon contracts with Russia's top weapons supplier, Rosoboronexport.

According to a summary of the 2015 defense authorization bill approved May 22, the Senate panel said it would also end existing Defense Department agreements with the company for a combined 63 Mi-17V-5 helicopters and associated spare parts being supplied to U.S.-backed forces in Afghanistan. (5/24)

UA Engineers Win NASA Robotic Mining Challenge (Source: Crimson White)
In 2009, NASA created an event called the Robotic Mining National Championship. Engineering students from The University of Alabama have competed as a team in the event every year since its creation. The team won first place overall for the second time in three years on May 23.

Kenneth Ricks, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering as well as the faculty adviser for the team, said he believed this was a huge victory for the University, the team and the engineering program. “These students deserve all of the publicity possible,” Ricks said. “It may not be football, but it is a national championship in a competition against many big name engineering schools around the country.” (5/28)

Titan's Hazy Sunsets Shed Light on Alien Atmospheres (Source: Discovery)
In an effort to better understand the atmospheres of worlds orbiting other stars, NASA’s Cassini mission is using sunsets through the hazy atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan to create a solar system ‘exoplanet analog.’ When analyzing the starlight refracting through a distant exoplanet’s atmosphere, astronomers can decipher the composition of that ‘exo’-atmosphere.

However, there are many unknowns and ambiguities that need to be ironed out before an accurate gauge of that atmosphere can be determined. So by observing how sunlight shines through Titan’s high-altitude haze, astronomers are learning how they might better analyze the atmospheres of alien worlds light-years distant. (5/28)

XCOR Announces $14.2 Million Funding Round (Source: San Fernando Business Journal)
XCOR Aerospace announced on Tuesday receiving $14.2 million in financing led by a group of Dutch investors to fund development of its suborbital space plane. The Mojave company will add two new members to its board from commercial space flight provider Space Expedition Corp., the Dutch investor based in Amsterdam. The funding round includes existing investors, Silicon alley entrepreneurs and early-stage investors.

Jeff Greason, founder and chief executive of XCOR, said the Series B funding round should signal that XCOR is making progress getting its Lynx spaceplane into commercial service for paying customers. “This investment will allow us to accelerate and run in parallel several final developments in the critical path to first flight,”

The two-seat reusable Lynx is powered by kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants and can take a pilot and passenger to sub-orbital altitude and return to Earth much like an airplane. The craft can also be used to carry small payloads containing scientific equipment or tests. It last announced a $5 million funding round in 2012. (5/27)

New Mexico Builds on Space Tourism (Source: NBC)
Dawn breaks over the futuristic "Gateway to Space" terminal building at Spaceport America, nestled amid the mountains of southern New Mexico. More than $200 million has been spent to get the facility ready for spaceflight operations, with Virgin Galactic as the anchor tenant. But so far the investment has had relatively little impact on surrounding communities, leaving residents with mixed feelings about the venture. Click here. (5/27)

Aerospace Insurance Premiums Dropped 5 Percent in 2013 (Source: Canadian Underwriter)
Aon Risk Solutions recently reported the lead premium in the aviation sector declined by five per cent in 2013, to $653.4 million, after a "protracted period with relatively few claims." Aon risk solutions division reported, in its Aerospace Insurance Market Outlook 2014, that insurance prices in the aerospace sector "have continued their almost decade long decline." (5/27)

It's Time to Stop Babying Mars (Source: Popular Mechanics)
Mars is no stranger to life. Seven U.S. spacecraft have successfully landed there, and all of them took microbes to the planet's surface (though the bugs probably did not survive for long). Yet the world's space agencies continue to maintain strict spacecraft sterilization procedures in the hope of minimizing the spread of Earth life beyond our planet.

For decades this ethos—known as planetary protection—prevailed. Now, some scientists say, these precautions are undermining the search for life beyond Earth by raising costs and inhibiting innovative missions—without meaningful benefits. A future mission might not be able to distinguish between a life form native to Mars and one with origins on Earth. Click here. (5/27)

The Moon—Wet and Dry (Source: Science)
When the Apollo 11 astronauts took humanity’s first otherworldly steps into the Sea of Tranquility, they traversed oceans of dry, powderlike rock, not water. The moon’s interior was thought to be bone dry until 2007, when water molecules were first discovered in lunar rocks. Since then, additional studies have found evidence of H2O and its building blocks hydrogen and hydroxide in lunar meteorites and Apollo-era rock samples. Click here. (5/27)

How We'll Talk To Aliens (Source: Popular Science)
Assuming we one day contact aliens, how will we communicate with them? That's the subject of a new book from NASA called Archaeology, Anthropology and Interstellar Communication. The book steps outside astrophysics and computer science to explore how archeologists and anthropologists have approached cross-cultural communications between human cultures, and what those techniques and analytical frames could contribute to understanding a message from an alien culture. Click here. (5/27)

Future of Space Exploration Could See Humans on Mars, Alien Planets (Source:
The future of manned space exporation is bright, according to some space experts. Humans may one day tread across some of the alien worlds that today can be studied only at a distance. Closer to home, private industries like Mars One seek to establish a permanent settlement on the Red Planet. At the "The Future is Here Festival" in Washington, D.C. this month, former astronaut Mae Jemison and NASA engineer Adam Steltzner spoke optimistically about the future of manned space exploration. Click here. (5/27)

A Space Race in Silicon Valley (Source: The Information)
As Web companies such as Google and Facebook ramp up efforts to connect the world to their services, they are increasingly looking to the skies—and higher. At Google, several signs point to satellites. The company last month hired Brian Holz, who was chief technology officer at O3b Networks, which has launched special satellites to try to broadcast signals that would power new Internet service in developing countries around the world.

Google had previously made a financial investment in O3b and one of its employees sits on O3b’s board. The startup’s recently-launched satellites faced technical setbacks this year. Google also recently hired Dave Bettinger, who had spent 18 years at satellite firm VT iDirect, which supplies high speed broadband and other communications to military services and the oil and gas industry. (5/27)

Milsatcom Security Claims Warrant Scrutiny (Source: Space News)
Today’s U.S. national security doctrine and our ability to protect our interests and project power around the globe are disproportionately reliant on a continuously interconnected force. From the highest echelons of strategic command and control through all elements of the tactical force (air, surface, subsurface and ground), access to assured communications is a vital underpinning to mission success.

Indeed, in virtually all military operations, assured communications is now assigned “go/no-go” stature. Not surprisingly, at a time when our adversaries are increasing in numbers, are more geographically dispersed and are rapidly adopting technological advancements, our ability to deliver that vital assured communications is increasingly challenged. Click here. (5/27) 

China's Domestic Navigation System Guides Pakistan (Source: Space Daily)
China's domestically made Beidou navigation system has set up a network in Pakistan, the first in a foreign country. Beidou was co-developed by China Great Wall Industry Corporation and the Beijing UniStrong Science & Technology Co., Ltd. The first stage of Pakistan's geographic positioning network has been finished. The network includes five base stations and one processing center, covering Karachi. (5/27)

Editorial: Ignorance Is Not Bliss (Source: Space News)
Space-based climate change monitoring initiatives are targeted for cuts in a spending bill drafted in the U.S. House of Representatives that otherwise does fairly well by NASA and NOAA. There are several positives in the 2015 Commerce, Justice, Science spending bill, which was approved May 8 by the House Appropriations Committee. NOAA’s weather satellite programs are fully funded in the bill, as is the latest in a long-running and highly successful series of ocean-altimetry satellites built in cooperation with France.

But the bill rejects NOAA’s request for $15 million next year for three instruments — including the Total Solar Irradiance Sensor, which collects important climate change data — that were supposed to fly on a freeflyer satellite that Congress declined to fund for 2014. NOAA is looking at other options for flying the hardware, including hosted payload arrangements.

The House bill also declined to fund another climate sensor that was transferred to NASA: the Total Solar Irradiance Sensor 2, which the space agency hopes to fly as a hosted payload aboard a commercial satellite in geostationary orbit around the end of the decade. These actions continue a long-term pattern of hostility toward climate change research by House Republicans that goes back to the 1990s. (5/26)

European Union Delays Decision on ESA Changes (Source: Space News)
European Union governments on May 26 agreed to delay any decision on its future relations with the European Space Agency pending further studies on how changes would affect Europe’s space industrial base. Meeting in Brussels, the EU Competitiveness Council appeared to remove from consideration earlier proposals that would have transformed the 20-nation ESA into a European Union agency.

This idea had met with vocal opposition from Germany and Britain, and perhaps others, which like ESA’s current geographic-return rule. Under this rule, a government’s financial contribution to a given program determines the amount of contracts awarded to its national industry. The EU Commission awards contracts on a stricter value-for-money basis, which French officials say may play to the advantage of French industry.

ESA officials have said they are already making the geographic-return rule more flexible to favor competitive bids, but that doing away with it entirely would cause many nations to cut their space spending and direct the resources to their national space budgets. The council said it agreed with the commission’s recent assessment that “transforming ESA into an EU agency would require political consensus that may be difficult to reach in the foreseeable future.” (5/26)

Dark Matter Protects Failed Galaxy in Cosmic Collision (Source: SEN)
A high-velocity hydrogen cloud hurtling toward the Milky Way appears to be encased in a shell of dark matter, according to a new analysis of data from the National Science Foundation’s Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT).

Without this protective shell, the high-velocity cloud (HVC), known as the Smith Cloud, would have disintegrated long ago when it first collided with the disk of our Galaxy. A halo of dark matter could mean that the Smith Cloud is actually a failed dwarf galaxy, an object that has all the right stuff to form a true galaxy, just not enough to produce stars. (5/25)

Using Space Station After 2020 Unprofitable for Russia (Source: Itar-Tass)
Russia sees no reason why it should participate in the International Space Station (ISS) project between Europe, the United States, Russia, Canada, and Japan after 2020 as it takes away more than a third of the total budget of Russia's space agency Roscosmos, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin told journalists on Monday.

“We are not going to withdraw (from the program), but it was meant up to 2020, and we will abide by our international commitments until 2022 and will receive contract money for the delivery of American astronauts (to the ISS). But it is highly questionable whether we will extend (the program) up to 2024,” Rogozin said, adding that final proposals would be made by Roscosmos and submitted to the Russian government.

“We see no reason for that from a commercial point of view,” he said, noting that Russia was ready to discuss other conditions. (5/26)

Space Museum Ready for New Titusville Location (Source: Florida Today)
Lee Starrick has had no trouble filling the new location for the U.S. Space Walk of Fame Museum in downtown Titusville with artifacts and memorabilia. Spacesuits, launch consoles, photos and complete pre-construction models of shuttle processing facilities and launch pads are some of the items he can now display in a building three times the size of the old site.

"Basically, it will be a different museum than before," said Starrick, the museum's administrator. "We are going to have so many more displays that we didn't have in our old museum." Volunteers this month have set up displays at the 6,100-square-foot location on U.S. 1 and Pine Street. An opening ceremony is planned for Saturday, although the facility already is open to visitors. (5/27)

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