May 31, 2014

5 Takeaways From Friday's House Approval of NASA's New Budget (Source Huntsville Times)
NASA's budget for fiscal year 2015 cleared the House of Representatives early Friday morning and is headed for the Senate. Here are five takeaways from that House vote: 1) The $17.9 billion OK'd for NASA was $250 million more than it got this year and $435 million more than the White House requested; 2) The House has voted funds for the Space Launch System; 3)  The vote sets the stage for a good year for NASA and stable employment for its employees and contractors; 4) There is still tension between the White House and Congress over space policy; and 5) Alabama's congressional representatives seek positions in Congress where they can support NASA, and then they do it. (5/30)

NASA Facing New Space Science Cuts (Source: National Geographic)
While the stars and planets beckon, a budget battle is brewing over NASA, the $17.6-billion civilian space agency. Cuts threaten spacecraft and telescopes, even as NASA struggles to clarify its mission in the post-space shuttle era. Since the end of the Apollo missions, NASA's budget has steadily declined from 1.35% of federal spending to less than 0.6%.

A long-running annual drop in inflation-adjusted funds took a sharp downward turn in the past two years, as budget cuts trimmed almost a billion dollars from 2012 to 2013. The 2014 budget recovered some, but not all, of that cut. In addition, a fundamental debate is under way over the future exploration aims of NASA. The Obama Administration favors "stepping stone" plans leading to an asteroid visit in the next decade; congressional representatives call for a return to the moon.

A National Research Council report released in late 2012 called NASA's strategic plan to explore asteroids "vague," adding that the agency's explanations did not explain "why it is worthy of taxpayer investment." Already squeezed by decades of strained funding, a variety of NASA missions, ranging from an infrared space telescope to a 747-mounted observatory, now face cancellation. Click here. (5/30)

Astrotech Stock Jumps For Lockheed Deal (Source: Brownsville Herald)
Lockheed Martin's agreement to buy the Astrotech Space Operations pushed up its shares as much as 75%. Astrotech Space offers satellite launch preparation services that include fueling and day-of-launch operations. Financial terms weren't disclosed but the companies said they expect the deal to close in Q3. Astrotech Space will be operated as a subsidiary, Lockheed said. Astrotech shares closed 41.1% higher to 3.16. (5/30)

What Does Lockheed Astrotech Deal Mean for Competitors? (Source: SPACErePORT)
Astrotech for decades has provided payload processing services for a variety of government and commercial customers. The company's facility in Titusville augments NASA and Air Force facilities on the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, and is the sole facility available for many commercial satellites. The purchase puts Lockheed in a position to provide discounted services for United Launch Alliance payloads. It could also spell trouble for competing companies like SpaceX, through higher prices, lower-priority service, or total service denial. (5/31)

SpaceX Environmental Assessment Attracts Mixed Public Comments (Source: Brownsville Herald)
Federal, state and local agencies, along with elected officials, non-governmental agencies and individuals provided
comments to the FAA between April 19 and June 24, 2013. Although the majority of letters — many of which were repetitive form letters — offered support and a minority opposed SpaceX, some people chose to remain neutral and simply stated concerns about the project.

Many of those concerns were about sea turtles, ocelots, the potential for fuel spills, hurricanes. Some people sought more information on how environmental threats would be mitigated without taking a for or against stand on the project. Click here. (5/31)

SpaceX 3D Prints Rocket Thruster (Source: EE Times)
No longer are 3D printers a novelty for kids, or even just a tool for prototyping, now that the world's first production rocket thruster to be qualified for space flight was certified today by SpaceX in Hawthorne, Calif. According to SpaceX, 3D printing can drastically cut the cost and time of manufacturing finished parts for space vehicles and by implication for any vehicle. Will Google's next driverless car be 3D printed? (5/30)

Musk's Space Capsule Interior Is So Much Nicer Than The Competition (Source: Business Insider)
The Dragon V2 is much more spacious than the Russia Soyuz spacecraft, which fits three crew members and has been NASA's only way of sending American astronauts to space since the agency shut down its shuttle program in 2011. Click here. (5/30)

Steps for Licensing SpaceX (Source: Valley Morning Star)
The issuance of a final environmental assessment on SpaceX’s proposal to develop the world’s first private, commercial vertical launch site in in south Texas prompts others requirements before the FAA could issue a Record of Decision and grant SpaceX a license to launch rockets. For the next 30 days, FAA will be working with SpaceX and other agencies on mitigation, alternatives, and other issues contained in the final EIS and to resolve adverse effects.

The FAA would then issue its Record of Decision, which would provide FAA’s final environmental determination and decision on the preferred alternative and the proposal. The proposal must also meet all the FAA safety, risk, and indemnification requirements. The final EIS, safety, risk and indemnification reviews and requirements would become part of SpaceX’s application to the FAA for the license.

SpaceX also needs a Letter of Authorization from the Houston Air Route Traffic Control Center to operate the rockets in the proposed airspace. SpaceX would also need to coordinate with the Secretariat of Communications and Transportation in Mexico regarding launch notifications. Then there are air quality permit(s); Army Corps of Engineers permits for fill of wetlands; Texas General Land Office permit for coastal construction; Texas Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit; local flood plain construction and septic tank permits; and utility permits issued by the Texas Department of Transportation for installation of utility lines. (5/30)

Spaceport America to Seek More State Money (Source: KOB)
Virgin Galactic has again pushed back its estimated start date for launching commercial flights from New Mexico’s Spaceport America, and spaceport officials say they’ll need to ask the state for more money to make up for lost user fees and visitor revenue at the fledging project. Christine Anderson, executive director of the spaceport, said Wednesday that she plans to ask the Legislature for $7 million to finish paving a road between the spaceport and Las Cruces because other expenses have eaten into her budget. (5/30)

More Companies Place Bets on Their Space Business (Source: Washington Business Journal)
During the last few years, we’ve watched as the administration bagged a program to return astronauts to the moon, the space shuttle program was officially grounded, and NASA budgets got slashed. And yet, more and more companies are banking on space business to bolster the bottom line. Click here. (5/29)

Challenger Center Excites Communities About Space Exploration (Source: Challenger Center)
Challenger Center for Space Science Education (Challenger Center) in collaboration with the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA) and the NASA Planetary Science Division will host a series of events in support of NASA's journey of scientific discovery of our Solar System's content, origin, evolution and the potential for life elsewhere. The community-focused programs will take place during the months of May and June at 10 Challenger Learning Centers across the country. (5/30)

Space Florida and UCF Host CAT 5 Awards on June 3 (Source: Capital Soup)
Next week, representatives from Space Florida and the University of Central Florida (UCF) Office of Research and Commercialization (ORC) will host the “CAT5 Awards,” an event that will match financing sources with small, Florida-based, high-tech businesses. This event is open to the public, as well as Florida/trade media.

The “CAT5 Awards” (which stands for “Capital for the Acceleration of Technologies in early stage companies) will enable the 10 selected “finalist” companies to present their business models to venture capitalists, angel investors and strategic corporate investors that may have interest in supporting their businesses. These companies will also compete to receive one of two monetary awards totaling $150,000 – through Space Florida sponsorship. (5/29)

Whatever Happened To NASA's Space Boat? (Source: Business Insider)
In 2009, the media was abuzz that NASA and ESA were considering the very first space boat — a floating vessel that would roam the lakes of one of Saturn's moons. Unfortunately, the project lost out to a mission to Jupiter. Then NASA teased us again in 2012. After considering 28 projects, the space agency settled on three finalists: a Mars probe, a comet hopper, and a space boat called Titan Marine Explorer (TiME). NASA chose the probe, crushing our dreams of extraterrestrial sailing.

Now NASA is again soliciting projects for their Discovery Program, but will TiME throw its name in the hat? Large bodies of liquid like Titan's Punga Mare lake are thought to be good starting places to look for early life, an added incentive to build a watercraft. Click here. (5/30) 

Buoyed by Initial Court Victory, ViaSat Girds for Legal Battle with Loral (Source: Space News)
Satellite broadband hardware and service provider ViaSat Inc., having won an initial award of $283 million in a patent violation lawsuit against Loral Space and Communications, is preparing for a broader court case in which other Loral-built satellites may be targeted as part of an injunction, ViaSat Chief Executive Mark D. Dankberg said.

Dankberg said Carlsbad, California-based ViaSat’s most immediate concern, beyond a final court judgment confirming the initial damage award, is the Jupiter 2/EchoStar 19 satellite being built by Space Systems/Loral for ViaSat competitor EchoStar/Hughes Network Systems. (5/30)

Air Force Prepares for Ground System Consolidation (Source: Space News)
Industry officials expect the Air Force to release a draft solicitation within the next month for a contract worth about $500 million to consolidate work on the service’s main satellite control network. The Consolidated Air Force Satellite Control Network Modifications, Maintenance and Operations (CAMMO) contract is one of several consolidation contracts planned by the Air Force as it copes with shrinking budgets. SMC leaders said the center’s budget, which is used to buy space systems, shrunk to about $5.6 billion in FY2014, down at least $2.4 billion from two years ago. (5/30)

Why the First American Woman in Space Stayed in the Closet (Source: Slate)
Sally Ride was very good at keeping secrets. As the first American woman in space, she protected countless confidences during a lifetime of public appearances. During her post-NASA years, she regularly wrote and reviewed classified government material on high-profile commissions. When she died in 2012 of pancreatic cancer, a diagnosis hidden from all but a tiny handful of family and close friends, I started unraveling the mysteries for her biography. She was a brilliant, mischievous enigma. Click here. (5/30)

Putin, Medvedev Congratulate First Man to Walk in Space on 80th Birthday (Source: Itar-Tass)
A Soviet cosmonaut and first spacewalker in the world, Aleksei Leonov, celebrates his 80th birthday today. In March 1965 he was outside his spaceship for 12 minutes, connected to the craft by a 5.35 meter tether. Later, Leonov commanded the Soviet side of the Apollo-Soyuz mission, the first joint space mission between the Soviet Union and the United States. (5/30)

Plan to Eavesdrop on Aliens' Interplanetary Communications (Source: Motherboard)
The Kepler Space Telescope has found several potential habitable exoplanets that exist in the same solar system—so, could there be intelligent life living on them that communicate back and forth with each other? Some experts in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence think it's possible, and that intercepting their communications might be our best bet for proving the existence of aliens.

The idea is called "eavesdropping SETI," and its foundation relies on the principle that, if intelligent life is common in solar systems with Earth-like planets in the habitable zone, then it's not out of the realm of possibility that there may be two distinct alien civilizations living in solar systems with multiple planets in a star's habitable zone. Click here. (5/30)

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