June 12, 2014

Asteroids Mined for Fuel to Generate Trillion Dollar Market (Source: Mining)
Profiting from the riches that asteroids, stars and even planets have to offer seems to be closer than ever, with two companies launching missions within three years. But experts say before going for the gold, platinum and diamonds that may be up there, they need to find the most precious of all: fuel.

Investors eager to get the new industry off the ground know this. That is why new ventures that have backing from some loaded business figures, and even the NASA, have decided to focus on building interplanetary gas stations. "Have you ever wondered why the space economy hasn’t seen exponential growth with Moore’s Law like we have witnessed with high-tech industries here on Earth?” asks Planetary Resources President and Chief Engineer, Chris Lewicki. Click here. (6/12)

KSC Has Key Role to Play in Takeoff of Commercial Spaceflight (Source: Florida Today)
Space tourism is moving ever-closer to becoming a viable industry, and Kennedy Space Center in Florida will be a key part of the movement, said Scott Henderson, orbital launch site director for Blue Origin, speaking to the National Space Club Florida Committee recently. The KSC and Florida in general have a big role to play in the industry's takeoff, he said. "Flying near a coastline is a lot more interesting than flying over a brown desert, let's be honest," said Henderson. "Also, when you're flying from truly the home of manned spaceflight, you're going to feel part of that history." (6/11)

Neil deGrasse Tyson Turns Down Stern's Pluto Debate Challenge (Source: NBC)
If you were looking forward to seeing astrophysicist and "Cosmos" host Neil deGrasse Tyson debate how Pluto should be classified, don't hold your breath. Tyson says he's done debating. The planetary scientist in charge of NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, Alan Stern, issued the debate challenge in an NBC News interview a week ago. As director of New York's Hayden Planetarium, Tyson left Pluto out of the facility's main planetary lineup, and wrote a book about the controversy called "The Pluto Files." (6/12)

Step Inside the SpaceX Dragon V2 (Source: Popular Mechanics)
Doing business with NASA requires more than a little politicking. And so this week, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk brought his latest toy to Washington. The Dragon Version 2—the prototype for a manned version of Musk's space capsule that was revealed to the world in May, was sitting at the foot of Capitol Hill last night to show off for members of Congress, their staffs, and NASA decision-makers. Click here. (6/12)

A Scientist Is Growing Asparagus In Meteorites to Prepare Us for Space Farming (Source: Motherboard)
For those of us without a green thumb, growing even the most hardy plants in perfect conditions can seem impossible. How about trying to grow plants on a meteorite? Well, at least one scientist is doing it, with moderate levels of success. The thinking goes—if we're going to have space colonies, we're going to need some way to eat.
Transporting all food from Earth isn't realistic, and neither is bringing tons of bags of topsoil. Photos of asteroids, meteors, and other planets in our solar system look incredibly desolate, but, in fact, some of them contain many of the nutrients necessary to grow plants.

"People have been talking about terraforming, but what I'm trying to do is give some concrete evidence that it's possible to do this, that it's possible to grow in extraterrestrial materials," Michael Mautner, a Virginia Commonwealth University researcher and one of the world's only "astroecologists" told me. "What I've found is that a range of microorganisms—bacteria, fungi, and even asparagus and potato plants—can survive with the nutrients that are in extraterrestrial materials." (6/11)

Critical Anomaly Ends Long-Lived NOAA Satellite Mission (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
NOAA retired an aging polar-orbiting weather satellite this week that functioned a decade longer than planned, leaving three spacecraft to bridge a gap before the agency's next-generation weather observatory launches in 2017. Ground controllers decommissioned the spacecraft Monday after it completed 70,655 successful orbits of the globe and traveled 2.1 billion miles since its launch on a Titan 2 rocket in September 2000, according to a NOAA press release.

A status update posted on NOAA's website said the NOAA 16 satellite experienced a "critical anomaly" on June 5. "No data recovery and no command verification possible at this time," the update said. No other details were provided. (6/12)

NASA Holding Firm on First SLS/Orion Flight for 2017, Challenges Remain (Source: Space Policy Online)
NASA officials provided an update on the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft. They conveyed optimism about the progress of SLS, Orion and associated ground systems and the ability to meet the goal of a 2017 first SLS/Orion launch. Under questioning, however, it became clear that achieving that schedule will be a challenge.

SLS and Orion are being designed primarily to take astronauts beyond low Earth orbit (LEO) – to an asteroid by 2025 and to orbit (but not land on) Mars in the 2030s. By law, they must also be able to service the International Space Station (ISS), which is located in LEO. The first launch of a test version of Orion, called EFT-1, is scheduled for December 2014. The first Orion launch aboard an SLS is scheduled for 2017. Neither the 2014 nor 2017 flights will carry crews. The first crewed flight of Orion aboard an SLS, is anticipated in 2021. Click here. (6/11)

NASA Employee Given the Runaround by Own Union (Source: Washington Free Beacon)
A public sector union used dirty stalling tactics to thwart a secret ballot election that threatened its control of a Virginia NASA facility, according to legal briefs filed with a national labor arbiter. Ron Walsh worked as a flight project manager at NASA’s Wallops Island Flight Facility for more than 10 years before he became disillusioned with the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), a public sector union that represents 650,000 federal employees.

He was tired of having to communicate to his superiors through union intermediaries, rather than just approaching management himself, didn’t appreciate the unfounded accusations of racism at the facility, and supported an employee evaluation system that would bring bonuses to his department only to see AFGE objections hinder efforts to reward effective workers.

Walsh said he was also frustrated by the fact that he had never voted to unionize in the first place. Workers at the NASA facility voted to join AFGE in 1971. Over the next 40 years AFGE shifted responsibility for sole representation of Wallops Island’s employees to five different segments of the union; no employee vote was ever held. It is unclear whether any of the facility’s 153 members even voted in the original election. (6/11)

Amazing Design for NASA's Star Trek-Style Ship (Source: Washington Post)
NASA engineer and physicist Harold White announced a few years ago that he was working on a potentially groundbreaking idea that could allow space travel faster than the speed of light. Yes, like in “Star Trek.” And now, to boldly go where no designer has gone before, Mark Rademaker — who is collaborating with White — has created a CGI design concept for the “warp ship.” They’re calling it the IXS Enterprise. Click here. (6/11)

Will Google's Sergey Brin Fly to the ISS After Brightman? (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Google co-founder Sergey Brin could be the next space tourist to journey to the International Space Station. Space Adventures President Tom Shelley told Reuters that Brin, whose net worth is $30.2 billion, has put down a deposit on a seat aboard a future Soyuz flight to the orbiting laboratory. “He paid us a deposit and whenever we have a seat available, he has the right of first refusal,” Shelley said. Shelley said the company could have an open seat in 2017. (6/11)

No, NASA Is Not Launching a Flying Saucer (Source: TIME)
Simplified science is not always good science, and NASA's planned test flight of an updated system for landing on Mars doesn't have to be sold as something it's not. Never mind what you’ve been hearing, NASA is not launching a flying saucer in Hawaii soon. You could be forgiven for thinking that, because NASA has been busy telling anyone who will listen that yes, it is launching a flying saucer in Hawaii soon. That’s a shame, because what’s really going on is deeply cool without the oversimplifying hype. Click here. (6/11)

Rubio Meets with KSC Officials; Discusses 'Master Plan' (Source: MyNews 13)
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, a member of the Senate Subcommittee on Science and Space, met with Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana. The two discussed the center’s current activities and the recently released 20 year "master plan." Rubio stressed the importance of expanding space exploration opportunities in Florida, citing job creation as a major factor.

After the meeting, Rubio issued the following statement: "Of course, space exploration in this century must look significantly different than it did in the last one, with innovators in the commercial space industry carrying more of the load. I appreciated Director Cabana’s time today to discuss the center’s future. It’s important that NASA and the commercial space industry coexist in a way that benefits our nation’s space and science goals, as well as Florida’s long-standing role as a hub of space-related job creation." (6/11)

Space Offers No Escape from the Surly Bonds of Earthly Politics (Source: The Conversation)
Seasoned observers of the United Nations generally regard the organization’s lofty aspirations to the “betterment of humankind” and the eternal pursuit of “peace and security” as just the rhetorical tokens of the “UN system”. But when it comes to the politics of outer space, this sweeping rhetoric is still deeply resonant.

Projected onto the vastness of the universe and laden with the continuing assumption that space activities provide a “unique platform at the global level for international cooperation”, global initiatives such as the International Space Station doubtless lend some credence to such claims. But close up, the detail of debates between “space actors” shows just how difficult and complex the challenge of outer space security really is. Click here. (6/12) 

Is NASA Worth Funding? (Source: The Escapist)
A recent report from the U.S. National Research Council found that the public does not consider investing money in the space program a priority. This poses a problem for NASA, which, with its current level of funding, will never be able to undertake a massive endeavor like a manned mission to Mars. Public apathy toward NASA, a lack of understanding of the benefits of a space program, and more pressing matters all lead people to ask: is NASA worth funding at all?

Couldn't that money be better spent working on the economy, homelessness, or the housing market? A key misconception among Americans is the amount of government money that goes to the space program. Just how much funding does NASA receive, relative to other governmental departments? Probably not as much as you think. Click here. (6/11)

Google In Talks To Take Virgin Galactic Stake (Source: Sky News)
Google is in talks with Virgin Galactic about a deal that will hand it crucial access to satellite-launch technology and an equity stake in Sir Richard Branson’s $2bn (£1.2bn) space tourism venture. Sky News can exclusively reveal that the discussions with Virgin Galactic are part of Google’s ambitious project to put hundreds of satellites in low-Earth orbit in an attempt to extend internet access to billions of people.

Editor's Note: This seems odd, as Virgin Galactic has yet to prove itself as a suborbital provider, much less an orbital payload deliverer. There are multiple other smallsat launch providers either in operation or planning to be soon. Google might want to wait and see. (6/12)

U.S. Government Eases Restrictions on DigitalGlobe (Source: Space News)
Satellite imagery provider DigitalGlobe has won U.S. government approval to sell its highest-resolution imagery to all customers, a ruling that is effective immediately for the company’s existing satellites, DigitalGlobe announced June 11. For DigitalGlobe’s newest and most capable satellite, slated to launch in August, the ruling will take effect six months after the craft is declared operational, the company said.

Previously, DigitalGlobe was not permitted to sell its sharpest satellite images to non-U.S. customers. Some of the company’s existing satellites can collect images at resolutions sharper than 50 centimeters, but prior to the ruling, it could only sell that information to the U.S. government. An image’s resolution, or ground sampling distance, roughly translates to the size of ground features that can be detected in the picture.

DigitalGlobe’s planned WorldView-3 satellite, which will feature a ground sampling distance of 31 centimeters, is slated for launch Aug. 13 or 14, the company said. For that satellite, “updated approvals” will permit DigitalGlobe to sell black-and-white images with 25-centimeter resolution, along with color images at 1-meter resolution, to all customers six months after it is declared operational. (6/11)

Astrotech Completes Internal Reorganization (Source: Astrotech)
Astrotech Corp. has completed an internal reorganization and will now own 100% of its subsidiary companies 1st Detect Corp. and Astrogenetix Inc., in which it had previously issued equity grants to employees. "The subsidiary equity grants were meant to incentivise our employees, however we found that it caused confusion and uncertainty among our shareholders, so we have now simplified our corporate structure." (6/11)

Two Giant Planets May Cruise Unseen Beyond Pluto (Source: New Scientist)
Just months after astronomers announced hints of a giant "Planet X" lurking beyond Pluto, a team in Spain says there may actually be two supersized planets hiding in the outer reaches of our solar system. When potential dwarf planet 2012 VP113 was discovered in March, it joined a handful of unusual rocky objects known to reside beyond the orbit of Pluto. These small objects have curiously aligned orbits, which hints that an unseen planet even further out is influencing their behavior.

Scientists calculated that this other world would be about 10 times the mass of Earth and would orbit at roughly 250 times Earth's distance from the sun. Now researchers have taken another look at these distant bodies. As well as confirming their bizarre orbital alignment, the pair found additional puzzling patterns. Small groups of the objects have very similar orbital paths. Because they are not massive enough to be tugging on each other, the researchers think the objects are being "shepherded" by a larger object. (6/11)

Sierra Nevada Adds Craig Technologies to Dream Chaser Dream Team (Source: SNC)
Sierra Nevada has selected Craig Technologies of Cape Canaveral to join its expanding list of 'Dream Team' organizations selected to support SNC's Dream Chaser program. Craig Technologies will provide multiple contracted products and services to SNC.

Craig Technologies' first contract is to work with SNC engineers to design and develop a critical part of the Ground Support Equipment (GSE) known as the cradle, a mechanical device used to lift, transport and rotate the Dream Chaser spacecraft during processing. (6/12)

No comments: