June 7, 2014

DIY Space Suit Chosen For Suborbital And Supersonic Flights (Source: Popular Science)
Tourists, no need to worry about picking an outfit for your suborbital flight—this flexible, comfortable suit has you covered. Final Frontier Design (FFD), a private design firm based in Brooklyn, has partnered with Starfighters Aerospace to further develop and optimize its 3G space suit for intra-vehicular activity (meaning launch, re-entry, and cabin activities) on Starfighters' F-104 supersonic jets that also fly suborbital missions. The sleek, single-layer 3G suit won a Popular Science Invention Award in 2013. Currently, Starfighters' jets only go on research and training sessions, but commercial flights aren't too far away.

Traveling to space was once an experience reserved for selected astronauts only. With Virgin Galactic recently cleared by the FAA for commercial space flights, a recreational trip to the vacuum is no longer an unreachable dream. But tourists, who pay big money for their tickets to space, have thus far had limited space suit options. Most modern suits are heavy, bulky, and expensive—about $200,000 each.

Since meeting at a 2007 astronaut glove design competition, costume fabricator Ted Southern and space-suit builder Nikolay Moiseev have worked together to build lightweight, reliable, and relatively cheap space suits for suborbital flights. The duo launched a Kickstarter campaign—successfully funded in July 2012—to help them complete a prototype for the 3G space suit, which has passed NASA's flight certification test. (6/6)

Senate Committee Offers Poison Pill for Commercial Crew (Source: Houston Chronicle)
If its language is approved by the full Senate, and reconciled with the U.S. House budget bill, the Senate's NASA appropriation bill would require Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada to provide detailed cost and financial information about their spacecraft. This represents a wholly new wrinkle in a contracting process NASA originally devised to allow private companies to develop spacecraft much more cheaply than they otherwise could have.

According to four-time astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, who heads up the Commercial Spaceflight Federation: "This was introduced by Senator Shelby, and to comply with this you have to have an infrastructure in place in your company to do that, which a company like Boeing certainly has, but SpaceX certainly does not have. More importantly if it became law on Oct. 1, and they hadn’t awarded the commercial crew contract by then, they would probably have to recompete it."

Re-issuing the contract would mean up to another year’s delay in the program, buying another six Soyuz seats from the Russians for half a billion dollars, not to mention the geopolitical implications. Shelby said the language was not intended to punish a company like SpaceX. “That’s not true,” he said. “We’re looking for transparency.” But Lopez-Alegria said: "It’s just inefficient. The whole idea behind the commercial crew program is to not do a lot of the stuff that we have traditionally done only because we have always done it that way. It would be nice to be a little forward leaning, and to save taxpayer money... It’s just bad policy. (6/6)

Space Contractors Fear Senate NASA Bill May Hamper Them (Source: Florida Today)
Advocates of commercial space companies say new language inserted in the Senate's version of a NASA funding bill would make it harder for companies to compete in the commercial crew program -- and delay the U.S. in its goal to stop relying on Russia to transport astronauts to space. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-AL, has created a provision that would require commercial crew contractors to adhere to what the industry says are cumbersome rules in traditional NASA contracts requiring the firms to give the government pricing and cost data. (6/5)

Why Safe Is Not An Option (Source: PJ Media)
As Rand Simberg explains, the culture of ) NASA is much more sclerotic than its 1960s-vintage “Right Stuff” era, in which the feats that put Man on the Moon in the space of a decade could never be repeated today. These days, as Rand notes, instead of treating astronauts like the military test pilots being assigned to orbit the earth, NASA considers them as being akin to “national treasures.” According to Simberg: “Safety Cannot Be The Highest Priority In NASA Spaceflight.” Click here. (6/6)

NASA Selects Minority University Teams for 2014 Microgravity Research Flights (Source: NASA)
NASA has selected 13 undergraduate teams from minority-serving institutions across the US to test their science experiments in microgravity conditions. The teams will travel on a Reduced Gravity Education Flight (RGEF) during the week of July 7. Editor's Note: Among the selected teams is one from the University of Miami. (6/6)

FAA Space Office Fares Better in Senate Appropriations Bill for FY2015 (Source: Space Policy Online)
The FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) gets its full FY2015 request of $16.605 million in the Senate Appropriations Committee's version of the FY2015 Transportation-HUD (T-HUD) appropriations bill. By comparison, the House committee approved a small cut. AST is responsible for facilitating and regulating the commercial space transportation industry. For the current fiscal year (FY2014), the office received $16.011 million. (6/6)

NASA Unfazed by Report Saying Current Path Won’t Reach Mars (Source: Space News)
A blue-ribbon panel’s finding that NASA is not on a path to put humans on Mars drew nods from space policy experts and a pair of influential lawmakers, but not so much as a flinch from the space agency, which somehow saw affirmation in the highly critical 300-page report.

Study co-chairmen Jonathan Lunine of Cornell and former OMB Director Mitch Daniels characterized NASA’s current capabilities-based approach — building destination-agnostic rockets and spacecraft suitable for numerous deep-space missions but optimized for none — as a dead end. Landing on Mars, the committee concluded, is the only mission that justifies the decades and hundreds of billions of dollars it will take to continue human exploration beyond low Earth orbit.  

NASA said “the NRC report complements NASA’s ongoing approach,” which the agency has been pursuing since 2010, the year after U.S. President Barack Obama assumed office. “We are pleased to find the NRC’s assessment and identification of compelling themes for human exploration are consistent with the bipartisan plan agreed to by Congress and the Administration in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 and that we have been implementing ever since,” NASA said in the statement. (6/6)

Would You Be Willing to Pay More Than 25 Cents a Year to Understand the Cosmos? (Source: LA Times)
 Now the study of "exoplanets" is a rich field of research that addresses fundamental questions surrounding our own origins. Much of that knowledge comes from telescopes in space. This priceless knowledge is a result of the dedicated effort of thousands of people over several decades. It could not have been achieved without the resources and forward-thinking mentality that NASA enables. Today, however, our country's political climate has put this groundbreaking work in jeopardy.

We estimated that NASA was operating many of its space science missions at a level that was below 2% of the initial construction and launch expenses. Standard management practice suggests that 10% of the initial construction cost is a reasonable annual budget for operating a facility. We had to work with a total of $75 million. That is what the government spends roughly every 10 minutes. It is less than a third of the L.A. Dodgers' payroll in 2014, and represents a contribution of a little less than 25 cents per American each year. (6/6)

Lockheed Back in the Game? (Source: Aviation Week)
With its focus on U.S. government programs, Lockheed Martin Space Systems (LMSS) Co. hasn't been a serious contender in the commercial satellite market for more than a decade. Well-known for its work on the Pentagon's AEHF, MUOS and SBIRS military communications missions, Lockheed recently lost its status as preferred satellite-builder for SKY Perfect JSAT when the Tokyo-based fleet operator selected rival Loral to build its next three JCSat communications birds.

Michael Hamel, a retired U.S. Air Force general who runs LMSS Co.'s Commercial Ventures unit, admits the company has lost ground to rival satellite manufacturers in the U.S. and abroad. But he says the division is planning a comeback, in part through a technical refresh of its venerable A2100 satellite bus, which will offer a more flexible and affordable platform that can be produced in less time. (6/6)

NASA's Prolific Kepler Begins New Search for Alien Worlds (Source: Space.com)
NASA's hobbled Kepler spacecraft is once again seeking out strange new worlds under a new 80-day mission to hunt for alien planets. NASA officials recently approved the new Kepler spacecraft mission (called K2) after the exoplanet-hunting space probe suffered a major malfunction last year. Two of Kepler's reaction wheels, which are used to keep the spacecraft precisely pointed in its orbit, failed, effectively ending the telescope's mission. Now, scientists are still using the spacecraft to search for distant worlds, albeit in a different way.

Because K2 missions will last about 80 days, a relatively short amount of time, some scientists want to hunt for alien planets orbiting a certain class of stars that are smaller and dimmer than the sun. The new mission could target planets around these dim stars (known as M dwarfs) because the orbital period of the planet is shorter, making it easier to see in the span of 80 days. (6/5)

Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser Takes Shape as a Real Space Taxi (Source: NBC)
Sierra Nevada Corp.'s Space Systems operation, headquartered in Colorado, is making progress on its winged Dream Chaser mini-shuttle. "We've had a busy few months," said Mark Sirangelo, head of SNC Space Systems. "The program is moving along quite rapidly." Last month, Sierra Nevada Corp. finished wind-tunnel testing for the Dream Chaser orbital design. "Getting all the aspects of wind tunnel testing done is about as close as you can come to flying in orbit," Sirangelo said. (6/6)

Solar Orbiter's Shield Takes Sun's Heat (Source: Space Daily)
ESA's Solar Orbiter mission has undergone its latest major test: its protective shield has been subjected to concentrated sunlight to prove it can cope with the fierce temperatures close in to our parent star. A 'structural-thermal' version of the craft's sunshield was recently exposed to an artificial Sun for two weeks in Europe's largest vacuum chamber at ESA's Technical Center in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. (6/5)

FCC Workshop on GPS Receivers Alarms GNSS Community (Source: Inside GNSS)
Leading navigation experts are worried an upcoming workshop on GPS receivers being organized by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is an attempt to initiate design mandates for user equipment that could potentially undermine the GNSS community.

“There is currently planned an FCC workshop that is going to, among other things, address certification and standards for receivers,” said Brad Parkinson, the acting chair of the National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) Advisory Board and a former chief of the NAVSTAR GPS Joint Program Office. (6/6)

Bolivia Receives China's Bidding to Build Satellite (Source: Xinhua)
The Bolivian Space Agency (ABE) said Thursday that it has received a bidding from China to build an exploration satellite for the country, which would be Bolivia's second satellite. Bolivia's first communications satellite, made by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), was launched on Dec. 21 last year.

ABE Director Ivan Zambrana told reporters that six transnational firms from China, Russia, France, England, Spain and the United States have formally expressed their interest in making an exploration satellite for Bolivia. The satellite would carry out territorial surveys including soil studies and natural resources explorations, such as water and minerals that are near the earth's surface. (6/5)

Eutelsat Chief Worried About Glut of National Telecom Satellites (Source: Space News)
The proliferation of national telecommunications satellites in Africa, Asia and Latin America is a waste of resources that will introduce unhealthy pressure on the global satellite industry, Eutelsat Chief Executive Michel de Rosen said. He said some nations are buying telecommunications satellites as if they were high-end sports cars.

“Satellites are considered as prestigious,” de Rosen said. “Some countries are tempted to have their own satellites. This is a waste of money, of spectrum resources, of energy and it creates unfair and unnecessary competition for the other satellites.” Recognizing that it is powerless to stop the trend, Eutelsat — the world’s third-largest commercial fleet operator by revenue — has struck partnerships with Nilesat of Egypt, Turkey’s Turksat and, more recently, with the government of Afghanistan, which has signaled that it, too, wants its own telecommunications satellite. (6/6)

Want to Design a Mars Base for NASA? Now's Your Chance (Source: WIRED)
Makerbot has launched a competition tailored for you then, in collaboration with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory: MakerBot Mars Base Challenge. It wants you to deliver inspiration for a human base on Mars, considering future visitors will have to combat extreme temperatures, radiation spikes, dust storms and the whole you-can't-breath-on-Mars thing.

The task is to design, with all these considerations in mind, "a utilitarian Mars base that can withstand the elements and maybe even make you feel at home, despite being 140 million miles away from Earth, on average". And if you win, they'll give you a MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer. Click here. (6/6)

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