July 16, 2014

UK to Enter the Space Tourism Race (Source: Mashable)
The British government wants to build a dedicated base for space travel, and it plans to launch in 2018. Six of the eight suggested locations for the UK spaceport are in Scotland. "Scotland has a proud association with space exploration," Danny Alexander said. "We celebrated Neil Armstrong's Scottish ancestry when he became the first man on the moon, and only last week an amazing Scottish company was responsible for building the UK Space Agency's first satellite."

UK Business Secretary Vince Cable said the space sector was thriving; according to government data, it is the fastest growing sector in the entire UK. "This week we will announce the next steps for this country's space race, outlining how we will take one giant leap towards establishing the first British spaceport by 2018 - making the UK the place for space," Cable said. (7/14)

Indiana Governor Promotes Indiana's Aerospace Sector (Source Journal Gazette)
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is promoting his state's aerospace industry at the Farnborough Air Show, where he spoke about the sector at an Aerospace Industries Association-sponsored panel and met with executives from companies such as Raytheon, which operates facilities in the state. "We had dozens of good conversations, some with companies that already have a strong presence in Indiana and others looking for a place to grow," said Pence. (7/16)

At Farnborough, Alabama Universities Play Role in Aerospace Talks (Source: Made in Alabama)
Team Alabama’s secret weapon at the Farnborough International Airshow is the state’s education community, which has played a strong supporting role in efforts to recruit new aerospace investment and jobs at the industry’s global trade event. Representatives from the University of Alabama, UAH, and Auburn University participated in rounds of company meetings, as did Dr. Mark Heinrich, chancellor of the Alabama Community College System, which is deeply involved in workforce development programs. (7/16)

Space Station Deserves Nobel Peace Prize (Source: Moscow Times)
Over the past several months, we have witnessed an almost major collapse in bilateral relations between Russia and the U.S., seemingly throwing to the wind more than 20 years of modest but quantifiable rapprochement between these powerful and once bitter enemies.

The Nobel Committee, which will award the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize in October, should look closely at the contribution each candidate makes toward the easing of tensions between Russia and the West when choosing this year's winner. One candidate in particular has contributed more toward these ends than any other nominee: the International Space Station partnership. (7/16)

One Small Step, 45 Years Later (Source: Space.com)
NASA is poised to mark the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing, the first time humans touched the surface of the moon. The space agency is celebrating the milestone with events that begin Friday and which include conversations with Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the renaming of a Kennedy Space Center building for Neil Armstrong and even a panel discussion at Comic-Con International in San Diego. (7/15)

The Strange History of NASA's First Lunar Simulators (Source: Motherboard)
How do you prepare to land on the surface of the moon when no one has ever been to the moon before? You use a flight simulator, of course. But it's 1961, and computer flight simulators don't exist yet, so you do what engineers at NASA did and build the ultimate dark ride: an analog flight simulator called Project LOLA, or Lunar Orbit and Landing Approach, at the Langley Space Center. Click here. (7/16)

New Venus NASA Missions Could Lift Planet's Hellish Veil (Source: Forbes)
If Mars is mysterious, Venus is truly scary. Long called Earth’s twin, it’s only four months away via unmanned probe and lies more than 70 percent of Earth’s distance from the Sun. But with surface pressures and temperatures high enough to melt lead and crush steel, why is Venus so hauntingly different from Earth? And when did it go bad?

“Venus and Earth are virtually identical twins; they’re almost the same size,” said Robert Herrick, a planetary geophysicist at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. “But  Venus is completely uninhabitable; we really don’t understand how that dichotomy came about.”

One of a handful of potential Venus mission proposals — each vying for a slot in NASA’s Discovery-class mission program — could help clear up Venus’ remaining mysteries. A proposed VASE (Venus Atmosphere and Surface Explorer) mission might skim the clouds and on a final landing even get data from the surface, says Mark Bullock, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, and a VASE definition team member. (7/15)

Life on Europa? NASA Wiil Put $25 Million Toward Quest (Source: NBC)
NASA says it's setting aside $25 million for designing scientific instruments to address questions about the habitability of Europa, an ice-covered moon of Jupiter. Europa is thought to have a hidden ocean that could sustain life. The agency's announcement of opportunity calls for scientists to propose experiments for a Europa probe that could be launched in the 2020s. Next year, about 20 proposals will be chosen to receive shares of the $25 million for further study. (7/16)

UK-FAA Axis Looks to Nail Space Tourism Regulation (Source: Flight Global)
The UK is laying the groundwork for a commercial space transportation industry by opening a consultation on a site for a possible spaceport and looking across the Atlantic for guidance on how to regulate the nascent business of ferrying passengers to space. An agreement signed at Farnborough on Tuesday between the US FAA, the UK Civil Aviation Authority and the UK Space Agency will see the parties share ideas about how to ensure operations are safe without keeping companies Earth-bound with excessive regulation. (7/16)

Scotland Spaceport Funding Jeopardized by Independence (Source: The Times)
Space has become the final frontier in the battle for Scottish independence, following a UK government announcement that six of the eight leading contenders for the country’s first “spaceport” are north of the border. Campbeltown, Prestwick and Stornoway join Leuchars, Lossiemouth and Kinloss as potential venues for the launchpad, which could be commissioned within four years. Click here. (7/16)

UK to Enter the Space Tourism Race (Source: Mashable)
The British government wants to build a dedicated base for space travel, and it plans to launch in 2018. Six of the eight suggested locations for the UK spaceport are in Scotland. "Scotland has a proud association with space exploration," Danny Alexander said. "We celebrated Neil Armstrong's Scottish ancestry when he became the first man on the moon, and only last week an amazing Scottish company was responsible for building the UK Space Agency's first satellite."

UK Business Secretary Vince Cable said the space sector was thriving; according to government data, it is the fastest growing sector in the entire UK. "This week we will announce the next steps for this country's space race, outlining how we will take one giant leap towards establishing the first British spaceport by 2018 - making the UK the place for space," Cable said. (7/14)

National Space Society Calls For Less Dependence On Russian Space Tech (Source: SpaceRef)
The National Space Society (NSS) strongly recommends that Congress fully support the Commercial Crew program in order to restore independent access to the International Space Station (ISS), prepare to operate the ISS without Russian support, again make low-cost access to space a primary goal of U.S. space policy, and avoid replacing the RD-180 engine manufactured in Russia with a single new engine funded via cost-plus development.

NSS recommends that Congress should maintain competition among Commercial Crew providers while avoiding the imposition of additional contractual obstacles to this program. The U.S. must be self-sufficient in rocket engines for critical functions, both civilian and military. If Congress and the Administration decide a new rocket engine program is justified to replace the RD-180 (currently used in the Atlas V), it must result in multiple prototype liquid fueled hydrocarbon rocket engine development winners to promote competition and innovation and stimulate the entire U.S. aerospace industrial base. (7/15)

SpaceX Land Buys Grow in South Texas (Source: Valley Morning Star)
On the eve of the FAA’s decision to support SpaceX’s proposal to launch rockets from Cameron County, Elon Musk’s space exploration firm wrapped up the purchase of an additional 50 acres of land, public records show. The purchase from private landowners was officially filed in the public record July 8, one day before the FAA issued its Record of Decision to support the issuance of launch licenses that would allow Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies to launch the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy orbital vertical rockets from the proposed private spaceport at Boca Chica Beach. (7/15)

Senate Could Hand SpaceX A Monopoly In Military Satellite Launches (Source: Forbes)
Up until last week, only one provider of launch services was certified by the Air Force to loft military satellites into orbit. ULA has enjoyed a de facto monopoly since its founding in 2006.  Elon Musk says this arrangement invites abuse, and is trying to overturn a 2012 sole-source award of 36 rocket cores to ULA. However, if the Senate Armed Services Committee has its way, that monopoly could soon belong to SpaceX.

SpaceX disclosed last week that it has cleared a key hurdle in the certification process, and meanwhile the Senate panel has drafted language that would effectively bar ULA from the military launch market. The language is in Section 1623 of the Senate's 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, and almost nobody seems to grasp its significance. What it says is that DOD may not enter into a new contract or renew an existing contract under the EELV program with any person “if that person purchases supplies critical for space launch activities covered by the contract from a Russian entity.”

The provision was approved by the full committee to punish Russia for its annexation of Crimea, and it most certainly would do that. However, if actually signed into law, it would claim other casualties too. It would clearly ban further use of the Atlas launch vehicle. In addition, though, ULA would also be precluded from offering its Delta rockets, because its contract for 36 launches relies partly on Russian launch technology. (7/16)

Senate Subcommittee Takes Stand For SpaceX (Source: Breaking Defense)
subcommittee chairman Richard Durbin was unequivocal in his support for SpaceX, the upstart start-up with ambitions to challenge aerospace giants Lockheed Martin and Boeing for contracts to launch Air Force and spy agency satellites. Cost per launch has skyrocketed in recent years, and Durbin blamed that on the lack of competition, since Boeing and Lockheed have formed a single United Launch Alliance. SpaceX insists they can offer an alternative, so “let’s give them the chance,” Durbin said.

So the bill adds $125 million to speed up certification of any qualified vendor, e.g. SpaceX, a key step where the Air Force has been lagging. It also ramps up competition for an alternative rocket engine — “I hope that it’s an American alternative,” Durbin told reporters — to replace the Russian-made RD-180 on which the Boeing-Lockheed rocket currently relies, which recent events have made geopolitically more than a little awkward. (7/15)

GAO: Acquisition Best Practices Can Benefit Future Launch Efforts (Source: GAO)
The EELV program is the primary provider of launch vehicles for U.S. military and intelligence satellites. The DOD expects to spend about $9.5 billion over the next five years acquiring launch hardware and services through the program, during which time it will also be working to certify new launch providers. This investment represents a significant amount of what the entire U.S. government expects to spend on launch activities for the same period. 

In 2008, GAO reported that when the Department of Defense (DOD) moved the EELV program from the research and development phase to the sustainment phase in the previous year, DOD eliminated various reporting requirements that would have provided useful oversight to program officials and the Congress. In 2011, GAO reported that the block buy acquisition approach may be based on incomplete information and although DOD was still gathering data as it finalized the new acquisition strategy, some critical knowledge gaps remained. Click here. (7/16)

DOD Official Defends EELV Block Buy, Endorses Launch Competition (Source: Space Politcs)
While the Senate gears up for a joint hearing Wednesday on space access, some members of the House Armed Services Committee used a July 10 hearing on Defense Department acquisitions issues to grill a top Pentagon official on the topic of the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV).

“We don’t seem to be as encouraging of competition in this area as I would think we should be,” said Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), ranking member of the full committee, referring to the EELV program and the “block buy” contract the Air Force awarded United Launch Alliance (ULA). “It seems to be an incumbent bias there that is robbing us, in some instances, of innovation from new companies and new technologies.”

Frank Kendall, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, told Smith that he supported competition, and arranged the block buy to set aside a number of launches, originally 14, that would be competed. “Since then, because of a combination of budget changes, and increased lifetime of some of our satellites, some of those launches have slipped,” he acknowledged. “We still plan to compete them, we’re just going to compete them later than we originally intended.” (7/15)

Colorado Reps Push NASA for Transparency on SpaceX (Source: Transterrestrial Musings)
 Colorado Congressmen Coy Gardner and Mike Coffman sent a letter to the NASA Administrator expressing strong concerns over anomalies that have occurred on taxpayer-funded space launch vehicles, and the lack of public disclosure or transparency of these anomalies. The letter expresses concern over an epidemic of anomalies that have occurred during SpaceX launches or launch attempts, and communicates frustrations with NASA’s refusal to provide insight into those mishaps.

"We request that NASA publicly release all anomalies and mishap information, un-redacted, so that Congress can gain a better understanding of what has occurred and ensure full transparency. Because the development of the vehicles and capsule in question were funded by NASA dollars, we request that you provide Congress with the information you have on the various aspects of risk and reliability from these programs, including contractual, management, technical, manufacturing, cost, schedule and safety," wrote Coffman and Gardner.

According to recent news reports, SpaceX launch attempts have resulted in wide ranging problems, including multiple helium leaks, loss of capsule control, multiple thruster issues, avionics issues, capsule contamination issues, and three consecutive seawater intrusions on ISS Cargo Resupply (CRS) missions. SpaceX contracted or planned 24 Falcon 9 flights for its NASA, DOD and commercial customers through 2013 and flew seven. They list approximately 30 flights for this year and next, yet have only flown three times. (7/15)

SpaceX, Orbital Sciences Celebrate Successful Space Launches (Source: CBS)
Two private space launches in two days -- one by Orbital Sciences and one by SpaceX -- have sent an unmanned cargo ship on its way to the International Space Station and boosted multiple communications satellites into orbit. Click here. (7/14)

Orbital's Cygnus Spacecraft Successfully Berths with Space Station (Source: SpaceRef)
Orbital Sciences Corporation (ORB), one of the world’s leading space technology companies, today announced that its Cygnus cargo logistics spacecraft successfully completed its rendezvous and approach maneuvers with the International Space Station (ISS) and was grappled and berthed with the Station by the Expedition 40 astronaut crew earlier this morning.

After Cygnus was launched into orbit by Orbital’s Antares rocket on Sunday, July 13, from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in eastern Virginia, it completed a series of thruster firings and other maneuvers bringing the spacecraft in close proximity to the ISS. Final approach to the Station began at about 3:00 a.m. (EDT) this morning, culminating with the Station’s robotic arm grappling the spacecraft at 6:36 a.m. (7/16)

ESA's Spaceplane Set for Flight (Source: ESA)
All eyes are on ESA’s spaceplane to showcase reentry technologies after its unconventional launch on a Vega rocket this November. Instead of heading north into a polar orbit – as on previous flights – Vega will head eastwards to release the spaceplane into a suborbital path reaching all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Engineers are forging ahead with the final tests on ESA’s Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle, IXV, to check that it can withstand the demanding conditions from liftoff to separation from Vega. (7/16)

Astronaut: Public Doesn't Believe NASA Exists (Source: UT San Diego)
Chris Cassidy, a former Navy SEAL who went on to become a shuttle astronaut and a flight engineer on the International Space Station, says that the end of the shuttle program has led many people to assume that NASA is no longer in business.

“I go to a lot of communities around the country and a lot of people think that NASA doesn’t even exist anymore because the space shuttle was retired a couple of years ago," Cassidy said. "We have to beat the drum loud and clear and say, no, we’re doing good things, we’re doing science, we’re on the space station, and we’ve got this plan to get ourselves out of low earth orbit.” (7/15)

NASA Langley Shows Off Space-Age Technology (Source: Daily Press)
Eight-year-old Ava Paul of Charlottesville was trying to land a spaceship safely on a planet, presumably this one. She studied the iPad on the tabletop, tapping it here and there, as the animated spacecraft dropped out of orbit and deployed an inflatable heat shield shaped like a giant mushroom cap that plowed its way through the atmosphere. A real version of the heat shield was inflated beside the table, towering over her. (7/16)

MDA Announces Strategic Acquisition in the United States (Source: MDA)
MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA) announced that MDA Information Systems LLC has signed a definitive agreement to acquire a business that includes radar and other information sensors used for national security purposes. This business will significantly strengthen MDA’s ability to pursue future surveillance and intelligence programs in the U.S.
“One of our long-term strategic objectives is to expand our presence in the U.S. surveillance market, and in particular, to increase our radar information and systems related business, said Daniel Friedmann, MDA’s CEO. “We believe that the unique radar information processing capability we are adding through this acquisition, together with SSL’s large space program capability, provide us with a strong platform to pursue this objective.”
The acquired business has approximately 170 employees and generates annual revenues of approximately US$40 million. This business will become part of MDA Information Systems LLC, located in Gaithersburg, MD. The terms and value of the agreement have not been disclosed. (7/14)

Japan Plans to Land Probe on Moon (Source: Japan News)
To investigate the possibility of finding resources on the moon, the government intends to start a full-fledged project to land an unmanned probe on the surface, sources said. Aiming to launch the probe in fiscal 2019, the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry plans to include the relevant expenses in the budget request for fiscal 2015, according to the sources.

Within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, there are opinions that landing a probe on the moon would inspire the Japanese public and keep the nation from falling behind China. JAXA faces several technical development challenges: The probe has to be able to land on the exact place as planned; an exploration rover has to be designed so it can smoothly run on the bumpy lunar surface; a battery will be needed that can store as much power as possible. (7/15)

Russian GLONASS to Boost Yield Capacity by 50% (Source: RIA Novosti)
Deployment of GLONASS satellite navigation systems to the BRICS states is very promising, the technologies allow to boost yield capacity up to 50 percent, Russian President Vladimir Putin said at the plenary session of the BRICS summit Tuesday. BRICS countries include Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. (7/16)

US Refusal to Host GLONASS Base a Form of Competition with Russia (Source: RIA Novosti)
The refusal by the United States to place base stations for Russia’s GLONASS satellite navigation system on its territory is a form of competition, explained by Washington's fear of losing market monopoly enjoyed by its own GPS system, said Ilya Rogachev, director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s department of new challenges and threats. (7/16)

With No Laundry in Space, NASA Trying to Make Clothes That Don't Get Smelly (Source: Smithsonian)
There is no washer or dryer on board the Space Station; no cosmic laundromat waiting to take astronauts' quarters each Saturday morning. So when astronauts are done wearing their clothes, they throw them out. They pack their soiled undies into an old spaceship and shoot it into the Earth's atmosphere where it burns up into dust. Astronauts aboard the ISS have hefty closets to match this rockstar way of living: a crew of six goes through 900 pounds of clothing each year.

Before the dirty laundry can be ejected into space, it has a tendency to pile up. According to NASA, all of these dirty garments can cause storage and weight problems, and lint from cotton fibres can clog filters. Then, there's the smell. A new NASA study is looking to reduce the amount of clothing waste by extending the amount of time astronauts' garments can be worn. As part of the study, ISS crew members are being provided with exercise clothing that's been treated with an antimicrobial compound, or made with antimicrobial yarn. (7/14)

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