July 2, 2014

Rockets' Red Tape (Source: Houston Chronicle)
It feels as if NASA is on the precipice of yielding low-Earth orbit transportation to the private sector, allowing the government agency to focus on new missions. But not everyone is happy about this partnership. U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., wants to drag companies like SpaceX back to Earth and force them to comply with NASA's usual regulatory paperwork. This idea threatens to kill the goose that could lay the golden egg.

Under the current Commercial Crew Development program, SpaceX contracts with NASA for a flat payment. If SpaceX comes in under cost, it gets to keep the profit. If it goes over budget, SpaceX has to make up the difference. This system gives SpaceX more flexibility to operate as it sees fit.

Shelby has inserted language in a Senate appropriations bill that would instead force SpaceX to work on NASA's old cost-plus model. This would require the private company to track every step of its development, assign a cost to those steps and charge it to NASA, plus an additional fee. This stilted payment model forces engineers to be accountants and removes disincentives for bloated budgets. (7/2)

U.S. Air Force Seeks Dismissal of SpaceX Suit (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Air Force has asked a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit by SpaceX claiming that the service improperly awarded an $11 billion rocket deal to ULA. SpaceX’s amended complaint claims the Air Force did not provide the proper pricing data on the Russian-made RD-180 engine. Additionally, SpaceX now claims the Air Force may have shut the company out of potential business when it placed an order earlier than usual for the rocket needed to launch a GPS 3 satellite not slated to launch until 2017.

In its June 30 filing, the Air Force said SpaceX lost its right to protest the ULA block-buy by not challenging the contract award sooner. “The reason that it did not protest is obvious,” the Air Force said. “At the time the solicitation was issued, SpaceX had not completed the necessary certifying flights for its Falcon 9 rocket; it was very far from having a launch vehicle that could meet the agency’s requirements.” (7/1)

We Will Know the Extraterrestrials by Their Trash (Source: Air & Space)
Ateam of researchers has added a new term to the lexicon of geology: plastiglomerate. On a remote beach on the Hawaiian Big Island, they discovered 167 fragments, ranging in size between 2 centimeters and 22.5 centimeters, of a previously unnamed kind of rock: melted plastic mixed with basalt rocks, sand, wood chips, charcoal and other material. The conglomerate formed when people went to the beach and made fire, which melted plastic that adhered to basalt rocks, sand, coral pieces and other natural objects to form “plastic stones.”

What bearing does this have on the search for extraterrestrial life? Since plastic decays very slowly, it could conceivably be used as a geological marker of a technologically advanced civilization. On Earth, this anthropogenic material has potential as a geological marker for the Anthropocene era, when human activity began to have a significant impact on the environment.  Since microbes degrade most plastics very slowly (and some not at all), these plastic rocks on Earth could be preserved for at least 10,000 years, and probably much longer, up to millions of years.

If we were to detect such a geological marker on another planet, it might reveal much about the civilization that left it. In principal, any compound not found in natural minerals might be useful as a biomarker. Plastics are inert in nearly every type of conceivable life-bearing environment, especially if they are covered by sediments and rocks that protect them from UV irradiation. (7/1)

Eureka! Kola Fireball Meteorites Found in Russia (Source: Universe Today)
A spectacular fireball that crackled across the sky near the Russia-Finnish border on April 19th this year left more than a bright flash. A team of meteor researchers from Finland, Russia and the Czech Republic scoured the predicted impact zone and recently discovered extraterrestrial booty. Click here. (7/1)

Ohio Brewery Launches 'Spacewalker' Beer to Honor State's Astronauts (Source: CollectSpace)
The oldest microbrewery in Ohio is tapping into the state's connection to space history to offer a "bold yet balanced" tribute to the Buckeye astronauts. Great Lakes Brewing Company this week is launching its new Seasonal, "Spacewalker American Belgo," a Belgian-style ale.

"Perhaps one of space's great mysteries is why so many of its explorers hail from Ohio," the Cleveland beer-maker wrote in its introduction to "Spacewalker" on its label. "In honor of the 25 courageous astronauts who've called Ohio their terrestrial home, and the nine Ohio men and women who have logged hours walking in space, we present this adventurous brew." (7/1)

HISPASAT Picks Loral to Build Satellite (Source: HISPASAT)
HISPASAT has chosen Space Systems/Loral (SSL) to produce the Hispasat 1F, to be located at orbital position 30ยบ West. The Hispasat 1F will serve as a replacement for the Hispasat 1D and will give the Group additional Ku band capacity, in the Andean region and in Brazil. Likewise, the Hispasat 1F will expand the Group’s transatlantic capacity in Europe-America and America-Europe connectivity. (7/1)

Hubble Finds Worlds Beyond Pluto (and Looks for More) (Source: NBC)
Astronomers say they've discovered two icy mini-worlds in the Kuiper Belt on the solar system's edge — just two weeks after they started using the Hubble Space Telescope to look. The fast-track discoveries, based on imagery collected on June 24, led NASA to give the go-ahead for a more intensive search for Kuiper Belt objects. The goal is to identify an object that NASA's New Horizons spacecraft could observe up close after it flies by Pluto. The Pluto encounter is due to take place on July 14, 2015, and the second encounter is expected to occur three or four years later. (7/2)

Wallops Suborbital Rocket Splashes Down After Anomaly (Source: Virginian-Pilot)
A Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket launched from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility this morning, but the flight ended about 19 seconds later. Controllers detected an anomaly with the second stage motor and the rocket flew to an altitude of 27,000 feet before splashing down about one nautical mile downrange, according to the space agency.

No injuries or property damage were reported. The rocket landed in the hazard zone that had been established and cleared before the launch. The rocket was expected to soar about 85 miles before splashing down about 54 miles out into the Atlantic Ocean. (7/2)

Rokot With 3 Communication Satellites to Launch From Plesetsk on July 3 (Source: Itar-Tass)
The Rokot rocket built at the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center will be launched into space from Plesetsk cosmodrome on July 3. The rocket, which belongs to a light class of carrier rockets, will take into orbit three Gonets communication satellites, which will enlarge the Russian Gonets system to ten satellites. The Gonets satellite system is intended for establishing communication and transmitting various data, including coordinates and temperature parameters provided by the satellite communication system GLONASS. (7/2)

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