July 26, 2014

Gamers Hope 'Space Jam' Hits Reset Button for Enthusiasm (Source: Florida Today)
With Internet entrepreneurs driving spaceflight innovation in recent years, perhaps it's fitting that a local game developer should lead a push to revive what he sees as Central Florida's waning interest in space. This weekend, more than 100 gaming and aerospace enthusiasts, from programmers to artists, will gather at the Orlando Science Center for the Indie Galactic Space Jam, an event challenging them to create space-related video games within 48 hours.

"Gaming is one of best ways to engage with people, to educate people," said Jam organizer Kunal Patel, president of Orlando-based gaming studio Phyken Media. "There's a chance for the space industry and the gaming industry to become better friends, and I think it could help everybody." The Space Jam idea grew out of his concern that excitement about space was waning in Central Florida, especially since NASA retired the shuttle program in 2011.

"Of the space [programs] that I do find exciting, it seems like it's happening elsewhere, it seems like it's happening in the West, in California or New Mexico or Colorado, all these cool companies that I think are doing amazing things," said Patel. "But I kind of felt like, the Central Florida area is rich in talent, why doesn't it happen here?" (7/25)

America’s Top Threats in Space Are Lasers and Nukes (Source: Defense One)
The U.S. thought it won the space race long ago, but no victory lasts forever. On Tuesday, Gen. William Shelton, the commander of Air Force Space Command, speaking at the Atlantic Council, said that U.S. dominance in space will be confronted by some real threats in the years ahead. When Defense One asked what those threats might consist of specifically, he replied jammers, lasers and tactical space nukes.

The nature of these threats hasn’t evolved much since the publication of this 2001 report by the Commission to Assess Untied States National Security Space Management and Organization, chaired by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. One of the chief findings of the commission was that U.S. reliance on space was going to grow—making U.S. satellites and space assets an increasingly attractive target for those who mean us harm. But while the threats themselves haven’t changed in some 13 years, the technology behind them has made some more likely. Click here. (7/24)

Pentagon Funding Request Would Boost Competition in Satellite Launching (Source: Space News)
The DOD wants to reprogram money this year to boost the number of competitively awarded contracts under its primary satellite launching program, but a senior Air Force official expressed reservations about including an aging weather satellite in the pool of candidate payloads. In a 2014 reprogramming request sent to Congress July 10, the Pentagon asked for $100 million to support an eighth competitive satellite launch under its Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program. It is unclear where that money would be drawn from. (7/25)

Why SpaceX Still Can’t Launch Military Satellites: The ’90s. (Source: Washington Post)
The Air Force's focus on "mission assurance" means it places a lot of scrutiny on the engineering practices of suppliers. To understand why, a brief history lesson is in order -- one that will take us all the way back to the late 1990's, when the U.S. space industry suffered a string of major launch failures.

"Between '97 to '99 we had significant failures both on the military and on the commercial side," Air Force Space Commander William Shelton said during a hearing on maintaining U.S. access to space. That disastrous string included three failed military launches that lost payloads totaling over $3 billion and two civilian launch failures.

In response, President Clinton asked for an inquiry into the sources of the issue, which was carried out by former Air Force chief of staff General Larry Welch. The resulting broad area review reports blamed much of the problem on mishaps related to contractor work, saying "factory-introduced engineering and workmanship errors predominate." The review recommended the government tighten its oversight of the U.S. launch industry, enhancing partnerships and establishing clear accountability for mission success going forward. (7/25)

SpaceX Reduces Headcount, But Aims To Expand Net Employment This Year (Source: Forbes)
SpaceX is having a little bit of a shakeup in its workforce this week, having let go of some employees after a series of performance reviews and restructuring, but the company is still looking to expand its workforce. Over the past couple of days, reddit and other space enthusiast forums have been buzzing over the news of rumored layoffs at SpaceX, with some estimates going as high as 10%. As is frequently the case, though, the rumor doesn’t appear to match up to reality.

“I can tell you that there was an annual review cycle completed recently, along with some rebalancing of resources. Our resulting headcount reduction was less than 5 percent. SpaceX expects to see net positive employee growth in 2014 of approximately 20 percent.” (7/25)

Thermal Images of SpaceX Booster Flyback Elude NASA (Source: Space News)
When the Falcon 9 first stage used to loft six Orbcomm satellites made a soft landing in the Atlantic Ocean after launch July 14, SpaceX was not the only one watching. NASA too had eyes on the falling booster, hoping to snap some infrared images of its engines relighting as the rocket stage screamed back to Earth at supersonic speeds. Reconnaissance like that, the agency maintains, could provide valuable insight into the propulsive landing of massive payloads — something essential for putting humans on Mars one day.

NASA, which was watching Falcon 9’s landing spot in the Atlantic from a Martin WB-57 twin-jet airplane, was not as lucky. The crew aboard the NASA-operated aircraft, circling about 15 kilometers above the expected splash zone, caught sight of the Falcon 9 as it ascended, and of the first stage as it plummeted toward the ocean, but was unable to get a good shot of the descending stage’s first engine burn. (7/25)

Rockwell Collins Sells Military Ground-Based Satcomm Portfolio (Source: Rockwell Collins)
Rockwell Collins, Inc. (COL) today announced it has completed the sale of its satellite communications business. The business, which designs, manufactures and services ground-based satellite communication systems primarily for military customers, will be renamed DataPath, Inc. (7/25)

SES Plans New Satellite; Pledges To Keep Lid on Spending (Source: Space News)
Satellite fleet operator SES on July 25 said it ordered its first high-throughput satellite because it was unable to provide optimal service to certain government and mobility customers with a conventional wide-beam satellite. As a result, the SES-12 satellite, recently ordered from Airbus Defense and Space, and scheduled for launch in late 2017 to SES’s 95 degrees east slot covering the Asia-Pacific region, will have 14 gigahertz of spot-beam capacity — 70 Ku-band beams and 11 Ka-band beams.

Sabbagh also pledged that SES will resist making any capital investments in new satellites beyond what is currently outlined in the company’s plans to 2018. After several years of high spending on new satellites, especially over Latin America and Asia, SES is now committed to keeping annual spending to around 450 million euros ($612 million), for a total of 2.3 billion euros between 2014 and 2018. (7/25)

Thales Claims Satellite Profit Advantage over Rival Airbus (Source: Space News)
Thales Group Chief Executive Jean-Bernard Levy said the company’s majority-owned satellite manufacturer, Thales Alenia Space, now sells commercial telecommunications satellites more profitably than competitor Airbus Defence and Space and that Thales’ Earth observation business also books “quite attractive” operating margins. (7/25)

Surrey Selects Five Payloads for 2016 Ride-Share Mission (Source: Via Satellite)
Surrey Satellite Technology US has decided on five payloads to carry on the company’s Orbital Test Bed (OTB) mission in 2016. Using the SSTL-150 satellite bus, the OTB provides a means to test and space-qualify new technology in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Click here. (7/25)

Mining the Moon? Space Property Rights Still Unclear, Experts Say (Source: Space.com)
As the world celebrates the 45th anniversary of Apollo 11's giant leap to the moon, some people are eyeing the celestial body's bounty of resources. But it's unclear at the moment who is allowed to extract and profit from the moon's resources, leading to a growing debate within scientific, entrepreneurial and policy circles — a debate made more lively and complicated by the changing landscape of stakeholders in space. Click here. (7/25)

Listening in on Cosmic Messages (Source: Science News)
When astronomy writer Christopher Crockett describes what a fast radio burst is like, he offers a whistle that swoops in pitch from high to low. He is quick to explain, though, that the eight mysterious pulses detected by two radio telescopes are actually not sounds at all. Fast radio bursts are light waves in the radio frequency range of the electromagnetic spectrum that appear to have journeyed from other galaxies. And, as Crockett explores in his story "Searching for distant signals," these unexplained signals may be trying to tell us something. Click here. (7/26)

UFOs and Beyond: Apollo 14 Astronaut Ed Mitchell Is Looking Up (Source: NBC)
Apollo 14 moonwalker Edgar Mitchell may be the only astronaut to conduct an ESP experiment in space, or openly state that extraterrestrials could theoretically live on the moon. But when historians look back at the Apollo moon effort a thousand years from now, Mitchell wants to be remembered for the down-to-Earth attitude he took toward his assigned task on the moon.

Mitchell argues that Apollo 14 marked the transition from just proving humans could make it to the moon, to conducting a rigorous scientific program to characterize the lunar surface. Mitchell and his commander, Alan Shepard, brought back 94 pounds of moon rocks from the Fra Mauro formation, including a famous 20-pounder that was nicknamed "Big Bertha." (7/25)

Stable Contact Established with Photon Satellite (Source: Itar-Tass)
Stable contact was established with the Photon-M satellite, Roscosmos head Oleg Ostapenko said. Contact with the satellite was lost on July 24.Contact was re-established, and planned work with the satellite was underway, he added. When asked about causes of the halt, Ostapenko said there were several versions under consideration. It was early to say something definite. It was being analyzed, he said. (7/26)

Saving Two American Astronauts From Russian Blackmail (Source: Daily Caller)
Sadly, today NASA cannot put men into space without Russian cooperation and hasn’t done so for years. The United States lacks the manned spaceflight capability to resupply and visit the ISS for the first time since 1961. Currently, two Americans, Gregory Reid Wiseman and Steven Ray Swanson, and one German, Alexander Gerst, are stranded on the International Space Station with three Russians. Effectively, the Russian Federation is holding the astronauts hostage.

NASA today doesn’t have the incentive to pursue its primary mission of exploration and scientific inquiry. It is much more concerned with “Muslim Outreach.” So how can we return the two astronauts to Earth without Russian help and continue mankind’s expansion into space? As usual, the American private sector has shown that it can do what the American government cannot. SpaceX, the brainchild of PayPal co-founder Elon Musk, has answered with the Falcon 9/Dragon space launch system. Click here.

Editor's Note: Hostages? And again with the Muslim outreach schlock? At least this conservative piece isn't taking the usual potshots at commercial space while lamenting President Obama's ill-advised cancelation of Constellation...though it does criticize the administration for putting too much NASA money toward environmental sciences. (7/25)

Newt Gingrich’s Space Nightmare Almost Came True in 2012 (Source: National Journal)
The apocalypse that almost happened went under the radar for two years. This week, a chilling NASA report details how civilization as we know it nearly ended back in 2012, when a super-powerful solar flare missed Earth by a tiny margin. It's the type of flare the EMP Coalition has warned about for years, powerful enough to zap all of Earth's electronics and send us back to the Stone Age.

And since no one remembers how to live without electricity, the group thinks 90 percent of us would be dead within a year. The coalition, which counts Newt Gingrich among its members, wants to warn about the danger of electromagnetic pulses and their threat to the grid. Not everyone is convinced a solar flare could take out power worldwide. In 2008, the National Academy of Sciences conducted a study modeled on a flare about two-thirds as powerful as the one that hit in 2012. While still dire, it predicted power loss for only 130 million people. An event on the order of the 2012 pulse, it said, would cause $2 billion in damage.

It turns out that hit had already taken place, and it barely missed us. Had the flare erupted a week earlier, Earth would have been in the line of fire. Instead, the July 23 solar event hit only a NASA satellite. The readings sent back by that satellite show it to be most powerful solar storm we've recorded in our vicinity, sending electrons, protons and magnetized plasma trailing just behind Earth. (7/25)

The Truth About The Huge Solar Flare That Just Missed Earth (Source: Forbes)
What seems to be going on here is that NASA put out a press release on Wednesday rehashing the details of the 2012 flare and the research that’s been dripping out over the past year. It’s actually a great primer on space weather and the potential damage that can be done by huge coronal mass ejections, including the last time the planet was actually in the firing line.

That happened over 150 years ago. By the way, that event — known as the Carrington event — did not vaporize any people, animals or planets, but it did do damage to telegraph lines and create some epic northern lights as far south as Tahiti. There’s no new information in Wednesday's press release, so it doesn’t qualify as a revelation of a vast conspiracy to cover up the fact that the storyline of that terrible Nicolas Cage movie about a solar flare is real.

So, no, life on Earth did not nearly end in mid-2012, and NASA hasn’t been keeping it a secret, but it would probably be a good idea to work up some infrastructure contingency plans should we actually come in contact with a big solar flare sometime soon. And it would also be nice if everyone actually researched and read the stories they’re writing headlines for. (7/25)

SpaceX Scores Early Win in Lawsuit Against the US Government (Source: Quartz)
SpaceX, Elon Musk’s rocket and spacecraft company, has scored a partial victory in its bid to get a slice of government contracting. Court filings show that a federal judge will review a multi-billion-dollar contract that was awarded without competition last year to the United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin with a monopoly over US national-security space launches.

SpaceX had charged the government with violating fair contracting procedures in a lawsuit. The ULA had asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit. The court denied that motion, and also ordered the US Air Force to enter formal mediation with the space start-up. However, it didn’t grant the full scope of SpaceX’s requested judgements, which included voiding the contract and forcing the Air Force to accept more competition. The court asked the government to produce a full record of the process that produced the ULA contract, which it will review to determine if it was awarded appropriately and lawfully.

Perhaps most importantly for SpaceX, the judge also ordered the government to give the company details of the controversial “block buy” contract, including the much-disputed cost of ULA’s launch vehicles, by early August. That will allow SpaceX to determine which missions it could compete for. Armed with that knowledge, SpaceX is to submit a mediation plan and proposed mediator to resolve its complaints with the government in early September. (7/25)

Biologist Warn of Early Stages of Earth's Sixth Mass Extinction Event (Source: Science Daily)
The planet's current biodiversity, the product of 3.5 billion years of evolutionary trial and error, is the highest in the history of life. But it may be reaching a tipping point. Scientists caution that the loss and decline of animals is contributing to what appears to be the early days of the planet's sixth mass biological extinction event. Since 1500, more than 320 terrestrial vertebrates have become extinct. Populations of the remaining species show a 25 percent average decline in abundance. The situation is similarly dire for invertebrate animal life. (7/24)

First Humans on Mars Are Walking the Earth Today (Source: Boston.com)
It wasn’t so long ago that the first earthlings walked on the moon. And according to NASA, it won’t be that long before the first people walk on Mars. The space agency said the first Mars astronauts are already alive. But before NASA brings a human to mars, they will first launch a robotic mission around 2019, called NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission where they will “capture and relocate an asteroid to a stable orbit around the moon, and send astronauts to return samples of it to Earth.”

By the mid 2020s, “astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft, launched by SLS, will explore that asteroid and return to Earth with samples.” They’re going to give the moon its own tiny moon. Testing these new technologies on the Asteroid Redirect Mission will give NASA tools to prep and then launch a mission to mars by the 2030s. Mars, here we come. (7/23)

Alien Artifacts On The Moon? (Source: Forbes)
As nutty as it may seem to the uninitiated, the notion of looking for alien artifacts on our own Moon may finally be gaining mainstream scientific traction. There are good reasons to seriously consider the possibility that at some point in the Earth-Moon system’s storied 4.5 billion year-old history, an alien intelligence may have passed through our solar system; leaving physical artifacts of their visits.

These artifacts would likely entail more than just alien space trash, and would arguably include evidence of alien scientific or industrial activity, such as extremely advanced lunar mining, energy generation; even technology related to lunar nearside Earth reconnaissance. Or so says Paul Davies, a longtime SETI (Search for Extraterrestial Intelligence) researcher, physicist, and now Director of the Beyond Center at Arizona State University in Tempe. (7/23)

Space Command Warns of Risks With Further Sequestration (Source: Via Satellite)
The U.S. Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) does not have a clear way of enduring another round of sequestration, Gen. William Shelton said Tuesday at the Atlantic Council. With budgets remaining tight, the general insisted that the challenges faced by AFSPC differ in ways that make sustaining more cuts next to impossible. “Law of the land is still sequestration for FY16 and beyond. Should Congress decide to not grant relief, I don’t know how my command can absorb the mandated reductions,” said Shelton. (7/24)

NASA Mars Spacecraft Prepare for Close Comet Flyby (Source: JPL)
NASA is taking steps to protect its Mars orbiters, while preserving opportunities to gather valuable scientific data, as Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring heads toward a close flyby of Mars on Oct. 19. The comet's nucleus will miss Mars by about 82,000 miles, shedding material at about 35 miles per second, relative to Mars and Mars-orbiting spacecraft. At that velocity, even the smallest particle -- estimated to be about one-fiftieth of an inch (half a millimeter) across -- could cause significant damage to a spacecraft. (7/25)

Top 10 Cities for Defense Jobs - Two in Florida (Source: Military.com)
The recession has claimed several businesses large and small, leaving many transitioning servicemembers and veterans to wonder where they'll find employment in the civilian world. However, there's one industry that thrives while others wither -- the defense industry. Jobs in defense, aerospace, and homeland security are flourishing, according to ClearanceJobs.com, and will continue to grow this year. What's more, employers in these fields need qualified applicants, such as former military personnel, to fill these positions.

Defense jobs can be found all over the country but there are hot spots where opportunity abounds. Here's a list of Clearancejobs.com's top 10 cities for defense careers. The top spot is Washington DC. Numbers two and three are in Florida: Orlando and Tampa/St. Petersburg. Click here. (7/23)

Rumors of Local Military Closures Put to Bed (Source: Orlando Business Journal)
Maj. Gen. Jon Maddux made a distinct first impression in Central Florida Research Park when he became head of the Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training & Instrumentation, better known as PEO-STRI. Maddux made waves when he took over the Army’s contracting authority that helps fuel Central Florida's billion-dollar modeling, simulation and training industry. That's because one of the first things Maddux did was cancel the Army's draft request for proposals for the $8 billion Train, Educate and Coach contract, or TEACH.

Fears arose that he had come here to shut down the local military facilities. However, in his first local sit-down interview since taking over, Maddux emphasized that all the Army’s needs remain the same and local industry partners still can compete. Further, Maddux wants to dispel any rumors of BRAC, or base realignment and closure, a persistent worry that Central Florida’s military commands could be uprooted. (7/24)

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