July 3, 2014

Iridium and SpaceX Successfully Complete Dispenser Qualification Tests (Source: SpaceRef)
Iridium Communications and SpaceX today announced the successful completion of dispenser qualification testing for the Iridium NEXT constellation. The dispenser is the mission-unique assembly that holds the satellites during launch and manages the perfectly timed separation of each satellite from the rocket, placing each of the satellites into its proper orbit.

The testing program, a key milestone in the Iridium NEXT constellation build, included four types of testing on the satellite dispenser: fit check, separation and shock testing, a modal survey, and static loads testing. Overall the tests ensure launch shock environment, mechanical form, fit and function, separation dynamics, fundamental frequency and structural integrity. (7/3)

Parkers Meet With Posey, Cabana In Washington DC (Source: Space Coast Daily)
Drew Parker, a rising seventh grader who will be participating in the Galileo program at Jefferson Middle School, met with Congressman Bill Posey and Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana at Posey’s office in Washington this summer. Parker was on a trip there with his father Charles, who is the director of the Merritt Island High School da Vinci Academy of Aerospace Technology.

The Parkers discussed the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit, the future of deep-space manned missions and the difficulties of making commercial launches more cost-effective on the Eastern Range with Posey and Cabana. “It was very informative,” Drew said. “And really cool to be able to meet both of them at the same time.” The Parkers had a scheduled meeting with Posey when Cabana happened to stop by at the same time. Cabana briefed Posey on the current state of KSC during the meeting. (7/3)

The Jet With a 17-Ton Telescope That NASA Uses as a Flying Observatory (Source: WIRED)
If you thought Boeing 747s weren’t useful for understanding how stars are formed, you don’t know about SOFIA. Officially known as the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA is a heavily modified Boeing 747 Special Performance jetliner, with a 17-ton, 8-foot telescope mounted behind a 16-by-23-foot sliding door that reveals the infrared telescope to the skies.

The plane’s ability to fly near the edges of the atmosphere gives it better visibility than ground-based observatories. And the fact that it makes regular appearances on Earth’s surface, unlike a space telescope, means it can easily be repaired or reprogrammed when necessary. Click here. (7/3)

The Telescope that Beamed the Moonwalk Now Faces a Budget Blackhole (Source: Guardian)
“Parkes’ Biggest Event Since Gold Discovery”, screamed the headline of the Parkes Champion-Post one August day in 1958. It reported that the previous evening, Richard Casey, the minister for Australia’s science agency, the CSIRO, had announced that a sheep paddock outside Parkes in western New South Wales would be the site of Australia’s new, £500m giant radio telescope.

This month, the telescope featured in another Champion-Post front page, but it was a glummer story. It read that the Parkes observatory would not be spared from a $111m cut to CSIRO funding in the May federal budget. Staff numbers would be “scaled down” and more scientists would have to use the telescope remotely. (7/3)

Arianespace Cuts Launch Prices as Upstart Gains (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Arianespace, the European satellite-launch giant, is cutting prices, hoping to fend off a growing challenge from an American upstart led by billionaire inventor Elon Musk. Privately funded SpaceX, which Mr. Musk founded in 2002, has been pressuring Arianespace, the launch market's leader, which is 34.7%-owned by the French space agency. Its other holders include about 20 European companies and government agencies. (7/2)

Yutu Designer's Bittersweet (Source: i Cross China)
ia Yang has two children. One goes to a middle school in Beijing; the other is on the moon. The trials of parenthood have been far more arduous with the second child for Jia, deputy chief designer of the Chang'e-3 lunar probe, who led a team to develop China's first moon rover, Yutu, or Jade Rabbit.

Chang'e-3, launched on Dec. 2, 2013, landed on the moon after a two-week voyage, becoming China's first soft-landing on an extraterrestrial body. On Dec. 15, Yutu drove onto the lunar surface. The rover and the lander took pictures of each other for the family album. After 10 years of dedication to the project, Jia described his feelings as "bittersweet" - a feeling that continues after China declared the mission a "complete success". (7/3)

Mars Mission: Obama Wants an Asteroid - Republicans Want the Moon (Source: National Journal)
Washington's partisan divide is spreading all the way to space. President Obama and many Republicans agree that NASA should pursue a mission to Mars. What they can't agree on, however, is the best route to get there. Specifically, the parties are divided over which space rock to use for a waypoint on the Mars mission. Some Republicans—most famously Newt Gingrich but also a large passel of House lawmakers—see the moon as the most logical waypoint.

A lunar base, they say, would allow NASA to test landing technologies and surface operations. It would also allow astronauts to launch humankind's first attempts to utilize extra-Earth resources, including extracting water from the moon's dust. Obama and NASA's current leadership, however, favor a further foray into the final frontier: capturing, redirecting, and exploring an asteroid. To do so, they want the space agency to invest in solar propulsion engines, technology that is also a prerequisite for a long-distance Mars mission. Click here.

Editor's Note: Considering the near-term (and likely long-range) constraints on NASA's budget, which approach would get us to Mars first? Developing and operating a moon base would consume NASA's budget for decades, regardless of its intended use as a waypoint. The asteroid approach has its problems, but it is a more direct path to Mars because it doesn't commit NASA to maintaining a long-term and hugely expensive waypoint facility. (7/3)

NASA Funds 20 Companies To Capture Asteroid And Bring To The Moon (Source: Neomatica)
NASA just funded 20 research and development teams drawn from companies and private groups all over the U.S., divided into 5 areas of study to a total of $4.9 million dollars for its Asteroid Initiative with the goal of capturing and bringing an asteroid to Earth’s moon.  The ultimate goal to this announcement is human exploration of Mars. Here are just 5 of the these highly innovative companies. (7/2)

The Surprisingly Strong Case for Colonizing Venus (Source: CityLab)
Why worry about building a colony on Mars when instead you could float one high above the surface of Venus? Science fiction writer Charles Stross recently revived the idea of building a Venutian colony when he suggested, cheekily, that billionaires ought to be compelled to donate to massive humanity-improving projects. He suggested two: a Manhattan Project-like focus on developing commercial nuclear fusion, or the construction of a floating city on Venus.

The second planet from the Sun might seem like a nasty place to build a home, with a surface temperature hot enough to melt lead and an atmosphere so dense it would feel like being submerged beneath 3000 feet of water. But the air on Venus thins out as you rise above the surface and cools considerably; about 30 miles up you hit the sweet spot for human habitation: Mediterranean temperatures and sea-level barometric pressure. If ever there were a place to build a floating city, this would be it. Click here. (7/2)

Biggest Void in Universe May Explain Cosmic Cold Spot (Source: New Scientist)
It has been called a bruise on the sky – a curious cold spot in the afterglow of the big bang that has sparked wild cosmic theories attributing it to a run-in with another universe or a wrinkle in space-time. Now it seems the answer may be a little more mundane: the biggest known hole in the universe.

The cold spot appears in maps of the cosmic microwave background (CMB), the earliest light emitted in the universe. Temperature variations in the light show up as a mottled pattern in the maps, which can be explained if quantum fluctuations at the universe's birth were stretched out by a brief but spectacular cosmic growth spurt known as inflation.

But some features in the maps don't fit into the leading models of inflation. For example, the relatively even pattern of the CMB is marred by an unusually large cold region. Scientists have struggled to explain it, suggesting a number of ideas that require exotic physics or even evidence for a multiverse. Click here. (7/3)

Spaceport America Seeks $6.5M Loan for Visitor Center (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
Spaceport America officials this week OK'd seeking $6.5 million to build a visitors center in Truth or Consequences. They said they're now following a plan that — at least for now — has two other proposed visitors centers, one in Doña Ana County and one at the spaceport site in Sierra County, on the backburner because of a shortage in funding.

The New Mexico Spaceport Authority board OK'd a measure Tuesday that will allow it to seek a $6.5 million loan from the New Mexico Finance Authority. It also will have to be signed off upon by the state Board of Finance. "It is not the final action of this board," said New Mexico Spaceport Authority board member David Buchholtz. "This board will have to act again when the details of the financing come before us."

Spaceport authority Executive Director Christine Anderson said the agency has two options for repaying the loan: using excess revenue from two county-level sales taxes that also help repay loans used for Spaceport America construction or using revenue from a Virgin Galactic lease of spaceport facilities. (7/2)

'Great Balls of Fire' Exhibit Opens at KSC Visitor Complex (Source: Florida Today)
Kennedy Space Center's newest attraction is taking on the origins of our solar system and the asteroids that pass through it. "Great Balls of Fire," the Visitor Complex's newest attraction, officially opened to the public on Wednesday. It features interactive displays, examples of asteroids and quizzes that test guests on their knowledge as they "climb aboard a spaceship," according to Kennedy Space Center. (7/3)

First Look at Houston's Shuttle Replica Display (Source: CollectSpace)
For the first time, Space Center Houston is offering a look inside its space shuttle Independence. Space Center Houston, the official visitor attraction for the Johnson Space Center in Texas, invited collectSPACE on an exclusive first walkthrough of the newly-upgraded, high-fidelity shuttle replica, before the winged orbiter is hoisted atop NASA's historic Shuttle Carrier Aircraft for display. Click here. (7/3)

The Space Industry: Seriously Congested, Contested And Poised For Growth (Source: Forbes)
Outer space will be a seriously contested and congested place in the future, which I collectively term as “Space Jam.” A combination of a plethora of new navigation satellite networks and services, new space faring nations (like Japan, India and China) and organizations (like Google and Facebook) entering the market and creation of R&D programs across various mass categories from micro- to heavy-satellites, as well as the trend of engaging commercial satellite platforms in dual applications (military and civil) will make this a very attractive “space” in the future. Click here. (7/3)

Delta 2 Boosts NASA Environmental Satellite Into Orbit (Source: CBS)
A workhorse Delta 2 rocket roared to life and climbed away from California coast early Wednesday, boosting an environmental research satellite into orbit on a $468 million mission to precisely measure global carbon dioxide levels, a key factor in climate change.

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 satellite was built to replace a virtually identical spacecraft that was destroyed in a 2009 launch failure aboard a different rocket. The delay and switch to the Delta 2 drove the cost up by nearly $200 million, but mission scientists say the data collected over the next few years will be worth it. (7/2)

Inmarsat Selects SpaceX for Future Satellite Launches (Source: SpaceRef)
Inmarsat, the leading provider of global mobile satellite services, announced that it has selected SpaceX to provide launch services for its S-band satellite and up to two further Inmarsat missions. Under the terms of its agreement with SpaceX, Inmarsat expects to use the Falcon Heavy launch vehicle, but will retain the possibility of using a Falcon 9 as an alternative, providing further launch flexibility. (7/2)

NASA Finalizes Contract to Build the Most Powerful Rocket Ever (Source: LA Times)
NASA has reached a milestone in its development of the Space Launch System, or SLS, which is set to be the most powerful rocket ever and may one day take astronauts to Mars. After completing a critical design review, Boeing has finalized a $2.8-billion contract with the space agency. The deal allows full production on the rocket to begin. “Our teams have dedicated themselves to ensuring that the SLS – the largest ever -- will be built safely, affordably and on time,” said Boeing's Virginia Barnes.

The last time NASA completed a critical design review of a deep-space human rocket was 1961, when the space agency assessed the mighty Saturn V, which ultimately took man to the moon. Work on the 321-foot Space Launch System is spread throughout Southern California, including Boeing's avionics team in Huntington Beach. The rocket’s core stage will get its power from four RS-25 engines for former space shuttle main engines built by Aerojet Rocketdyne of Canoga Park. (7/2)

Report: FAA Will Miss Deadline for UAS Integration (Source: Flight Global)
According to an audit report from the Department of Transportation, the Federal Aviation Administration will miss a deadline for unmanned aerial systems integration. "The FAA's delays are due to unresolved technological, regulatory and privacy issues, which will prevent the FAA from meeting Congress' 30 September 2015 deadline for achieving safe UAS integration," the report said. (7/2)

Airbus Defends Springing Last-minute Ariane 6 Design on ESA (Source: Space News)
The head of Airbus’ space division on July 1 said his company was forced to come up with an Ariane 6 rocket design that competed with the version approved by the European and French space agencies because the agency version ultimately would have decimated Europe’s rocket industry.

Testifying before a French Senate committee, Francois Auque said the solid-fuel-dominated Ariane 6 design that ESA and the French space agency, CNES, approved in July 2013 would have attracted mainly European government customers — a market whose size would mean reducing Europe’s rocket design and production industry by two-thirds. To avoid being decimated, he said, European rocket builders needed to be sure that the commercial market, which accounts for 90 percent of the launches of Europe’s current heavy-lift Ariane 5 vehicle, would support the new vehicle.

Airbus-Safran Joint Venture Must Exclude Missile Work (Source: Space News)
The head of the French arms-procurement agency, DGA, on July 1 warned French industry that their ballistic missile and nuclear deterrent teams, often in the same offices as the launch vehicle engineers, will not be permitted to join the proposed new consolidation of French and European rocket builders. Laurent Collet-Billon said DGA nonetheless looks favorably on the decision by Airbus and Safran to put their rocket-building assets into a single joint-venture enterprise.

It was unclear how the current industrial setup, in which missile and rocket work at French industry is often done at the same place by some of the same people, might be redrawn to separate civil from military. (7/2)

Crowdfunding Key for $25 Million Student-Led Mars Mission (Source: Space News)
A project to send the first student-built small spacecraft to Mars plans to raise the bulk of its $25 million budget through crowdfunding, an effort that would make the mission among the largest such efforts in history. Time Capsule to Mars, a student-led project supported by the advocacy group Explore Mars and several aerospace companies, plans to launch in the next five years a cubesat-class spacecraft to Mars carrying photos and other digital media.

The spacecraft would burn up in the martian atmosphere except for a section carrying the media that is designed to survive to the martian surface. “We’ve got a lot of firsts, and it’s very exciting,” said Emily Briere, a senior at Duke University who is mission director for Time Capsule to Mars. Besides being the first student-built interplanetary mission, she said, the project hopes to fly the first cubesat mission beyond Earth orbit, as well as be the first interplanetary mission to use a new type of electric propulsion, called ion electrospray thrusters.

Editor's Note: This could be a pathfinder for several legal theories on private sector empowerment and rights in space. The owners should consult some space attorneys to see how the project can be designed to push the boundaries of private property rights in space. This capsule could become a very valuable artifact in the very distant future; maybe they can say they're putting it on Mars as an investment for their descendants. (7/2)

KSC Team Helps Launch NASA Climate Satellite (Source: Florida Today)
Erasing painful memories of a failed launch five years ago, a Kennedy Space Center-led team today delivered a NASA science satellite to orbit from California to begin its study of climate change. A rocket mishap in 2009 doomed the original Orbiting Carbon Observatory mission, devastating its scientists and KSC's Launch Services Program, which manages launches of NASA science payloads.

But within an hour after a Delta II rocket's liftoff from Vandenberg Air Force Base at 5:56 a.m. EDT today, a camera showed the replacement Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 spacecraft float safely away from the rocket toward a bright sun, about 430 miles up. "Now we're celebrating," said Tim Dunn, the launch director from KSC. "There was pure joy in the mission director's center at spacecraft (separation), I can tell you that."

Editor's Note: KSC is home to NASA's Launch Services Program (LSP), which procures and provides mission support for all of NASA's expendable launch campaigns, except those headed for the International Space Station (which are managed by different groups at KSC). (7/2)

Titan's Origins Linked to Oort Cloud (Source: Science News)
The nitrogen in the atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan seems to have gotten its start as ammonia ice in the early solar system. The finding suggests that the essential building blocks of Titan formed under similar conditions as ancient comets in the Oort cloud, not in the warm disk that surrounded Saturn when the planet was young, researchers report.

ESA’s Rosetta mission could confirm the results later this year when it studies comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The comet is from the Kuiper Belt and should have slightly different chemistry than anything originating in the Oort cloud. The results also provide hints as to how Earth got its atmospheric nitrogen, the scientists say. (7/2)

Ocean on Saturn Moon Could be as Salty as the Dead Sea (Source: NASA)
Scientists analyzing data from NASA’s Cassini mission have firm evidence the ocean inside Saturn's largest moon, Titan, might be as salty as the Earth's Dead Sea. The new results come from a study of gravity and topography data collected during Cassini's repeated flybys of Titan during the past 10 years. Using the Cassini data, researchers presented a model structure for Titan, resulting in an improved understanding of the structure of the moon's outer ice shell. (7/2)

Salt on Mars May Turn Ice into Liquid Water (Source: Space.com)
It may seem impossible that water could flow on the frigid surface of Mars, but a new study in a simulated Red Planet environment shows that a type of salt there may melt the ice it touches. This process is similar to what takes place on Earth. For example, city officials use salt to melt the ice on slippery roads in cold cities during the winter month. The new simulated Martian experiment, however, is one of the first showing a similar process in action on the Red Planet, the researchers said. (7/2)

Launches of Proton-M to Resume in Autumn (Source: Itar-Tass)
Launches of boosters Proton-M which were suspended after the rocket’s crash on May 16 will resume not earlier than in the autumn of this year, Roscosmos' Oleg Ostapenko said. “After all checks, we will decide on the dates of launches and will plan them. I would not name concrete deadlines. In any case, we will do this as quickly as possible, neither dragging on nor disrupting the program of launches. We will seek to meet a deadline of two or three months,” he said, noting that most likely Proton rockets would not be launched this summer. (7/2)

Roscosmos Will Not Buy Sea Launch (Source: Interfax)
The Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) is not planning to buy the Sea Launch project from the consortium with the same name, Roscosmos chief Oleg Ostapenko said. "Roscosmos doesn't feel it necessary, nor does it have the money, to federalize Sea Launch," Ostapenko said. In addition, we don't have full clarity about the further production of the Zenit launch vehicle at the Yuzhmash plant in Dnipropetrovsk because of the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. (7/2)

Hawaii Governor Signs PISCES Bill (Source: West Hawaii Today)
Among the bills that became law were a pair of appropriations totaling $750,000 to support work on programs at the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems. House Bill 2152 sets aside $500,000 to support general operations at PISCES, including five research initiatives that would set the state up as a leader in aerospace technology, Abercrombie said.

Meanwhile, Senate Bill 2583 appropriated $250,000 for an engineering assessment of a proposal to establish a laser optical communications ground station in Hawaii through PISCES. The station would be part of an effort to improve communications in space exploration. The funding for PISCES will help make clear to NASA that “we want the opportunity to succeed,” the governor said. (7/2)

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