July 30, 2014

SpaceX Seeks Permits for Solar Farm, Tracking Center at Texas Spaceport (Source: Brownsville Herald)
SpaceX’s proposal to develop a launch site at BocaChicaBeach in CameronCounty took giant leaps forward with the submission to CameronCounty of applications for commercial building permits. On Monday, SpaceX’s Dogleg Park LLC submitted an application for a permit to install small solar panels off-grid in the vicinity of the proposed launch control center at the potential launch site. The contractor is SolarCity, a company chaired by Elon Musk.

And on Tuesday, Brownsville Economic Development Council Executive Vice-President Gilbert Salinas also submitted an application for a commercial permit in connection with the BEDC-SpaceX-University of Texas at Brownsville’s STARGATE project for construction of a 12,000 square feet tracking center. The contractor of the project is not noted in the permit application. The developments are the third critical and telling ones this month regarding the progress of SpaceX’s plans to develop the world’s first private, commercial vertical launch site in South Texas. (7/30)

Virgin Signals Spaceflight Planned This Year (Source: Albuquerque Business Journal)
For the first time, Virgin Galactic said it will take to the skies this year. Since Virgin Galactic started developing its SpaceShipTwo, the company has consistently said it will fly when it’s ready, and that it was not on any timeline. But, in a tweet on Tuesday, the company announced, “on the road to spaceflight later this year.” On Tuesday, the SpaceShipTwo took off from the Mojave Desert on its 51st test flight. (7/29)

FAA Proposes Changes to Risk Assessment for Launches, Reentries (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The FAA proposes to amend the collective risk limits for commercial launches and reentries. Under this proposal, the FAA would separate its expected-number-of-casualties (E c) limits for launches and reentries. For commercial launches, the FAA proposes to aggregate the E c posed by the following hazards: Impacting inert and explosive debris, toxic release, and far field blast overpressure.

The FAA proposes to limit the aggregate E c for these three hazards to 1 × 10 − 4. For commercial reentries, the FAA proposes to aggregate the E c posed by debris and toxic release, and set that E c under an aggregate limit of 1 × 10 − 4. Under the FAA’s proposal, the aggregate E c limit for both launch and reentry would be expressed using only one significant digit.

The FAA also proposes to clarify the regulatory requirements concerning hazard areas for ships and aircraft. The proposed rule would require a launch operator to establish a hazard area where the probability of impact does not exceed: 0.000001 (1 × 10 − 6) for an aircraft; and 0.00001 (1 × 10 − 5) for a water-borne-vessel. (7/29)

Satellite Study Reveals Parched U.S. West Using Up Underground Water (Source: SpaceRef)
A new study by NASA and University of California, Irvine, scientists finds more than 75 percent of the water loss in the drought-stricken Colorado River Basin since late 2004 came from underground resources. The extent of groundwater loss may pose a greater threat to the water supply of the western United States than previously thought.

This study is the first to quantify the amount that groundwater contributes to the water needs of western states. According to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the federal water management agency, the basin has been suffering from prolonged, severe drought since 2000 and has experienced the driest 14-year period in the last hundred years. (7/29)

Glow in Space is Evidence of A Hot Bubble in Our Galaxy (Source: Space Daily)
When we look up to the heavens on a clear night, we see an immense dark sky with uncountable stars. With a small telescope we can also see galaxies, nebulae, and the disks of planets. If you look at the sky with an X-ray detector, you would see many of these same familiar objects; in addition, you would see the whole sky glowing brightly with X-rays. This glow is called the "diffuse X-ray background."

While, at higher energies, the diffuse emission is due to point sources too far away and faint to be seen individually, the origins of the soft X-ray glow have been controversial, even 50 years after it was first discovered. The long-standing debate centers around whether the soft X-ray emission comes from outside our solar system, from a hot bubble of gas called the local hot bubble, or whether the emission comes from within the solar system, due to the solar wind colliding with diffuse gas. (7/30)

What Happens to the Unprotected Human Body in Space? (Source: C/Net)
It's a recurring horror in sci-fi: the hull is pierced, a human is trapped without equipment in an airlock about to open, a door needs to be opened in order to expel something undesirable. With no air and almost zero pressure, the human body isn't going to last long without some form of protection. But what does happen, exactly? Do your eyes explode outward while your blood evaporates? Well, no. The truth is both less dramatic and far more fascinating. Click here. (7/27)

MEI Technologies Lands Air Force Hosted Payload Contract (Source: MEIT)
MEI Technologies has been awarded a contract under the Hosted Payload Solutions (HoPS) program, making the company eligible to compete under a $494.9 million indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) contract from the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) Contracting Directorate. (7/29)

World View Selects 3 Research Payloads (Source: Parabolic Arc)
World View Enterprises, the commercial spaceflight balloon company, has announced plans to fly research and education payloads during its balloon test flight phase as part of its newly launched Pathfinder program. World View has selected three initial Pathfinder payloads to fly on its delivery platforms beginning in late 2014. Editor's Note: Among the three is a student ozone monitor experiment sponsored by the Florida Space Grant Consortium. (7/28)

China Releases Geoinformation Industry Plan (Source: Space Daily)
China issued its first development plan for the geographic information industry, according to an announcement from China's National Administration of Surveying, Mapping and Geoinformation. China sees the geoinformation industry as a new source for economic growth and plans to establish a comprehensive industry system with independent intellectual property rights by 2020. (7/29)

Russia’s ISS Boss: Ukraine Crisis Slowing Renewal of ISS Partnership (Source: Space News)
The head of the international space station program at the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, on July 28 said the wall protecting the international space station and space exploration from the Ukrainian crisis might be starting to crack. Alexey B. Krasnov said the Ukraine crisis is why Roscosmos has received no government approval to continue the station partnership beyond 2020. (7/29)

Satellite Makers To Study Hosting NASA Atmospheric Sensor (Source: Space News)
Three U.S. commercial satellite manufacturers will design accommodations aboard their spacecraft for a NASA atmospheric sensor under the first batch of contracts awarded using the U.S. Air Force’s new hosted-payload contracting vehicle. Boeing, Orbital Sciences Corp., and Space Systems/Loral will examine ways to fly NASA’s Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring of Pollution, or TEMPO, instrument. (7/29)

Man-Made 'Breathing' Leaf is an Oxygen Factory for Space Travel (Source: C/Net)
One of the persistent challenges of manned space exploration is that pesky lack of oxygen throughout much of the universe. Here on Earth, trees and other plant life do us a real solid by taking in our bad breath and changing it back to clean, sweet O2.

So what if we could take those biological oxygen factories into space with us, but without all the land, sun, water, soil, and gravity that forests tend to require? This is the point where NASA and Elon Musk should probably start paying attention.

Royal College of Art graduate Julian Melchiorri has created the first man-made, biologically functional leaf that takes in carbon dioxide, water, and light and releases oxygen. The leaf consists of chloroplasts -- the part of a plant cell where photosynthesis happens -- suspended in body made of silk protein. Click here. (7/29)

7 Lunar Myths Apollo 11 Debunked (Source: Space.com)
People have invented a number of myths about the moon over the years. But Apollo 11's historic trip to the lunar surface in 1969 helped to debunk many of them, as it deepened humanity's understanding of Earth's natural satellite. Take a look at how Apollo 11 helped to dispel several familiar and interesting myths about the moon. Click here. (7/25)

SpaceShipTwo Takes to the Air for First Time in Months (Source: NBC)
Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo rocket plane glided through the air for the first time in six months on Tuesday, signaling a new chapter in a test program that could soon lead to outer space. The rocket plane went for a ride from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California, hooked beneath its WhiteKnightTwo carrier airplane. About 45 minutes later, SpaceShipTwo was released for a glide back to the airport.

In January, SpaceShipTwo blasted off for a powered test and sailed through a follow-up glide flight, but then it went into the shop for rocket refitting. It's expected to go through a series of glide flights and powered flights that eventually rise beyond the boundary of outer space (50 miles or 100 kilometers in altitude, depending on who's counting). Virgin's billionaire founder, Richard Branson, could fly into space later this year depending on how flight tests go. (7/29)

Europe to Launch Robotic Space Plane Prototype in November (Source: Space.com)
The launch of a robotic space plane prototype in November could pave the way toward the creation of a reusable cargo vehicle that would survive the blistering re-entry into Earth's atmosphere, according to ESA. ESA officials plan to launch the unmanned space plane, called the Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV), on a Vega rocket in early November. The flight plan calls for Vega to make an eastward flight — different than its usual polar orbit track — to release IXV into a suborbital path that would end in the Pacific Ocean. (7/29)

Orion: America’s Next Spaceship (Source: Air & Space)
This is all the space for you and your three closest friends,” says Brad Holcomb, a project manager at Lockheed Martin’s Exploration Development Laboratory in Houston, as I settle into the commander’s seat on the low-fidelity mockup of the Orion capsule. Having clambered my six-foot-three-inch frame down through the hatch opening, grabbed a handy yellow strap as I reclined, and swung my legs into a flexed, upright position, I couldn’t imagine working, or driving anything.

However normal this position may seem in space, here it felt unsettling.Holcomb is in the same position in a seat a few feet away. Speaking with him—the first interview I have ever conducted on my back—I cannot shake the feeling you get when you climb into a new car with a salesman: resting your hands on the wheel, puzzling out the unfamiliar dashboard, shifting your lumbar region against leather. Click here. (7/29)

Will Mars Be the Next Vacation Destination? (Source: Bloomberg)
Inspiration Mars CTO and World View Enterprises CTO Taber MacCallum discusses the prospect of landing people on mars. Click here. (7/29)

The Biggest Threat to the Economy Is From Outer Space (Source: Bloomberg)
Threats to the electric grid are coming from everywhere: saboteurs, weather and, as silly as it sounds, from outer space. The danger is significant and growing, and business risk managers are taking it seriously. The latest warning comes from Paul Singer’s Elliott Management Corp., a $24.8 billion hedge-fund firm. Singer warned investors of what he sees as the gravest threat: an electromagnetic pulse from the Sun that knocks out the grid for months or longer.

While Elliott’s letters to investors “are typically chock full of scary or depressing scenarios,” writes Singer, “there is one risk that is head-and-shoulders above all the rest in terms of the scope of potential damage adjusted for the likelihood of occurrence.” (7/29)

NASA Testing Vehicles in High Arctic to Use on Mars (Source: CBC)
A team of NASA scientists is returning to Nunavut to test new equipment it hopes one day will be used to explore Mars. California-based scientist Pascal Lee heads up NASA's Mars Institute. This summer he and a team will be testing a robotic drill in Haughton Crater. Just 25 degrees below the North Pole, it's the site of a huge meteorite impact on Devon Island. (7/29)

Rocket Lab Wants to Make Model T of Space Satellite Launchers (Source: Network World)
When it comes to blasting satellites into Low Earth Orbit, cost can be a major detriment. An Australian company called Rocket Labs is looking to fix that problem – at least for smaller satellite launches—with a carbon composite, 11-ton , 18 meter (about 60ft) tall rocket known as Electron that it says can blast payloads of about 100kg (about 220lbs) into LEO for about $5 million. The company says comparable flights would cost around $100 million. Click here. (7/29)

Satellite Photos Show Activity at North Korea Launch Site (Source: NBC)
North Korea is upgrading its main rocket launch site and has conducted a series of engine tests as it develops a mobile, intercontinental missile that could increase the threat it poses to the United States, a U.S. research institute said Tuesday. The findings are based on satellite photos of the west coast site of Sohae, analyzed by the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

North Korea blasted a rocket into space from site a year and a half ago, and the photos indicate it has made significant, recent progress upgrading facilities at Sohae to handle bigger rockets. A launch tower has been expanded to handle rockets 65 feet higher than the 98-foot-long Unha 3 rocket that blasted off in December 2012. The flurry of activity comes as North Korea has been test-firing short-range missiles from elsewhere, drawing U.N. Security Council condemnation on July 15. The North fired another short-range missile into waters off its east coast on Saturday. (7/29)

Corning Donates $1.8 Million in Parts for ASTRO-1 Telescope (Source: NBC)
Corning Inc. has donated $1.8 million in high-tech components for a telescope that a private group wants to launch into space. The not-for-profit BoldlyGo Institute wants to put its ASTRO-1 telescope in orbit by the mid-2020s. Obtaining the components for a roughly 6-foot telescope primary mirror will significantly contribute to the ambitious goal.

The institute was formed last fall to increase the number and variety of space science mission through private funding. The ASTRO-1 space telescope would be used to study planets orbiting nearby stars, as well as the Milky Way and other galaxies. Morse said the telescope would have 10 times the field of view of the Hubble Space Telescope and could be used for exploration years from now when Hubble stops working well. (7/29)

If it Weren't for That Meteor, Would There Still Be Dinosaurs? (Source: CS Monitor)
New research suggests that non-avian dinosaurs were driven to extinction not just by the six-mile wide asteroid that slammed into our planet some 66 million years ago, but by a number of other environmental threats. Between intense volcanism, dramatic sea level changes, and fluctuations in temperature, the dinosaurs' world at the end of the Cretaceous period was far from idyllic. But could the planet's instability have done in the dinosaurs all on its own? Probably not, researchers say.

About 400,000 years before the asteroid came crashing into our planet, massive volcanic eruptions began in India, prompting rapid global climate change. This, combined with dramatic ecosystem changes, may have weakened the non-avian dinosaurs. But, say researchers in a study published this week in Biological Reviews, it was the massive space rock that delivered the fatal blow.

"Dinosaurs had been around for 150 million years. Their diversity was always changing. There were plenty of dips in their diversity over time, and they always recovered," says study author Steve Brusatte, a paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh. This time would have been no different, "I'm sure they would've recovered if they'd had more time." (7/29)

SpaceX Says “Headcount Reduction” Due To Annual Reviews, Not Layoffs (Source: Space News)
The loss of up to 200 jobs at SpaceX this month is due to firing of “low performer” employees as part of its annual review process, and not layoffs, the company’s president said July 26. “We did our annual performance review, there were some low performers, and we terminated them,” SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said. She didn’t know how many employees were fired, but noted that in past performance reviews, the figure was around three percent of the company’s workforce. (7/29)

Space Innovators Seek Orlando Gamer Connection (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
The first IndieGalactic Space Jam, held at the Orlando Science Center over the weekend, drew more than 100 game developers and engineers from NASA, SpaceX and Titusville-based Rocket Crafters. The event sought to connect the struggling space industry to young, innovative tech minds in Orlando, which could boost interest in space and bring fresh ideas to Kennedy Space Center.

"We've had tech events at the Space Center, but it's great to engage in communities outside the immediate area," said Josh Manning, an organizer of Kennedy Space Center's Spaceport Innovators effort. Manning and Jason Hopkins, another NASA engineer, were at the first IndieGalactic Space Jam at the Orlando Science Center. It was so successful, organizer Kunal Patel said he's now talking with more companies about making it an annual event.

More than 100 video game developers, mostly in their 20s and early 30s, broke into teams to develop space travel video games. Patel, who founded his own company called Phyken Media, actively sought out space industry players by attending space events in Titusville and making connections. "Most of the games were pure fun, but the experience helps people develop their skills and gets people working together with others in the tech and creative community," Patel said. (7/29)

Spire Announces $25 Million Financing (Source: Sys-Con)
Spire, a satellite-powered data company, has raised $25 million in Series A funding. Spire is changing its name from Nanosatisfi, with rebranding rolling out through the end of the year. “We listen to the three-quarters of the Earth that is remote or covered by water. Our customers make global business decisions and require detailed data in regions that have been critically underserved. Spire’s offering of high frequency, high accuracy data resonated with them, particularly in the areas of global trade, weather, shipping and supply chain, illegal fishing, and maritime domain awareness."

Modern remote sensing traditionally focuses on the small fraction of Earth that is covered in land and is densely populated with people,” says Peter Platzer, Spire CEO. “What happens, particularly over the oceans, is critical in understanding global systems, and our proprietary technology delivers truly global perspectives that enable our customers to make smarter decisions.” (7/29)

NASA Limits Foreign Contributions to U.S. Planetary Missions (Source: Science)
How much international collaboration is too much? When it comes to foreign instruments provided to NASA planetary science missions, the answer is anything more than 33%. Earlier this month, NASA unveiled a draft set of rules for its next Discovery competition, which funds planetary science missions costing no more than $450 million.

Today, NASA officials explained some of the new rules for the next mission, to be selected in 2016. Among them was a stipulation that the principal investigator would not be allowed to recruit foreign instrument contributions in excess of one-third the value of the U.S. instruments on the payload, even though those contributions don’t count against the $450 million cap. (7/29)

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