August 16, 2014

XCOR Breaking Down Walls with Midland - One Step Closer to Space (Source: XCOR)
At 10am this morning, just feet from the runway which will rocket XCOR customers to space and back, Midland Development Corp. and XCOR Aerospace invited local officials, contractors, Midland residents and local press to attend the kickoff of new renovations on the XCOR hangar with a ceremonial wall breaking inside of XCOR’s Commercial Spaceflight Research and Development Center Headquarters at Midland International Airport (MAF).

The start of hangar construction brought to mind prior eras of exploration for XCOR Chief Executive Officer Jeff Greason. “Midland stands at the heart of the American frontier,” Greason noted, “It is a symbol of the American West. As the first tenant in the commercial space industry to plant our home here we are honored to expand those opportunities not westward, but upward.”

Spaceport Development Board Chairman and Midland Mayor Pro Tem, John B. Love III noted, “We look forward to the transformation of Midland International Airport into the ‘Midland International Air and Spaceport’. This is truly an exciting day for Midland.” ... “As XCOR commences the Lynx flight test program this winter, the hangar construction signals the end of the beginning for our team. The next step is to get Lynx flying,” said XCOR President Andrew Nelson. (8/15)

Space is the Place to Solve the Riddle of Life, Maybe (Source: New Scientist)
How did early Earth's inert matter give rise to its teeming life today? That's one of the biggest questions in science – and has long been one of the hardest to answer. We've known for 60 years that life's most basic building blocks can form spontaneously, given the right conditions. But how did they assemble into complex organisms? Hard evidence to help us answer that question is lacking.Click here. (8/15)

Gifted Workers Opting for Private Sector Over NASA (Source: Houston Press)
As a NASA engineering co-op student at JSC, Amy Hoffman trained in various divisions to sign on eventually as a civil servant. She graduated from college after receiving a generous offer from NASA, doubly prestigious considering the substantial reductions in force hitting JSC in recent months. Then she received an invitation to visit a friend at his new job with SpaceX. Seeing SpaceX in production forced Hoffman to acknowledge NASA might not be the best fit for her.

At SpaceX headquarters, she was surprised to find open work areas where NASA would have had endless hallways, offices and desks. SpaceX resembling a giant workshop, a hive of activity in which employees stood working on nitty-gritty engineering. "They're very purpose-driven. It looked like every project was getting the attention it deserved." The tour reminded her of the many mentors who had gone into the commercial sector in search of better pay and more say in the direction their employers take.

She thought back to the attrition she saw firsthand at JSC and how understaffed divisions struggled to maintain operations. Click here. Editor's Note: This part of a see-saw phenomenon. Sometimes in the aerospace/defense industry -- probably in more difficult economic times -- the government sector tends to capture the talent, while in other times the talent seems to flow toward the private sector. It likely is an indicator of economic improvement that workers are now more inclined to accept jobs with more risk. (8/14)

General: DOD Must Change How it Buys Satellites (Source: C4ISR)
The Pentagon needs to fundamentally change the way it buys satellites in an effort to lower costs as US defense spending contracts, a top Air Force general said. The military oftentimes spends between $3 billion and $5 billion to design, develop and test new satellites, Lt. Gen. John Hyten, vice commander of Air Force Space Command, said. Those so-called non-recurring engineering costs come before DoD buys an operational satellite.

"We should not have to spend billions of dollars in non-recurring engineering … to build these kinds of satellites," Hyten said Tuesday while speaking at the annual Space and Missile Defense Symposium. At the same time, Hyten — who is scheduled to pin on a fourth star on Friday when he becomes the commander of Space Command — said that although the Air Force and industry have effectively brought down the costs of new satellites, much of the architecture is dated and "the world has changed." (8/14)

Dream Chaser's Next Flight Tests Set for Fall (Source: America Space)
The private Dream Chaser crew vehicle, aiming to launch U.S. astronauts back to space, will “resume test flights this fall with sophisticated orbital software” while simultaneously pushing forward with an ambitious “assembly program” of the orbital space plane vehicle destined for the maiden liftoff in 2016, Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) Space Systems, told AmericaSpace in an exclusive, one-on-one interview about their human spaceflight efforts to build an efficient astronaut transporter for NASA.

“We are focused on being ready to launch in November 2016. We have a launch slot [reserved with United Launch Alliance for the Atlas V rocket],” Sirangelo said. “We have begun the build of the first Dream Chaser orbital vehicle!” (8/15)

Cygnus Flies Away from Space Station (Source:
Orbital’s CRS-2/ORB-2 spacecraft is departing the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday, after she ably completed another critical resupply mission. The Cygnus was released by the Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS) to initiate the departure that will eventually result in a destructive re-entry for the spacecraft on Sunday. (8/15)

Finding Mars Life Could Answer Some Big Questions (Source: Aviation Week)
Controllers are in final preparations for the Sep. 21 red planet arrival of NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (Maven), an orbiter designed to help scientists figure out where the planet’s early atmosphere went, and with it the water that once flowed on its surface. As the Maven team gears up to take data, the winners in an international competition to place instruments on NASA's next Mars rover are hard at work on the imagers and spectrometers that will look for signs that the water once supported life.

 The 2020 rover will have a mechanism on its robotic arm that can pull sample cores about 10 cm (4 in.) deep; but under current plans, promising cores would be cached to return to Earth—somehow, some day—for deeper analysis with mass spectrometers and other equipment much too large to send to Mars. That isn’t soon enough for some astrobiologists, who remain intrigued by experiments on the two Viking landers that tested for living microorganisms. (8/15)

NASA Sees Weird Blurred Light Near Giant Black Hole (Source:
A NASA spacecraft has spotted strange light shifts near the heart of a supermassive black hole that could help scientists better understand the inner workings of these monstrous objects. The agency's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Arrayprobe, or NuSTAR, looked on as a mysterious X-ray source, called a corona, moved closer to a supermassive black hole. The black hole's immense gravity pulled harder on the corona the closer it came, stretching and blurring the X-ray light in the process, researchers said.

"The corona recently collapsed in toward the black hole, with the result that the black hole's intense gravity pulled all the light down onto its surrounding disk, where material is spiraling inward," study lead author Michael Parker. NuSTAR's observations provide the most detailed look yet at such events, researchers said. While light cannot escape once it passes the "event horizon" of a black hole, high-energy emissions do stream from the vicinity of these objects — from the corona, for example, and from the superhot disk of material spiraling into a black hole's maw. (8/15)

When SpaceX Falters, Washington Looks The Other Way (Source: Forbes)
There’s a story making the rounds in Washington’s space community that when the spy agency responsible for operating reconnaissance satellites raised doubts about the suitability of launch vehicles made by SpaceX for carrying its spacecraft into orbit, White House officials directed the agency to stop complaining and move ahead with certification. The story goes on that SpaceX was then assigned three secret payloads on a sole-source (uncompeted) basis. Click here. (8/15)

Huntsville Team Fighting to Land on Moon, Win Jackpot (Source: WHNT)
Teams all over the world, including one with operations here in Huntsville, are racing to do something that’s never been done before. They’re working to land a privately-funded spacecraft on the surface of the moon. The teams are fighting for a huge, $20 million jackpot in Google’s Lunar XPRIZE competition. For U.S.-based Moon Express, one of just 18 teams remaining in the contest, it’s not just about the money. The team also hopes to create a new business model for private space exploration — one that can sustain real commercial interest in the long run. Click here. (8/14)

Art in Space (Source: Financial Times)
We have long been sending art beyond our world. Here are four works that broke through the stratosphere and made it into space. Click here. (8/15)

Video Shows Falcon-9 Booster's Soft Landing Off Florida Coast (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
A video clip released by SpaceX on Thursday shows a fresh view of the descent and splashdown of a Falcon 9 rocket's booster stage following a July 14 launch to boost six Orbcomm communications satellites into space. Click here. (8/15)

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