September 17, 2014

Atlas 5 Launches Secret Satellite from Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: WFTV)
A communications satellite has been launched from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, carried aloft aboard an Atlas 5 rocket. The Atlas V lifted off at 8:10 p.m. Tuesday through a dark and cloudy sky after several weather-related delays. Liftoff came near the end of a nearly 2 and 1/2 hour window. The so-called CLIO satellite built by Lockheed-Martin. Officials released no information about the satellite's mission nor for which government agency it was sent into space. (9/16)

Torontonians Call for a New Planetarium (Source: The Star)
Stargazers and nostalgic Torontonians alike still lament the loss of one of the city’s educational icons, calling for a new space where people can explore and enjoy the night sky. The University of Toronto announced Tuesday plans to demolish the old McLaughlin Planetarium building and replace it with a cultural centre. The planetarium has been closed since 1995, but many Torontonians still have fond memories of the astronomical institution. (9/12)

Chandra Finds Planet That Makes Star Act Deceptively Old (Source: Space Daily)
A planet may be causing the star it orbits to act much older than it actually is, according to new data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. This discovery shows how a massive planet can affect the behavior of its parent star. The star, WASP-18, and its planet, WASP-18b, are located about 330 light-years from Earth. WASP-18b has a mass about 10 times that of Jupiter and completes one orbit around its star in less than 23 hours, placing WASP-18b in the "hot Jupiter" category of exoplanets, or planets outside our solar system. (9/17)

Midland Airport Gets FAA Spaceport License (Source: MDC)
The Midland International Airport, Midland Development Corporation, XCOR Aerospace and Orbital Outfitters announced the FAA's approval of a Commercial Space Launch Site License for the Midland International Airport (MAF). Midland International Airport is the first primary commercial service airport to be certified by the FAA under the Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) Part 420 as a spaceport and will furthermore be referred to as the Midland International Air & Space Port. (9/17)

How I Fell Out of Love with Space Tourism (Source: New Republic)
It's elitist, overpriced, and overhyped. These are heady times for the space industry, a collective global effort on the verge of wresting control off space travel from the cumbersome grip of massive government entities and transferring it to the nimble hands of private enterprise. According to the Space Tourism Society, there are currently at least 20 private companies around the world seriously working to bring regular ol’ people (well, rich regular ol’ people) into space on what everyone presumes will soon become a routine basis.

It’s exciting. It’s thrilling. For me, though, it’s also a little scary. After spending a whole lot of time reviewing the various public proclamations and PR campaigns of our intensely dynamic fleet of space entrepreneurs, I’ve begun to worry about the state of space tourism. I’m skeptical that the space tourism experience is going to live up to the considerable hype in which the industry showers itself.

As they have with a discouraging roll call of other magnificent undertakings—world travel, rock and roll, university education—bottom-line dreamers suddenly seem poised to turn the heady fantasy of travel to distant realms into just another cheap (figuratively) commodity, cluttering the final frontier with the same tired ideas from the one they’ve already spent. Click here. (9/17)

Airware Partners with NASA to Develop Drone Air Traffic Control System (Source: GigaOm)
News broke last week that NASA is building an air traffic control system for unmanned aerial vehicles that could affect everything from Amazon’s delivery drones to agricultural drones. It turns out that it’s not working on the project alone: San Francisco drone startup Airware is helping.

Airware head of global business development and regulatory affairs Jesse Kallman provided a few more details on the scope of the project, including that NASA and Airware will test many different types of drones with the system. The features of the software they will develop are not yet decided, but they will test aircraft spacing, collision avoidance and trajectory modeling. (9/11)

Spaceport Delays Prompt Some Impatience In New Mexico (Source: Reuters)
Delays in the launch of the first space flights by Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic from a base in New Mexico have drawn criticism from a county commissioner in the south of the state. The inaugural flight had been expected to take place this year, carrying Branson from Spaceport America's 12,000-foot (3.6 km) runway in Sierra County to suborbital space about 65 miles (100 km) above Earth.

But the British entrepreneur said in a television appearance that he now anticipates a maiden launch date in February or March next year. Sierra County Commissioner Walter Armijo said on Monday his patience is beginning to run out. "I was surprised as all heck to hear that on David Letterman and not from the New Mexico Space Authority," Armijo said, adding that his county has not seen any return on the $300,000 per year in taxpayer funding that it has granted the project.

Of about 150 people currently employed at the Spaceport, he said, only about 10 were hired from the local community. "They've been delaying this for so long I'm not holding my breath," Armijo said. "They promised jobs, tourism, and housing and we haven't seen any of that. None of the expectations and promises have come true." A Spaceport representative did not return requests for reaction to the county official's comments. (9/16)

Five Takeaways from NASA’s Commercial Crew Decision (Source: Houston Chronicle)
1) NASA and Bolden are big winners today. 2) Decision likely based solely on merits. 3) Unfortunately there had to be a loser. 4) Fascinating to see which will reach space first. 5) LEO is in good hands. Click here. (9/16)

Three Things to Know About NASA's Commercial Crew Contracts (Source: Popular Mechanics)
Here are a few things to know about the spacecraft, their makers, and those big NASA contracts, they involve money, schedule, and politics. Click here. (9/16).

Commercial Crew: Why the Difference in Award Amounts? (Source: NASA Watch)
NASA awarded a total of $6.8 billion in contracts with Boeing getting the larger share, $4.2 billion and SpaceX getting $2.6 billion for doing what appears the same work. NASA's Commercial Crew Program Manager Kathy Lueders was asked several times by reporters why the difference in the funding allocation but only said it was based on the price submitted by the companies in their proposals. (9/16)

SpaceX Could Be Cleared for U.S. Air Force Launches by Dec. 1 (Source: Space News)
SpaceX could earn U.S. Air Force certification to launch national security missions as soon as Dec. 1, according to the service’s top uniformed officer for space. As recently as this past May, Air Force officials had said SpaceX might have to wait until March 2015 to win certification, which will allow it to compete with ULA in the lucrative U.S. military launch marketplace.

As part of its plan to reduce its satellite launching costs while mollifying critics of ULA’s monopoly, the Air Force ordered a large batch of rockets on a sole-source basis from the incumbent while setting aside an additional seven to eight missions for competition. SpaceX is challenging the sole-source contract in a lawsuit filed in federal court filed in April.

In an amended complaint filed in June, SpaceX contends that the Air Force originally said it would certify the company’s Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket by December. The Air Force changed its projected certification date only after SpaceX filed the lawsuit, the amended complaint said. (9/16)

Two Hundred and Nineteen Million Stars, and Counting (Source: Science)
A 10-year survey of our home galaxy has yielded an extraordinarily detailed celestial catalog that includes at least 219 million stars. The researchers used a 2.5-meter telescope in the Canary Islands to take more than 7600 images within a 10°-by-185° swath of sky that includes the edge-on view of the Milky Way.

In the regions not blocked by interstellar dust, the researchers could spot individual stars as dim as magnitude 20, about one-millionth as bright as the dimmest star that can be seen with the human eye. Toward the center of the galaxy, the most densely populated part of the team’s star images, the team tallied about 300,000 stars for each square degree of sky. The new catalog contains more than 99 bits of data for each of the 219 million objects surveyed so far, including information about each star’s position, shape, and brightness in various wavelengths. (9/16)

AFSPC Commander Advocates Defending Space Superiority (Source: USAF)
The Commander of Air Force Space Command Gen. John Hyten charged the Air Force to defend its position and remain on the cutting edge of international space operations during the 2014 Air Force Association’s Air & Space Conference and Technology Exposition here Sept. 16.

Of air, space and cyberspace, AFSPC remains directly responsible for the latter two of the Air Force’s three warfighting domains, Hyten reported. “Everything that we do in space is fundamental to the fight that we’re in today, to the fight that we’ll be in tomorrow,” Hyten said. “The capabilities we provide today have fundamentally changed warfare, and they’re critical to the fight in Afghanistan and Iraq.” (9/16)

ULA Wins $938 Million in U.S. Rocket Launch Deal (Source: Reuters)
United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin, has won a contract from the U.S. Air Force for $938 million in additional work on military rocket launch services, the Pentagon said on Tuesday. The modification of the company's existing EELV contract runs through Sept. 30, 2015.

The deal will fund additional work in areas such as mission assurance, program management, systems engineering, integration of the space vehicle with the launch vehicle, launch site and range operations, and launch infrastructure maintenance and sustainment, according to the Pentagon. (9/16)

Air Force Seeks Funding for Space Surveillance Satellites (Source: Reuters)
The Air Force plans to request initial funding for three surveillance satellites to track objects in space as part of its FY-16 budget request, a top Air Force general said. General John Hyten, head of Air Force Space Command, said the satellites would be a relatively inexpensive follow-on to the Space-Based Space Surveillance (SBSS) satellite built by Boeing. Hyten declined to give details on the amount required for the new program in the 2016 budget, but said it would clearly be less than the earlier program. (9/16)

Now's Your Chance to Own a Mars Viking Lander Engine (Source: Quartz)
If you’re in the market for a quirky historic artifact to show off to your friends (and have a lot of money to spare), look no further than Boston-based RR Auction, which will be auctioning away an extremely rare piece of space history this week, among other intriguing items. An unfired, spare rocket engine for the Mars Viking lander—the first spacecraft to land on Mars—is currently bidding around $12,000, but according to its hawkers, it may sell for much more. (9/16)

Why Billionaires are Launching Into Space (Source: Market Watch)
The solar system is increasingly becoming a niche club for billionaires, angel investors and major investment funds. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos became the third billionaire to join the fight to control the so-called “New Space” market on Tuesday, rising to the ranks of SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk and Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson. Bezos’ startup, Blue Origin LLC, is reportedly tacked onto a multibillion-dollar NASA contract with Boeing that would give the e-commerce CEO a major stake in the U.S.’s fast-growing privatized space sector. (9/16)

Blue Origin declined to comment on or confirm its ties with Boeing. The partnership was originally reported late Monday by The Wall Street Journal, citing people familiar with the matter. Bezos isn’t alone in his interest in this fast-growing market: more tech entrepreneurs are sensing the opportunity of government contracts and unexplored terrain, and dedicating resources to developing what Branson has called the “final frontier” of exploration. Click here. (9/16)

Yeast, the Final Frontier (Source: UBC News)
Every brewmaster and baker knows that yeast rises. But, as UBC associate professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences Corey Nislow will tell you, some yeast rises way, way above the rest. This month, special yeast strains developed by Nislow’s team will dock at the International Space Station. Once aboard the ISS, astronauts will follow Nislow’s instructions to perform experiments on how microgravity affects gene expression, the process in which the genetic code directs protein synthesis. (9/16)

CASIS Teams for Golf Materials Research (Source: SpaceRef)
The Center for the Advance of Science in Space (CASIS) and COBRA PUMA GOLF (CPG) have partnered on a materials science research investigation that is expected to launch to the International Space Station (ISS) on SpaceX-4. The launch is slated to take place no earlier than September 20, 2014. CASIS is responsible for the management of the U.S. National Laboratory on the ISS. Through this partnership, CPG intends to conduct an investigation on the ISS National Laboratory that would research materials aimed at enhancing its future product lines. (9/15)

New Commercial Moon Services Study Available (Source: SpaceRef)
With a focus on cost reduction the emergence of commercial launch providers is dramatically increasing access to space, enabling new markets like lunar transportation. SpaceX, for example, has already lowered the cost of mass to orbit by a factor of 10 and is projecting another 40 to 60 percent reduction. Additionally, the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize has initiated competition to reach the lunar surface by 2015, and like many competitions before, is spurring the creation of an entirely new industry, this time for lunar services. Click here. (9/10)

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