September 19, 2014

Rocketcrafters Shifts Focus to Small Satellites (Source: SCTC)
Rocketcrafters plans to develop a family of spaceplanes at the Space Coast Regional Airport, a facility seeking spaceport designation from the FAA. On Thursday, Rocketcrafters briefed members of the Space Coast Tech Council on their unique application of additive manufacturing techniques (3D printing) to solid propellant grains and airframe components.

The company also revealed a shift in initial market focus away from point-to-point spaceflight, which was described as being a little further off than anticipated for various reasons. Instead, Rocketcrafters' near-term market focus is now on the delivery of microsatellites to low-Earth orbit. (9/19)

How NASA's New Spaceships Stack Up (Source: NPR)
Earlier this week NASA announced that two private companies will build spaceships to take astronauts to the International Space Station. NASA hopes that both models will eventually be used by space tourists to get into orbit. Which got us wondering, which one would we rather fly in?

The first capsule is built by the sexy California start up Space-X. Known as "Dragon", it was unveiled by SpaceX founder Elon Musk earlier this summer at a promotional event that could have been for a new smart phone. The second capsule goes by the more prosaic CST-100, and it's built by the Ford of space companies: Boeing. The CST-100 is based on the design for the Apollo command module that took astronauts to the moon.

Former astronaut Clay Anderson says the displays may be the biggest difference. The control panels on the old space shuttle were a nightmare to read. In the era of tablet computers, he wants spaceships to be more user-friendly. "Touch screens, nice bright colors. Reds indicate emergencies, yellows indicate cautions, greens indicate A-OKs, that sort of thing," he says. Boeing and SpaceX both have new displays standard on every model. Click here. (9/19)

NASA Seeks Partnerships on Reusable Suborbital Vehicles, Smallsat Launchers (Source: Parabolic Arc)
NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate is seeking potential partnerships with U.S. space companies that are maturing suborbital reusable launch vehicles as well as companies pursuing development of small spacecraft orbital launch systems. NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program, managed by NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center, recently issued a request for information for the commercial space industry to build partnerships that would advance the growth of space technologies and services with these companies.

NASA’s Flight Opportunities and Small Spacecraft Technology Programs are exploring potential partnership options. Notional industry and NASA partnerships would: 1) Transfer and capitalize on NASA’s long history in investments, knowledge, and expertise relevant to launch system technologies; and 2) Support a growing commercial interest to provide more frequent, reliable, and cost-effective suborbital and orbital access to space for small payloads than is currently available. (9/18)

Sierra Nevada Statement on Commercial Crew Awards (Source: SNC)
"SNC is planning to have a debrief session with NASA soon to obtain the source selection statement and decision rationale. When this process is complete and after a thorough evaluation, SNC will elaborate further on its future options regarding the NASA Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract decision and the Dream Chaser program. Due to this pending activity SNC will have no further public statement at this time. We will be providing further information at a later date." (9/18)

Crist Pitches Plan to Invest in Solar Energy, Space Exploration (Source: Tampa Bay Times)
Democratic candidate for governor Charlie Crist wants to invest in business incubation, create a thriving solar energy industry, and usher in a new age of space exploration. The ideas are part of his "Fair Shot Florida" plan to create jobs and grow the state's economy. "The way to grow jobs in Florida is to invest in our homegrown businesses and innovators and help them grow and hire," Crist said. (9.18)

Lemon Juice: New Ingredient for Space Designers (Source: ESA)
Corrosion resistance and high strength put stainless steel high on the list of essential materials for satellite and rocket designers. Now ESA plans to investigate an alternative, environmental-friendly method of readying this important metal. Back in 1913, metallurgist Harry Brearley glanced at a pile of experimental steel alloys, rejected for not being hard enough, and noticed one specimen that gleamed as bright as new, rather than rusting like all the rest.

He had just discovered stainless steel. Adding chromium to steel in the correct ratio prevents it from tarnishing in air. Satellite thruster systems employ stainless steel parts. Traditionally this is done by bathing the parts in nitric acid, but this has environmental and safety disadvantages. It involves special handling and produces nitrogen oxides, which are greenhouse gases and potentially harmful to workers. Citric acid – found in a dilute form in lemon juice – has been put forward as a greener passivation alternative. (9/18)

State, Federal Permitting Underway for SpaceX in Texas (Source: Brownsville Herald)
SpaceX has initiated the state and federal permitting process toward development of its private, commercial vertical launch complex at Boca Chica in Cameron County, according to public records. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has approved a request from Elon Musk’s SpaceX for a construction general permit to discharge stormwater.

Furthermore, “we have been working with the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) regarding the Clean Water Act Section 401 Water Quality certification review for the SpaceX facility in Cameron County,” TCEQ spokesman Terry Clawson said... The command and control functions would be constructed about two miles west of the launch area. Site preparation would generally involve grading to level the land. (9/17)

Small Group of Amateur Rocketeers Keep Fizzling Hobby Alive (Source: Philadelphia City Paper)
Jim Hansen has been in and out of rocketry for 50 years. First you see the signs, yellow with bold, black lettering: "Caution. Rocket launch in progress." They're posted at the far end of a black gravel driveway that leads past a farmhouse and scattered harvesting equipment, and right up to a red dirt road that opens to a clearing between two cornfields. Click here. (9/17)

Thanks to Government Investment, Commercial Space Travel is Becoming a Reality (Source: Independent)
Five decades after the first human went to space, we are in the midst of a commercial space revolution. Private companies have proved there is a market for commercial space travel: for example, Virgin Galactic has signed up more future astronauts than the total of people who have ever gone to space.

This technology will benefit broader societal applications. At Galactic we will also send up NASA experiments, while making it significantly cheaper for researchers to access space and for companies to launch low-cost satellites. Those experiments and satellites will both help us explore the unknown and improve life here on Earth. (9/17)

Florida's 'Journey into Space' to Resume by 2017 (Source: Sunshine State News)
NASA's Commercial Crew announcement won the applause of Florida‘s political leadership. “[It] is an exciting development for Florida and the commercial space industry,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-FL. “These partnerships will ensure that American astronauts are once again launched into space from American soil. As the nation’s spaceport, Florida’s Space Coast will play a crucial role in advancing this initiative... I, along with all Floridians, look forward to seeing our astronauts launch from Kennedy Space Center once again.”

Frank DiBello, the CEO of Space Florida also said the new partnerships were good news for the state. “Both Boeing and SpaceX have already invested significant time and resources into establishing commercial crew operations here in Florida and we look forward to working hand-in-hand with both companies to make their upcoming missions successful.” (9/18)

Google in Space? Startup Disruption Reaches the Final Frontier (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Are Google and Facebook a new breed of competitors for aerospace and defense behemoths like Boeing and Airbus Group , or a potentially emerging market? For years, large aerospace and defense companies have rarely had to worry about startup rivals. Barriers to entry are huge on the commercial-aerospace front, where developing new jets can require more than $10 billion in capital outlays, while defense contractors enjoy close ties with their national governments that newcomers struggle to match. Click here. (9/17)

How Patent Law and the Dysfunctional US Congress is Killing Private Space Research (Source: Quartz)
The International Space Station, which will mark its 16th year in orbit this year, cost an estimated $150 billion to build and maintain (with $75 billion invested by the US alone), but private companies have only spent $14,505 on research performed in the station’s orbital laboratory. That meager amount will exacerbate the challenge of funding the station’s operations in the years ahead. The number emerged from an audit of the ISS program by the inspector general at NASA, the US space agency.

The audit found that NASA is likely low-balling the cost estimates for keeping the ISS aloft and fully functioning, as it transitions to relying on the private sector to transport astronauts and cargo to the station. Given the costs, it is key to maximize the benefits—and one of the challenges is that CASIS, the organization in charge of managing the laboratory onboard ISS since 2011, has had minimal success in recruiting private firms to perform research in micro-gravity.

Despite offering financial incentives, CASIS has attracted very little interest—just the $14,505 mentioned above, along with unfulfilled pledges for $8.2 million in funding. The audit identifies several reasons for this, including advances that make it possible to perform experiments on things like protein crystallization in earthbound labs. But the biggest obstacle is that NASA initially said that it would own both the patents and the data related to any research on the station, a major buzz-kill for companies interested in applied research. Click here. (9/19)

Space Florida and Israel Announce Innovation Grant Awards (Source: Space Florida)
Space Florida and MATIMOP (Israel’s Industrial Center for Research and Development), on behalf of the Office of the Chief Scientist (OCS) in the Israeli Ministry of Economy, are pleased to announce the first-round winners of industrial research and development funding tied to the Space Florida-Israel Innovation Partnership Program. Click here. (9/17)

NASA Supposed to Spot 90% of Dangerous Asteroids by 2020. It's at 10% (Source: Vox)
In 2005, Congress assigned NASA the task of locating 90 percent of all near-Earth asteroids big enough to cause significant damage if they hit us by 2020. On Monday, a new NASA audit concluded that the agency is nowhere near meeting this goal. According to NASA inspector general Paul Martin, only about 10 percent of these asteroids have been spotted so far, despite a tenfold increase in funding since 2009 for the program responsible. (9/16)

Astronomers Found a Star Inside a Star, 40 Years After It Was First Theorized (Source: Motherboard)
The universe is massive, and we can’t see nearly all of it. That's the most exciting thing about space: The potential to find something completely unknown, something that brings fiction into fact, is ever-present. Case in point: A rather strange celestial body called a Thorne–┼╗ytkow object (TZO). Originally predicted in the 1970s, the first non-theoretical TZO was likely found earlier this year, based on calculations presented in a paper forthcoming in MNRAS. Click here. (9/18)

France Raises Heat on Decision for Next Ariane Rocket (Source: Naharnet)
France's space agency on Thursday unveiled a revised proposal for an Ariane rocket ahead of a tough decision on launchers by the European Space Agency (ESA). Ministers must decide whether they can afford to fund the development of two projects for Europe's next rocket. These are an Ariane 6, promoted by France, that would be operational from the next decade and an intermediate launcher, the Ariane 5 ME, backed by Germany.

France's National Centre for Space Study (CNES) said the overhauled plans for the Ariane 6 resulted in a "simple design with great payload capacity," able to take between five and 10 tonnes into orbit. It could be ready for launch in 2020, said CNES boss Jean-Yve Le Gall, a date that is a year or two earlier than was expected in July 2013. "We are looking at a two-booster version, with costs of around 65 million euros [$83.85 million] per launch, and a four-booster version, at around 85 million euros per launch," said Le Gall. (9/10)

Jeff Bezos Strikes Down Russian Rocket Engine Maker (Source: Moscow Times)
In a surprise turn of events, U.S. space industry behemoth United Launch Alliance, or ULA, and Blue Origin — a secretive space startup owned by Amazon-founder Jeff Bezos — have unveiled an American rocket engine that may end Russia's supremacy in the field. The clash between Russia and the West over Ukraine has injected new life into U.S. efforts to curb its dependence on Russian engines to power U.S. space projects, but few thought a solution would be found quickly.

The development of the engine, known as the Blue Engine 4, or BE-4, will certainly strike NPO Energomash, Russia's premier rocket engine design firm, analysts say. For almost 20 years, ULA has been Energomash's most important customer. Its RD-180 engine, considered to be unrivaled in power and cost, is manufactured exclusively for export to the U.S. launch company. (9/18)

Two Payloads Launching on Saturday have UCF Ties (Source: Orlando Business Journal)
When the SpaceX-4 rocket blasts off from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport on Saturday, it will have an important link to Central Florida: Two payloads with University of Central Florida ties. Included on the flight: 1) UCF physics professor Joshua Colwell's research to explore low-energy collisions of dust particles to better understand the conditions that lead to the formation of the building blocks of planets; and 2) Engineering alumnus Jason Dunn’s 3-D printer that was developed for space. (9/18)

MIT’s Futuristic Spacesuit Works Like Shrink Wrap (Source: Washington Post)
What if astronauts squeezed into lightweight, stretchy suits before venturing into space? MIT researchers are proposing just that. The theoretical suits would be made from coils that spring back to a "remembered" shape when heated -- so they could stretch out enough for astronauts to slip them on, but then contract into a suit tight enough to keep them alive in space.

“With conventional spacesuits, you’re essentially in a balloon of gas that’s providing you with the necessary one-third of an atmosphere [of pressure,] to keep you alive in the vacuum of space,” Dava Newman, a professor of astronautics at MIT and head of the suit's design team, said in a statement. “We want to achieve that same pressurization, but through mechanical counterpressure — applying the pressure directly to the skin, thus avoiding the gas pressure altogether." (9/18)

Orion Closer to Deep Space; NASA Practices Pulling it From Sea (Source: LA Times)
You have built a multibillion-dollar spaceship that will one day take humans to asteroids and Mars. You have big plans to send it up 3,600 miles into orbit, or about 15 times farther than the International Space Station. Now comes the hard part: Recovering this major piece of equipment once it lands. On Monday, NASA, along with a team from Lockheed Martin and the U.S. Navy, boarded the USS Anchorage at San Diego Naval Base to take a practice run at recovering the Orion – the space agency’s latest achievement in deep-space exploration – from the sea.

The craft, a multipurpose crew vehicle that looks something like a giant triangular robot sent from space, is set to take its first unmanned flight in December. Orion will climb 3,600 miles into orbit, make one trip around the world and fall back to Earth traveling about 20,000 mph. The module’s exterior will reach nearly 4,000 degrees before the craft is slowed down with the help of several parachutes and finally splashes down in Southern California waters. (9/18)

NASA IG Questions Space Station Cost Projections (Source: CBS)
NASA cost estimates for operating the International Space Station through 2024 are "overly optimistic," the agency's inspector general reported Thursday, adding that the price of new U.S.-built space taxis likely will be higher than currently projected, exceeding the cost of flying aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

NASA Inspector General Paul Martin also raised questions about NASA's ability to safely operate the lab complex through 2024, the current goal, unless engineers can develop ways to offset age-related solar array degradation; minimize equipment failures and get large replacement components to the lab in the absence of the space shuttle. (9/18)

House Passes CR but Delays Two Space Bills to Next Year (Source: Space News)
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a short-term funding bill for the federal government Sept. 17, but a key member said that action on two bills on space topics would be deferred to the next Congress. The House voted 319–108 to approve a continuing resolution (CR) that funds the federal government from the beginning of the 2015 fiscal year on Oct. 1 to Dec.11 at 2014 levels, with an across-the-board cut, or rescission, of 0.0554 percent.

 The CR gives NOAA the flexibility to fund its weather satellite programs so they maintain their planned launch schedules. The CR also includes a provision that keeps alive the Export-Import Bank of the United States through the end of June 2015. Authorization for the bank, which in recent years has backed several commercial satellite manufacturing and launch deals, was set to expire at the end of September.

The CR goes to the Senate, which is expected to vote on the bill Sept. 18. Congress will resume work on 2015 appropriations bills when it reconvenes for a lame-duck session in mid-November, a week after elections. When it returns, the House is unlikely to consider additional legislation on two space topics. One remaining major space bill for this Congress is a NASA authorization bill. Click here. (9/18)

What is Life? A Tricky, Often Confusing Question (Source: Astrobiology)
What is life? This is a question that is often asked and typically confused. The confusion starts from the several uses of the word “life” in English. There are at least three usages as exemplified by the following questions: 1) Is there life on Mars? 2) Is there life in this organism? 3) Is life worth living? The definition of “life” in these three usages is quite different. Click here. (9/18)

U.S. Export Rules Complicate Sino-French Cooperation (Source: Space News)
French-China cooperation in space-based astronomy and biomedical research has been slowed by the U.S. government’s continued redefining of what is and what is not allowed for export to China, said an official with the French space agency. France has several bilateral missions planned with China.

U.S. ITAR regulations generally are being rewritten to restrict fewer space-related items and correct what even some of the original backers of a 1999 export crackdown agree has been an unintended consequence in sharply reducing certain U.S. exports. U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) said ITAR is why U.S. companies’ share of global space exports has fallen from 72 percent to 27 percent in the 15 years since ITAR was expanded to cover virtually all space components. “And it’s still slipping,” he said. (9/18)

Russia Can't Abandon Imported Equipment in Navigation Satellites (Source: Xinhua)
Russia is unable to replace all foreign-made hardware used in its global navigation system, Glonass, in a few years, a producer said Thursday. "Import substitution will be connected with corrections of the entire design documentation," Grigory Stupak, deputy head of the Russian Space Systems company, said at the Fourth International School on Satellite Navigation, an annual week-long forum.

"We are not ready at the moment to refuse foreign (parts) in some case. The missing components, of course, need to be compensated by reliable suppliers," Stupak said. He did not give details on the "reliable suppliers," but Igor Komarov, head of Russia's United Rocket Space Corporation, said earlier that the country will gradually replace the hardware imported from Western countries with the equipment made in China, South Korea and other Asian nations. (9/18)

Download, Print, Build Your Martian Home in 24 Hours (Source: BBC)
"Taking one kilogram of material like brick to the moon or other planets costs between $100,000 to $200,000 [£61,000 to £122,000]," says Dr Behrokh Khoshnevis of the University of Southern California's Viterbi School of Engineering. "So thinking about creating lunar bases and Martian bases, you should really come up with ways of building huts with the material that is there." Which is precisely what he is working on for NASA.

Dr Khoshnevis is the man behind a construction technology called Contour Crafting. It involves effectively 3D printing concrete buildings, layer by layer, using a giant robotic printer, in as little as 24 hours. Beyond a Martian pied a terre, the technology will have more prosaic applications, building homes here on earth. The Contour Crafter can print both straight and wavy lines, with walls designed with an internal cavity system for insulation and extra strength. The building can be printed to incorporate necessary utilities. (9/18)

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