September 24, 2014

Did Elon Musk Just Have the Best Month in Modern Business Tech History? (Source: Reddit)
His companies collectively announced a Nevada state deal to build the largest battery factory in the world, announced a deal to build the largest solar factory in the western hemisphere, won a major billion dollar NASA contract for human spaceflight, successfully launched the 4th Dragon capsule resupply mission to the space station and successfully launched Asiasat 6 into geosynchronous transfer orbit. And broke ground on a new SpaceX spaceport in Texas. (9/24)

SpaceX Manifest Growing Rapidly (Source: Valley Morning Star)
SpaceX’s intent is to develop and activate the commercial launch site at Boca Chica in Cameron County expeditiously in order to meet an expectedly growing manifest. Commercial launch missions to geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) and beyond would be transferred to the new launch complex also. “Our preference is to try to move — particularly the commercial GTO missions — to the Boca Chica launch site as soon as we can,” SpaceX’s founder Elon Musk said.

Musk noted that “there is a significant benefit” in that the Boca Chica site is south of Cape Canaveral, Florida, “and that should help for GTO missions.” “We are still going to make heavy use of the Cape Canaveral... and Vandenberg sites, but those will be primarily for U.S. government activities, and then we’re expecting our South Texas launch site to be primarily for commercial and we’re expecting a very high flight rate in the future,” Musk said.

Musk said that SpaceX’s manifest for commercial launches is growing very rapidly, “and we need to make sure that we can launch all those vehicles and do so in the right way.” Musk said that there would be a strong presence in engineering research and development at the Boca Chica site. “Larger rockets in the future are so big (that) they are not going by road,” Musk said, acknowledging that the manufacture of rockets here could be in the distant future. (9/24)

What SpaceX’s New Spaceport Will Look Like (Source: Popular Mechanics)
SpaceX broke ground on a brand new spaceport of its own on Monday. The spaceport, known at least for now as the SpaceX Commercial Launch Facility, will be located in Brownsville, Texas near Boca Chica Beach, about three miles from the Mexican border. The site will host launch complex and control center capable of handling a dozen commercial satellite launches per year. Click here. (9/24)

India's Satellite Makes It to Mars Orbit (Source: Mashable)
An Indian space probe has successfully entered Mars' orbit, marking the first interplanetary mission for the country. Scientists broke into wild cheers Wednesday morning local time as the orbiter's engines completed 24 minutes of burn time and maneuvered into its designated place around the red planet. The success of India's Mars Orbiter Mission, affectionately nicknamed MOM, brings India into an elite club of Martian explorers that includes United States, the European Space Agency and the former Soviet Union. (9/24)

NASA Tools Allow Designers To Tailor Aircraft Noise Signatures (Source: Aviation Week)
If aircraft were designed by ear and not by eye, would they look any different? NASA is developing design tools that can answer that question by enabling engineers to computationally simulate the noise characteristics of an aircraft while it is still a concept, long before it has flown. These “auralization” tools are aimed particularly at the evaluation of unconventional configurations that might have sound signatures quite different from designs with which engineers are familiar. (9/24)

TEAM USA Takes Second at International Rocketry Challenge (Source: AIA)
The Raytheon-sponsored U.S. Rocketry Team from Canton, Georgia took second place at the seventh annual International Rocketry Challenge during the 2014 Farnborough International Air Show. Team USA out-performed their French and British opponents in the fly-off stage, but fell a few points short of the French team's overall score based on the presentation component of the contest. A group from Japan performed a demonstration launch, laying the groundwork for broader international participation in the 2015 challenge. (9/24)

Deep in the Heart of Texas (Source: Space KSC)
KSC and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station are government operations run by people who for decades have run their facilities like personal fiefdoms. An example can be found in this Houston Chronicle article about SpaceX leasing KSC's Pad 39A: "Officials made nice during the ceremony, but behind the scene tensions bubbled up. The new guys, according to NASA workers, acted like they owned the place. They were 'rude, arrogant egotistical smart asses,' one NASA old timer said. “I don’t mind young people, which they all were. But they just acted like they had it all figured out, like they just have the world by the tail.'”

The bureaucracy-laden obstinance that pervades both facilities has hindered SpaceX's ability to attract commercial satellite launches. Space Florida, a state agency charged with bringing commercial launch companies to the Space Coast, proposed a new commercial spaceport at Shiloh, an abandoned farm community north of Launch Complex 39 in undeveloped Kennedy Space Center land near the Volusia County line.

KSC officials responded with their own 20-year master plan that shows proposed new pads 39C and 39D for commercial users — but nothing at Shiloh. Local environmentalists have protested Shiloh with unsubstantiated claims of “total devastation of an already endangered estuarine environment.” NASA's proposed 39C and 39D appear intended to appease the organized environmental opposition, which indicated it would not object to a site south of State Route 402 — but still controlled by the federal government. Click here. (9/23)

Russia to Launch Full-Scale Moon Exploration Next Decade (Source: RIA Novosti)
Russia's space agency Roscosmos plans to launch a full-scale Moon exploration program in late 2020s or early 2030s, the agency’s head Oleg Ostapenko said on Tuesday. “We are planning to complete tests of a super-heavy carrier rocket and start full-scale Moon exploration at the end of the next decade. By that time, analysis of Moon surface data gathered by unmanned spacecraft will help to determine the best sites for lunar expeditions and Moon bases,” the Roscosmos head said.

Preparatory work for lunar exploration missions have already started, according to Ostapenko. “We already started to work on a new manned spacecraft, which will be the first element of the prospective manned system together with new launch vehicles - heavy and super-heavy carrier rockets," the space agency’s chief added. The system is designed to deliver cargo and cosmonauts to the Moon, and eventually into the deep space, according to Ostapenko. (9/23)

Air Force Awards Contracts To Study Outsourcing of Satellite Operations (Source: Space News)
With possible budget cuts on the horizon, the U.S. Air Force has contracted with at least four companies to examine how they might pick up the slack should the service elect to shutter one or more of its satellite-operating facilities. The Air Force in September awarded contracts of an undisclosed amount to Intelsat General Corp., Northrop Grumman Corp., Universal Space Network, and Raytheon Intelligence and Information Systems.

The contracts, which the industry source said are relatively small, come as the Air Force faces shrinking budgets and the potential return of the across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration. Gen. John Hyten, the commander of Air Force Space Command, told SpaceNews Sept. 8 that if sequestration returned for fiscal year 2016, the service likely would be forced to shutter some of its satellite ground-based architecture. A 2013 budget compromise eased some of sequestration’s more severe impacts for 2014 and 2015, but the law remains in effect. (9/23)

Russia Says It’s Putting Another Man on the Moon…By 2030 (Source: TIME)
Russia’s space agency said Tuesday it will launch a “full-scale” exploration of the Moon as part of a long-term mission to get a human being on the lunar surface for the first time in decades. “At the end of the next decade, we plan to complete tests of a super-heavy-class carries rocket and begin full-scale exploration of the Moon,” Rogozin said. (9/23)

KSC: A Dozen Astronauts Set for Atlantis Anniversary (Source: Sun Sentinel)
Twelve astronauts who flew on the space shuttle Atlantis will gather at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the attraction's display of the orbiter on Oct. 9. On hand will be Clayton Anderson, Bo Bobko, John Creighton, Charlie Walker, Hoot Gibson, Fred Gregory, Ken Ham, Mike McCulley, Jerry Ross, Brian Duffy, Bob Springer and Dan Tani. The Atlantis Astronaut Adventure will allow visitor complex guests to interact with the NASA veterans through a special, king-sized Lunch With an Astronaut offering. (9/23)

Space Weather May Have Led to Deadly Battle in Afghanistan (Source: Science)
On the morning of Monday, 4 March 2002, sometime just before the sun came up, an MH-47E Chinook helicopter carrying a group of U.S. Army Rangers flew low across a rugged Afghan landscape. Their destination, 33°20′34″N 69°12′49″E, was a snowcapped mountain called Takur Ghar. It was a rescue mission; hours earlier a team of Navy SEALS had been shot down by al-Qaida forces at the mountain’s summit and needed extraction.

But the Rangers had been given the wrong coordinates and were headed right into the same al-Qaida forces that shot the SEALS down. Back at the U.S. command post, radio operators tried desperately to warn the Chinook, but the message was never received, and the helicopter was downed by another al-Qaida rocket-propelled grenade. The Rangers’ rescue mission turned into a 17-hour firefight—one of the deadliest engagements of the war for U.S. forces, costing seven lives.

The jagged peaks of Afghanistan have caused plenty of communications difficulties for U.S. forces, but researchers suspect that the doomed rescue mission may have fallen victim to a less visible source of interference: plasma bubbles. Their research, published online this month in Space Weather, suggests that turbulent pockets of ionized gas may have deflected the military satellite radio signals enough to cause temporary communications blackouts in the region. (9/23)

ATK Urges Air Force to Consider Solid Rocket Motors to Replace RD-180 (Source: Space News)
Solid-rocket-booster manufacturer ATK is asking the Air Force to consider a solid-fueled rocket motor to replace the Russian-made RD-180 engine that powers ULA’s Atlas 5. In its formal response to an Air Force request for information on future launch options, ATK positioned solid-rocket motors as a relatively near-term replacement for the kerosene-fueled RD-180, citing the company’s quick development of six new solid motors, some of which were completed in less than two years. (9/23)

Swiss "S3" Startup Looks to Buy Russian Rocket Engines (Source: Moscow Times)
As the United States works to free itself from dependence on Russian rocket engines amid the crisis in Ukraine, a European space startup is looking to buy Russian engines to use in a spaceplane design that hopes to begin flying in 2018.

Old Soviet-designed rocket engines are attractive options to embryonic commercial space startups because they are reliable and cheap, with the research and development costs having been borne by the Soviet space program decades ago. Swiss Space Systems, or S3, founded in 2012, is looking to partner with Russian aerospace company Kuznetsov to use Soviet-era NK-39 engines to power its ambitious spaceplane design, known as Soar. (9/23)

Airbus Group To Focus On Military Aircraft, Space And Missiles (Source: Aviation Week)
Two years ago the Airbus Group was called EADS and its defense division was Cassidian. Stefan Zoller was Cassidian’s CEO and EADS was in merger talks with BAE Systems. The new group was poised to take off big time. Since then everything has changed.

In fact, last week’s announcement by Europe’s largest aerospace company about the sale of significant parts of its defense or defense-related businesses illustrates a dramatic 180-deg.-turn by CEO Tom Enders, driven by a dismal business climate. Airbus Defense & Space plans to focus on military aircraft, space and guided missiles while divesting assets it now considers non-core. (9/22)

Branson Says Space Tourists Patient About Virgin Galactic Delays (Source: Bloomberg)
Richard Branson said almost 800 would-be space tourists signed up for $250,000 flights with his Virgin Galactic venture have been understanding about glitches that caused commercial services to be delayed until 2015. Pushback from clients who include physicist Stephen Hawking, singer Sarah Brightman and X-Men director Bryan Singer has amounted to “almost none whatsoever,” the U.K. billionaire said.

“Everyone’s been very patient. They realize that it’s rocket science. They want to make sure that we don’t hurry them up there, and they want to come back.” Virgin Galactic won’t now make a commercial flight until early spring, with Branson and his son on the first launch, the U.K. billionaire confirmed. (9/23)

“Not a Woman’s Profession” (Source: Air & Space)
Russian woman is preparing to break a stratospheric glass ceiling on Thursday, by blasting into orbit onboard the Soyuz-TMA-14M spacecraft from Kazakhstan. Elena Serova, 38, will travel to the International Space Station for a five-and-a-half-month-long mission, along with her Russian colleague Alexander Samokutyaev and NASA astronaut Barry Wilmore.

Serova won’t be the first Russian woman in space, yet her feat should be considered historic. She will be just the fourth Russian female to go into orbit in more than five decades of human spaceflight, during which more than 100 Russian male cosmonauts have made the trip. And given the current social climate in Russia, Serova’s road to space may have been rockier than any of her female predecessors.

With the fall of communism, the gender-equality slogans of the Soviet era—no matter how fake—were replaced with unabashed conservatism. Russian orthodox priests began not only spraying Russian rockets with “holy water” before liftoff, but also preaching “traditional values” that restricted woman’s role in the society to motherhood and housekeeping. (9/23)

Nvidia: Debunking Lunar Landing Conspiracies (Source: Space News)
Using its new Maxwell graphic processing unit, technology company Nvidia simulated the conditions in which the 1969 photograph of Buzz Aldrin climbing out of the lunar lander were taken as well as the materials of the surface, the lander and the spacesuits. Click here. (9/23)

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