October 21, 2014

Heavy Seas Delay Return of SpaceX Dragon Capsule (Source: Florida Today)
Heavy seas have delayed a SpaceX Dragon capsule's return home from space this week. Instead of on Tuesday, the unmanned cargo craft's departure from the International Space Station is now planned just before 10 a.m. Saturday, setting up a splashdown less than six hours later in the Pacific Ocean west of Baja California.

A deorbit burn is expected at 2:43 p.m., followed by a parachute-assisted splashdown around 3:39 p.m. The Dragon will re-enter the atmosphere carrying nearly 3,300 pounds of equipment and science experiments. It's the only spacecraft flying today that can return large amounts of cargo to Earth. (10/20)

What It Could Be Like to Live on Mars (Source: WIRED)
I'd always wanted to visit Mars. Instead I got Hawaii. There, about 8,200 feet above sea level on Mauna Loa, sits a geodesically domed habitat for testing crew psychology and technologies for boldly going. I did a four-month tour at the NASA-funded HI-SEAS—that's Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation—in 2013. It's a long time to be cooped up, “so the psychological impacts are extremely important,” habitat designer Vincent Paul Ponthieux says. The key to keeping everybody sane? A sense of airiness. Click here. (10/21)

China Lofts Yaogan-22 via Long March 4C Rocket (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
The Chinese have launched another new satellite in the military’s Yaogan Weixing series via the use of a Long March-4C (Chang Zheng-4C) rocket. The mission began with lift off at 06:31 UTC on Monday from the LC901 launch platform of the LC9 launch complex at the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center. (10/20)

Federal Tax Money for Spaceport America? Congressional Candidates Support Idea (Source: NM Watchdog)
State taxpayers have already kicked in $218.5 million to build Spaceport America, the commercial space venture in southern New Mexico that is still waiting for its anchor tenant  Virgin Galactic to launch its first flight into suborbital space. But federal taxpayer money? That’s never really been on the table.

Both the Democrat and Republican in the race for U.S. House of Representatives in New Mexico’s Second Congressional District say they support the idea of federal funding going to the project. Incumbent Rep. Steve Pearce, R-NM, and challenger Roxanne Lara were asked, “Would you pursue and approve of federal funding … for the Spaceport?” Pearce said he “would be glad to support it” and Lara said the Spaceport “needs a good plan that’s going forward and  the federal funding can be a part and a piece of that.” (10/21)

Weather Grounds Spaceport America Launch (Source: Albuquerque Journal)
Poor weather grounded the UP Aerospace rocket that was scheduled to launch into suborbit from Spaceport America on this morning. “We scrubbed the launch yesterday because the weather forecast for today was not favorable,” UP President and CEO Jerry Larson said. “We’ve re-scheduled the launch for Thursday morning.”

The rocket, dubbed the SpaceLoft, will carry four payloads paid for by NASA under the agency’s Flight Opportunities Program. That initiative, launched in 2011, pays commercial aerospace companies for suborbital flights to test new technologies in space. (10/20)

Spaceport's Relationship to County Discussed at Legislative Meeting (Source: KVIA)
Spaceport America's finances, and a still unbuilt southern access road, were big topics Monday when a New Mexico legislature finance committee met in Las Cruces. More than 90 percent of the price tag thus far has been borne by Dona Ana County, yet one state senator pointed out there still isn't a road leading to the spaceport from Dona Ana County.

"I think we are definitely setting the pace for the rest of the industry,” said Christine Anderson, executive director of the Spaceport. With more than $218 million spent thus far, Anderson is confident New Mexico's spaceport is ahead of any other venture of its kind. “For Virgin Galactic, the assumption was they would start commercial flights in June. We will be thrilled if they come earlier,” Anderson said. (10/20)

What it Took for SpaceX to Disrupt Boeing and Leapfrog NASA (Source: Quartz)
The SpaceX rocket factory is a large, white hangar-like building near Los Angeles international airport, with a parking lot filled with late-model motorcycles and Tesla electric cars. The vast metal structure once churned out 737 fuselages for Boeing. When you get through the front doors, past security and a cubicle farm stretching the width of the building, there it is: Science fiction being wrought into shape, right in front of you.

Right in front of all the workers, too. The company’s two-floor cafeteria is practically on and overlooking the manufacturing floor. Designers and accountants can eat lunch watching technicians build space capsules and rocket stages. There’s a lot to see: Rockets, like good suits, are bespoke objects, hand-made to order; a SpaceX tour guide says much of the work is too precise for robotic assembly. Click here. (10/20)

Pentagon Will Wean Itself from RD-180 Engine (Source: Space News)
A top U.S. defense official reiterated to a large group of California lawmakers that “now is the time” to study how to reduce the Pentagon’s dependence on a Russian-made rocket engine. In September, 32 members of California’s congressional delegation asked Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to broaden competition in the U.S. national security launch program and to move away from the RD-180 rocket engine that powers the Atlas 5 rocket sooner rather than later. (10/21)

CASIS Awards $800,000 in Grants to Boost ISS Science (Source: Space News)
The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), the nonprofit manager of non-NASA science aboard the international space station, spread about $800,000 in grant money among three experiments aimed at improving scientific research aboard the orbital outpost.

Individual awards range in value from $200,000 to $300,000, Patrick O’Neil, spokesman for Melbourne, Florida-based CASIS, wrote in an Oct. 15 email. Winning experiments were selected from among those that replied to CASIS’s February request for proposals for “Enabling Technology to Support Science in Space for Life on Earth.” The experiments have not yet been scheduled for launch. Click here. (10/21)

Spaceport America Takes Spotlight Before NM Lawmakers (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
The first phase of an improved southern road to Spaceport America is slated to be under construction in the summer of next year, county officials told state lawmakers. The road proposal, vetted by the New Mexico Finance Authority Oversight Committee, is still being reviewed by the Bureau of Land Management, the federal agency responsible for much of the land along the 24-mile route.

The county is waiting for the agency's environmental assessment of the road construction, Armijo said. The county is hoping the BLM will issue a finding of "no significant impact," giving the project a green light. That decision could happen in mid-April, though "they haven't given us a firm date."

Doña Ana County officials also told lawmakers they're questioning the spaceport's current practice of spending excess dollars from the 2007 spaceport sales tax. Now, the spaceport authority uses most of the spaceport's share of tax revenue — one-quarter goes to education — to repay bonds that were used to build Spaceport America. But it's also using excess tax revenue beyond what's needed for that bond repayment to help pay for other spaceport operations. (10/21)

Former Boeing Exec Named to New USAF Launch Post (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Air Force has created a new senior executive service position at its primary space acquisition headquarters to improve what it describes as the “business of launch.” Claire Leon, a former Boeing executive, is the new director of launch enterprise at the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base. The move comes as the service begins the competitive phase of its launch program.

Leon retired from Boeing Space & Intelligence Systems in 2013 as vice president of national programs, a euphemism for classified intelligence systems. She had previously served as vice president of the company’s navigation and communication systems and as program director for the Wideband Global Satcom system, on which Boeing is prime contractor. (10/20)

When Good Rockets Go Bad: Orion's Launch Abort System (Source: Planetary Society)
On conventional rockets, where a capsule full of humans sits at the very tip of the launch vehicle, it makes sense to have a second controlled explosion at the ready that can pull the capsule away from whatever went wrong. This second rocket motor is usually built into a tower attached to the capsule, which, under normal launch conditions, gets thrown away once the capsule makes it through most of Earth's atmosphere.

Future capsule designs by companies like SpaceX plan to forgo the tower and use thrusters built into the capsule. These thrusters could also be used to land the capsule in lieu of parachutes, which normally bring spacecraft home under both normal and abort scenarios. NASA has a lot of experience with the tower system—it's been used on every American human spaceflight program except Gemini and the space shuttle. So for Orion, NASA's new spacecraft, the capsule and tower system are back.

Critics have questioned why NASA didn't try out next-generation abort systems like built-in thrusters or powered landings. They argue Orion is simply an Apollo redux—and that other NewSpace capsules are, as one prominent journalist once told me, "still f—ing capsules." But other considerations aside, capsules and launch abort towers are a safe bet for a government agency trying to please a long list of bureaucrats, politicians and industry leaders. (10/21)

First Privately Funded Moon Mission to Ride on a Chinese Rocket (Source: Air & Space)
A Long March rocket scheduled to launch on Thursday to test technology for a future Chinese lunar mission will also carry a historic “hitchhiker”: the first privately funded payload sent to the moon. The Luxembourg-based company LuxSpace is attaching its “4M” payload to the upper stage of a Long March 3C rocket, whose main job is to launch a capsule that will round the moon and re-enter Earth’s atmosphere at high speed to test the spacecraft’s protective heat shield. China plans to use such a capsule in 2017 for the Chang’e 5 lunar sample return mission. (10/21)

Satellite Imaging Firm Working with Google Maps (Source: Toledo Free Press)
Blue Water Satellite (BWS) of Toledo announced its collaboration with Google Maps for Work to provide immediate feedback to help the team improve Google’s image processing capabilities. BWS uses satellite and other spectral imagery and patented image processing to monitor the world’s land and water resources by implementing Google Earth Engine and Google Maps Engine, BWS can process its satellite imagery and serve the data to desktops and mobile devices supported by Google’s cloud. (10/21)

French Official Invokes U.S. Market ‘Dumping’ To Make Case for Ariane 6 (Source: Space News)
France’s space minister, seeking to marshal support for a next-generation Ariane rocket that will better compete in the global market, on Oct. 20 said Ariane’s U.S. competitors, enabled by a richly profitable government business, are all but “dumping” their rockets on the commercial market.

Returning to a theme she has regularly used in the past two years, Genevieve Fioraso said the France-backed Ariane 6 rocket being considered by European nations will be Europe’s way of countering the inherent U.S. advantage of a large domestic government market. In her speech to the parliamentarians, Fioraso did not list any specific examples, but in the past she has pointed to SpaceX as billing NASA much more than it bills commercial satellite customers for the same Falcon 9 rocket. (10/20)

Close Encounters of the Top Secret Kind (Source: Space Review)
In 1969, a Soviet spy satellite passed close to an American one. Dwayne Day examines whether this was a deliberate attempt by the Soviets to image the American satellite -- or even test an ASAT system -- or just a coincidence. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2623/1 to view the article. (10/20)

Commercial Crew's Extended Endgame (Source: Space Review)
Last month, NASA awarded contracts for commercial crew systems that were expected to end months of uncertainty about the program's future. However, Jeff Foust reports that the uncertainty lingers today, as one company protests those awards while also working on alternative plans for its vehicle design. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2622/1 to view the article. (10/20)

Powering Cislunar Spaceflight with NEO Powder (Source: Space Review)
NASA's Asteroid Redirect Mission plans to use xenon as the propellant for ion propulsion systems that will nudge a small asteroid into lunar orbit. Ronald Menich argues that using NEO materials themselves is a more sustainable approach to developing long-term cislunar infrastructure. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2621/1 to view the article. (10/20)

Big Data Computing Above the Clouds (Source: Space Review)
Data centers, the essential if invisible component of cloud computing, require large amounts of power and cooling to operate effectively. Vid Beldavs describes one solution that would put cloud computing literally above the clouds, in orbit. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2620/1 to view the article. (10/20)

Rocket Lab Among Winners in New Zealand Innovators Awards (Source: Scoop)
Rocket Lab’s creation of a carbon-composite launch vehicle will allow businesses to launch satellites into orbit more cost effectively than anywhere else in the world. Built in their Auckland facility, it will also reduce launch lead-time from years down to weeks. It has the ability to deliver up to 100kg into low Earth orbits. The evaluators thought that the Rocket Lab have done a great job in working out a disruptive and market creating application for this breakthrough technology. (10/16)

Behind the Scenes of Virgin Galactic (Source: Virgin Galactic)
What actually goes on behind the hangar doors of the world’s first commercial spaceline? Here is your chance to find out: join us for a behind the scenes look at Virgin Galactic. Click here. (10/20)

Senate Space Staffer Ann Zulkosky Leaving for Lockheed Martin (Source: Space News)
The Senate Commerce science and space committee’s top Democratic staffer is stepping down Nov. 7 to take a government affairs position with Lockheed Martin. Ann Zulkosky joined Senate Commerce in 2007 as a NOAA legislative fellow, but spent most of the last seven years working on civil space matters under Sen. Bill Nelson, the Florida Democrat who chairs the science and space subcommittee. (10/20)

Why Floating Into Space is a Dream Come True for Zero Gravity Hero (Source: Independent)
Gavin Walsh realized a lifetime ambition onboard NASA G-Force-1 at the world's top space center in Florida. The opportunity for the visiting public to take a weightless flight was introduced at KSC by the Zero Gravity Corp. last year. The cost of the entire experience - which lasts a day - is around $3,700, according to the website.

Since their introduction, the flights have proved a huge hit with the space- mad visiting public. Each flyer experiences Martian gravity (1/3 Earth's gravity, referred to as "g"), lunar gravity (1/6 g) and zero gravity - the sensation of floating freely with no pull from terra firma. The flight patterns temporarily counteract Earth's gravity, creating weightlessness for several seconds. (10/20)

Network of Spaceports Needed to Advance Space Industry (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
New Mexico Governor Jack Campbell was a visionary. In 1963, he sent a letter to President Kennedy asking him to "support the establishment of the first inland aerospace port." Today, 51 years later, the state of New Mexico is committed to evolving its role in the commercial space transportation industry. Spaceport America is one piece of the puzzle in creating a global space transportation industry that will be stimulated by the evolution of a network of spaceports in the United States.

Visionary governors are just one of the essential components in the growing commercial space transportation industry in the United State. As states increase their interest in commercial space enterprise, spaceport development has become the leading indicator of the growth of the commercial space transportation industry. Likely, the U.S. will continue to lead in the development of the spaceport network for the next 10 years, as the space transportation industry begins to grow on a global scale. Click here. (10/20)

Editorial: Winds of Change for Weather Data (Source: Space News)
Even limited-government conservatives, like me, would concede that the federal government has a role in weather prediction, at the very least for military operations and national security. Unfortunately, the United States ranks just fourth in accurate and timely weather forecasting despite spending much more than the rest of the world combined.

NOAA is doing some good things to correct this situation. First, NOAA is investing in high-performance computing, which is necessary for the numerical weather prediction models that will enable us to improve weather forecasting. Second, NOAA is exploring options to utilize commercial satellite companies. The U.S. can dramatically improve weather forecasting, save taxpayer dollars and reduce risk by empowering the commercial weather and satellite industries. (10/20)

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