October 25, 2014

SpaceX to Attempt Falcon 9 Booster Landing on Floating Platform (Source: Florida Today)
As soon as December, SpaceX will attempt to land a Falcon 9 rocket booster on a floating ocean platform the size of a football field. The landing platform is being built at a Louisiana shipyard and measures 300 feet by 170 feet. The new infrastructure is SpaceX's next step in trying to recover a Falcon 9 booster so it can be flown again, a breakthrough Elon Musk believes is critical to lowering launch costs.

So far, the company has twice flown boosters as tall as 14-story buildings back from space and hypersonic speeds to soft landings in the Atlantic Ocean, where they broke up. The new platform aims to give the boosters something more solid to touch down upon with landing legs that span 60 feet. It will be positioned miles out in the Atlantic Ocean, unanchored but equipped with engines and GPS sensors that will try to keep it stable.

Editor's Note: I haven't seen that SpaceX's petition to overturn Blue Origin's patent for barge landings has been resolved. I wonder if Blue Origin will attempt to block the landing attempt. (10/24)

Do You Have What It Takes to Go Into Space? (Probably) (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Selected from hundreds of elite pilots, the Mercury Seven astronauts had to endure a battery of grueling tests: running on treadmills for hours, blowing up balloons repeatedly to gauge their lung capacity, being exposed to extreme heat, vibration and loud noises. None could weigh over 180 pounds or be taller than 5-foot-11. And they needed to have logged at least 1,500 hours of flying time in a traditional aircraft.

The bar has since lowered drastically, especially for ordinary citizens hoping to catch a ride aboard the commercial “space-tourism” flights that have either launched or have plans to do so as soon as early next year. Just ask the 700 ticket holders who’ve paid up to $250,000 to ride with Virgin Galactic 50 miles above the earth, or the 300 who have signed up for a similar offering by XCOR (at a cost of $95,000). Overweight? Probably not a problem. Heavy smoker? The sky may still be the limit.

Even if you think you haven’t got the right stuff, you might. It could just take a bit of training to get you there. Surprisingly, the baseline medical requirements for commercial space travel are lenient—and that’s true whether you’re taking a “suborbital” flight that barely leaves the earth’s atmosphere (as Virgin Galactic and XCOR’s flights will do) or going all the way to the International Space Station (a trip offered by a company called Space Adventures). (10/24)

Range Safety Concerns Postpone Launch of European Re-Entry Experiment (Source: Space News)
The European Space Agency on Oct. 24 postponed indefinitely the planned Nov. 18 launch of its intermediate experimental vehicle (IXV), designed to make a suborbital equatorial flight to test re-entry technologies after launch aboard Europe’s Vega rocket, following concerns for range safety as Vega passes over the South American spaceport.

Stefano Bianchi, head of launchers for the 20-nation ESA, said discussions with the French space agency, CNES — which is Europe’s “launching state” in legal terms as host to the Guiana Space Center — are likely to continue “for a few weeks” before an acceptable flight route is determined. Bianchi said the specific concern is that Vega’s second and third stages, both solid-fueled, will be unpressurized and in low altitude over French Guiana territory during the flight’s first minutes after liftoff.

The Ariane 5 rocket carries two large solid-fueled boosters, but both are ignited at liftoff. For Vega, a flight anomaly that forced the vehicle’s destruction would pose potential hazards from the vehicle’s fully fueled second and third stages. The vehicle’s fourth stage is liquid-fueled. Bianchi said it is only natural that range-safety authorities, presented with an unprecedented launch profile for a relatively new vehicle — this will be Vega’s fourth flight — would want to pay special attention to the performance required of Vega. (10/24)

Dream Chaser Heads to Space for Science (Source: Denver Post)
Sierra Nevada's Louisville-based Space Systems has a new mission: Doing science in space. The Dream Chaser for Science, or DC4Science, is a variant of the Dream Chaser spacecraft designed as an orbiting microgravity laboratory. "We can create a custom lab that allows us to dedicate the lab space to whatever the scientific purpose is," Mark Sirangelo said.

The spacecraft allows for customized experimental payloads to be sent to space for three different types of missions: Short-term flights with scientist astronauts on board; uncrewed months-long missions; and longer duration missions of a year or more. In addition to the customizable aspect, there is one major difference between experiments on board DC4Science and those being performed on the space station:

"Customers will maintain scientific intellectual property rights, free from Federal Research Laboratory regulations that govern the International Space Station," said John Roth, Space Systems' vice president of business development. (10/24)

Supersized Sunspot is Largest in Decades (Source: Science News)
A colossal sunspot large enough to be seen with the naked eye now blemishes the nearside of the sun, covering an area wide enough to comfortably fit 10 Earths side by side. The new sunspot, dubbed AR 12192, is the largest observed since 1990. Sunspots are cooler regions on the sun where powerful, twisted magnetic fields poke through the solar surface. According to NASA, the enormous sunspot has already sparked several solar flares, which can create auroras and disrupt satellites around Earth. (10/24)

UAE Fires Up Space Agency with Mars Mission (Source: Physics World)
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has announced plans to send a spacecraft to Mars by 2021, which would make it the first Arab country to reach another planet. The unmanned probe's prospective nine-month journey is timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the UAE's independence from the UK.

The UAE is also creating a new national-level space agency intended to "maximize the contribution of space industries to the national economy", according to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and the UAE's vice-president. The Mars mission and the new space agency are intended to help diversify the country's economy away from reliance on oil and gas and into hi-tech industries. (10/24)

Spaceport America Seeks To Diversify Customer Base and Revenue Streams (Source: Space News)
As Spaceport America gears up for the beginning of commercial flights next year by anchor tenant Virgin Galactic, the spaceport’s director says she is looking for additional users and revenue streams that will be required to eventually make the facility financially self-sufficient.

Christine Anderson, executive director of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority, said that commercial spaceports in general, like airports, will require a diversified revenue stream that goes beyond rent payments and other fees directly linked to launch activities.

“Airports are not self-sustaining today just on the aircraft that come in and out,” she said, citing revenue streams from activities like concessions and parking. “Spaceports, for a very long time and maybe forever, are not going to be able to rely on just launch vehicles.” (10/24)

Contract Dispute Holds Crucial Launch Site Hardware Hostage for Antares Mission (Source: Space News)
Orbital Sciences is suing a contractor for holding “hostage” hardware needed to launch an Antares mission to the ISS next April and is suing to recover the parts. A roughly $2 million contract Orbital awarded in 2013 to Integrated Systems & Machinery and its owner, Kevin Huber, was to procure new gimbals and cylinders for the hydraulic system used by the Antares Transporter Erector vehicle.

Orbital’s third cargo run to the ISS — which is still slated to launch Oct. 27 — can proceed without the withheld hardware. However, Orbital is obligated under an agreement with the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s host state to upgrade the Transporter Erector before launching its fourth contracted cargo run, the debut of a bigger, heavier Cygnus cargo tug.

A July 14 email shows that Huber told Orbital that the hardware was mostly complete, but that he would not turn it over because of “unresolved contractual matters” between Orbital and Integrated Systems and Machinery. Huber also wrote that he would “be ready, on the spot, to do it if somehow the contractual issue resolves itself.” Editor's Note: This mess gets pretty complicated. Click here to read the full story. (10/24)

'Ambition' Beautifully Blends Science, Art and Fantasy (Source: Discovery)
Walking across a barren plain, after the apprentice failed to keep a levitating mountain of rock in the air, the master says to his student, “I think we should find you something a little less challenging.” ... “I don’t understand. I planned everything. Let me try it again,” argues the apprentice stubbornly.

And that is the premise of this beautifully-crafted short film by Polish director Tomek Baginski: through dogged determination and ambition, humanity can achieve anything. The film is a celebration of ESA's hostoric achievement of sending the Rosetta probe to rendezvous with a comet. Click here. (10/24)

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