October 3, 2014

Cubesat Revolution, Spotty Compliance with Debris Rules Fuel Dangerous Congestion (Source: Space News)
The world’s rocket and satellite owners are doing a mediocre job in respecting debris-mitigation rules, especially in low Earth orbit, where debris proliferation is the ugly underside of the fast-growing small- and microsatellite market, government and industry officials said.

Twelve years after a grouping of the world’s space powers published what it thought were modest guidelines asking that satellite and rocket owners take steps to remove their hardware from low Earth orbit within 25 years after its mission, a sizable portion of them are paying little attention to the rule.

The French space agency, CNES, studied 12 years of debris-mitigation practices, 2000-2012, and found that 40 percent of satellites and rocket bodies are left in low Earth orbit at altitudes high enough to make it impossible for them to re-enter within the 25-year window specified in the rules. (10/3)

Commercial Astronaut Training Becoming Crowded Market (Source: Space News)
As a privately operated astronaut training school in California announced its arrival into a suddenly crowded market, the chief executive of a similar company in Houston said his firm is planning to open its doors in March — nearly a year later than planned. The newest entrant, the Star Harbor Space Training Academy, will be located in California, according to consultant Alan Ladwig, a fixture on the space policy scene who left his position as NASA’s deputy associate administrator in 2013.

With the addition of Star Harbor, there will be at least three private U.S. spaceflight training facilities, the other two being the Houston-area company Waypoint 2 Space and the Nastar Center in Southampton, Pennsylvania. Only Nastar is open today. The center has graduated 450 spaceflight trainees since it began operations in 2007, said Brienna Henwood, the facility’s director of space flight training and research.

Editor's Note: And there are more. Florida-based Black Sky Training plans flight crew and passenger training, and Zero-G and Swiss Space Systems both offer parabolic flight experiences that are sometimes offered as astronaut training activities. But I don't know whether any of these would lead to an actual qualification acceptable to NASA, the FAA, or any foreight governments for future orbital spaceflight. (10/3)

Satellites Expose Mysteries of the Deep Ocean (Source: Science News)
A new comprehensive map of Earth’s seafloor reveals never-before-seen features hidden deep below the waves, including thousands of uncharted underwater mountains. The map is the most accurate global seafloor map ever made and could provide new clues to how Earth’s surface got its shape.

“We know a lot about the continents, but we know almost nothing about what’s going on in the oceans,” says lead author David Sandwell, an earth scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif. “It’s like being on another planet; the ocean is probably the most unexplored feature in the inner solar system.” (10/3)

NanoRacks Identifies Root Cause of ISS Cubesat Deployment Failures (Source: Space News)
Two separate August failures of the NanoRacks satellite dispenser operated from the space station — one a nondeployment of small satellites and the other an unplanned release of spacecraft — were both caused by overly tightened dispenser screws, NanoRacks has concluded. Jeffrey Manber said the company has repeated the failure at a ground test facility in front of NASA. Sometimes there is no deployment, and sometimes deployment occurs without being commanded.

Manber said NASA, as space station general contractor, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency — from whose station module the Nanrocks’ dispensers are deployed — have approved the company’s decision to deliver a fresh batch of dispensers to the station. But the two agencies are still assessing possible additional safety measures, such as mandating that a latch be put on the dispensers’ covers. As an added precaution, Manber said, NanoRacks has hired the Aerospace Corp. to oversee the company’s review of what happened.

Manber said two of the dispensers now aboard the station would be returned to NanoRacks for inspection. NanoRacks is now more closely calibrating the tightness of the screws before they are prepared for packing into the space station cargo freighters. The dispensers, rectangular cylinders with a door at the end, each house up to several cubesats. The dispensers exit the station from JAXA’s Kibo habitable module. Once outside, they are seized by Japan’s robotic manipulator arm and placed into the correct release orientation. (10/3)

Russia to Launch New Heavy-Lift Rocket on December 25 (Source: Reuters)
Russia plans to test launch its new heavy-lift Angara space rocket on Dec. 25, Interfax news agency quoted a source in the space industry as saying on Friday. The Angara is the first new family of space rockets developed by Russia since the Soviet era and is a vital part of President Vladimir Putin's efforts to revive the space industry. A lighter version was launched successfully in July. (10/3)

Russia to Launch New Missile Attack Warning Satellites Next Year (Source: Itar-Tass)
The first satellites of the future orbital grouping of Russia’s missile warning system’s space-based echelon are expected to be launched in 2015. Russia is currently developing a space system that is set to become a space echelon of the missile warning system designed to detect and track launches of ballistic missiles around the world. “Test launches will be made next year,” Sergey Boyev said, giving no details on the number of satellites in the future grouping. (10/3)

Aliens May be Out There, but Too Distant for Contact (Source: Discovery)
The Milky Way may be home to some 3,000 extraterrestrial civilizations but the vast distances between our galactic cousins will make contact extremely rare, a new study concludes. Data collected by NASA’s Kepler space telescope and other observatories scouting for planets beyond the solar system indicate Earth is one of some 40 billion potentially habitable worlds in the galaxy, with about one new life-friendly planet forming every year, astronomer Michael Garrett said.

Sounds promising, until you consider the sheer size of the Milky Way, which spans more than 100,000 light-years in diameter. Light travels at about 186,000 miles per second, but a signal will still take more than 4 years to reach neighboring system Alpha Centauri and 100,000 years to travel from one end of the galaxy to the other.

“On average, you’d expect the civilizations to be separated by at least 1,000 light-years in the Milky Way. That’s a large distance, and for communication purposes you need to allow for twice the travel distance, so you’re talking about civilizations that have to be around for at least a few thousand years in order to have the opportunity to talk to each other,” Garrett said. (10/3)

NASA Issues 'Stop Work' Order on Newly Issued ‘Space Taxi’ Contracts (Source: America Space)
Construction of America’s next human spaceships carrying our astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) will have to wait longer, because the work has now been ordered “stopped” dead in its freshly trodden tracks by a brand new NASA directive issued barely two weeks after the agency originally announced in mid-September that the winning bids had been awarded to Boeing and SpaceX.

The NASA directive to “stop performance” and halt contract work stems from a new legal challenge filed by the losing bidder, Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), with the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The GAO has approximately three months to evaluate SNC’s legal challenge and make a decision regarding NASA’s commercial crew awards. “The GAO has notified NASA it will make its ruling by Jan. 5, 2015,” Schierholz said. (10/3)

Safety of Space-Based Microwave Power Transmission to Earth's Surface (Source: SEI)
Space-Based Power (SBP) envisions the generation of electric power by in space (e.g. solar energy capture), conversion to radiofrequency (RF) energy, ‘beaming’ to special rectifying antennas (rectennas) on the Earth’s surface, then distribution to terrestrial users via preexisting power grids. The beam would utilize a 2.45 or 5.8 GHz microwave signal to provide between 1 and 5 GW (gigawatts) of power to the ground. [NOTE: 1 gigawatt (GW) = 1000 megawatts (MW)].

The legal operation and public acceptance of SBP, especially the microwave power transmission (MPT) component (sometimes referred to as wireless power transmission or WPT) through the atmosphere, will depend in large part on the human occupational exposure experience accumulated over the past sixty-five years and basic research on the effects of microwaves on human beings, plants and animals. Click here. (10/3)

Enough Ice Has Melted in Antarctica to Alter the Earth’s Gravity (Source: Smithsonian)
The Earth’s gravity field is not uniform. Instead, it mounds in some spots due to the density of rock or ice below, the flow of groundwater or ocean currents and other factors. To measure those variations, the European Space Agency launched the Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) in 2009.

During its four-year run, GOCE was able to make a number of observations that showed gravity changes over time — including the gravity scar left by the 2011 Japanese earthquake. And, with the help of an older satellite called GRACE, GOCE's observations showed that melting glaciers in West Antarctica have lost so much mass that there's been a dip in gravity over the region. (GOCE provided detail about individual glacial systems.) (10/1)

NASA's Stephen Volz to Oversee NOAA Satellites (Source: NextGov)
NASA spaceflight official Stephen Volz will oversee environmental satellites for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA has announced. In his new role as head of National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Services, Volz's main tasks will be overseeing the Joint Polar Satellite System and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite R-Series, two new satellite programs that together account for $20 billion and a next-generation means of studying Earth's climate. (9/30)

NASA to Conduct Full-Scale Military Helicopter Crash Test at Langley (Source: Star Tribune)
NASA engineers on Wednesday will crash a former military helicopter that's been retrofitted with various composite subfloors to see how the material affects the likelihood of injuries. Interest in using carbon composites in airframe design has grown because it is a lightweight material, but NASA officials say there hasn't been a lot of safety testing done on a full-scale level. (9/30)

Agency Hopes to Speed Up Florida Incentives (Source: Sunshine State News)
Florida's top economic-development leader could be using the prospect of landing a multinational electronics and technology company like Apple to get state lawmakers to allow more leeway on state incentives packages through a program known as the "Quick Action Closing Fund." Enterprise Florida CEO Gray Swoope told the agency's board members that Apple is the kind of manufacturer desired by Florida.

However, he said, state laws might hinder such economic-development efforts because of the length of time needed to get approval for incentives as firms try to open facilities quickly. Under the Quick Action Closing Fund, a joint House and Senate panel known as the Legislative Budget Commission is required to approve incentives packages over a $5 million threshold. The commission meets periodically throughout the year.

"I see this as a competitive disadvantage that we need to figure out," Swoope said. "I'm not saying that we need to do away with Senate approval or House leadership approval, because this is $10 million that we're accountable for. But the approval process needs to be tightened. It needs to be tightened. (10/1)

North Korea Prepares Launch Site for Longer-Range Rockets: Report (Source: Newsweek)
Commercial satellite pictures showed North Korea has finished work under a major program to upgrade the Sohae Satellite Launch Station, in the North's western region near the border with China, said the 38 North Website, which is operated by Johns Hopkins University's U.S.-Korea Institute.

"A key component of that program has been to upgrade an existing launch pad, enabling it to launch rockets larger than the existing Unha-3 space launch vehicle in the future," the think tank said. Unha-3 is the North's long-range rocket launched in December 2012 following a failed test in April, triggering a sharp rebuke by the U.N. Security Council, which already has a series of sanctions in force for its missile and nuclear tests. (10/2)

Canada’s Astronauts Optimistic About the Future of Space Tourism (Source: Metro)
“In Canada we had six astronauts chosen in the early ’80s, four in the early ‘90s and then David and I in 2009,” said Jeremy Hansen. While no astronauts have been selected for the Canadian space program since, he believes more will be chosen, more frequently, in the near future. “Young Canadians today are going to have a lot more opportunities than my generation had."

“Right now, we only have one vehicle to get people to space, the Russian Soyuz rocket,” he added. “We can only fly 12 humans in space a year. … That’s why there’s not a lot of recruiting right now.” According to Hansen, with the development of American and private commercial shuttles, there will be a greater capacity for astronauts in the future. "You will have commercial astronauts in the future who never go through a government astronaut program,” said Hansen. (10/1)

California Aerospace Commisssion Proposed to Support Industry (Source: Press-Telegram)
As the U.S. defense budget winds down, lawmakers and business groups are rallying to preserve Southern California as a hotbed of aerospace innovation. Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi is spearheading an effort to create a state aerospace commission that would act as a single point of contact for all aerospace-related functions in California. The panel would provide research and public policy recommendations to lawmakers, develop workforce training programs and address regulatory hurdles faced by the industry.

“We think it’s long overdue that California have an aerospace commission to serve as a unified voice and advocate for California’s aerospace industry,” Muratsuchi said after meeting with aerospace stakeholders. The commission would be a public-private partnership that would fill the void left by the California Space Authority, created in 1996 and dissolved in 2011 due to a lack of funding and corporate membership. Click here. (10/2)

Quantum Tapped to Build Small Intel Satellites (Source: Military & Aerospace Elecctronics)
Army strategic reconnaissance experts needed an imaging satellite company to build small satellites to provide deployed warfighters with real-time intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance imagery. They found their solution from Quantum Research International, Inc. in Huntsville. Officials of the Army Strategic Command at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., announced their intention this week to award a contract worth about $8.5 million to Quantum Research to build and demonstrate Kestrel Eye satellite technology and ground-control equipment. (10/2)

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