October 5, 2014

Mission Possible: Tourism in Space (Source: New Indian Express)
After a piggy-back lift into the skies atop an airplane, the space plane suddenly breaks away and its hydrogen-powered rockets send it hurtling up towards the heavens. Higher and higher the space vehicle goes, more than 100 kilometres up. A soothing woman’s voice talks to passengers over the intercom and now, the stars are visible as the glider with its panorama windows flies in a parabolic trajectory.

Some time later, it lands back on earth. Such is the vision. As projected by V-Plane, a Hamburg company that designs small aircraft, the space ride would cost 150,000 euros ($185,000) per person. The idea has been partially developed, but so far, it’s only virtually available, as a video film, because the project isn’t making much headway.

“It’s simple in principle,” says Joachim Lau, chief executive of V-Plane as he sits in his office. Next to him is a model of the so-called suborbital aircraft, which would carry eight passengers. It’s initial ascent, on a regular plane, would take it to an altitude of 12 kilometres, before the rockets fire. For five minutes at the top of the trajectory, the passengers would experience weightlessness. Booster, an international consortium based in Belgium, commissioned the Hamburg company six years ago to help it conceive the project. (10/4)

Tycoons in Space: One in Orbit and One Still Grounded (Source: Daily Beast)
Richard Branson and Elon Musk have taken very different paths in their race to the heavens. But one is far ahead. Elon Musk has just blown my mind. In an astonishing interview with Ross Andersen in the online magazine Aeon, he combines a apocalyptic view of earth’s future with a visionary assessment of the practicality of space travel.

This came just a week after a cargo-carrying Dragon space capsule, built by Musk’s company SpaceX, arrived at the International Space Station. Following a flawless journey from Cape Canaveral in Florida, it delivered more than two tons of much-needed supplies. This is the point: Musk isn’t just another Trekkie musing on the future of manned space travel; starting from scratch, he’s successfully building the stuff to go there.

At around the same time the Dragon docked with the space station, some 200 miles below on earth, Branson was announcing a new sponsor for his Virgin Galactic program to introduce space tourism: Grey Goose vodka. Nothing could better describe the differences between Branson and Musk than these two events. This was the Dragon’s fourth successful mission into space. Virgin Galactic’s space program has yet to reach space, even though it was originally supposed to be taking tourists for the ride of their lives by 2007. (10/5)

EDCs to Monitor SpaceX (Source: Valley Morning Star
The economic development corporations in McAllen and Harlingen built stipulations into their agreements with SpaceX to ensure that commitments promised in exchange for incentives will be met. Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which designs and manufactures its Falcon rockets and Dragon spacecraft, is developing the world’s first commercial private orbital launch site at Boca Chica near Brownsville in Cameron County.

The state and several Rio Grande Valley agencies, including McAllen and Harlingen, worked to land the $100 million-plus project. The effort captured is expected to transform South Texas into an aerospace hub, rich in educational, research, development, and employment opportunities. Total grants and tax abatements for SpaceX equal about $30 million.

McAllen and Harlingen together will offer nearly $1 million of that, a significant amount for agencies with limited revenue streams, but that recognize that their communities also are poised for explosive growth. They also ensured that their cities will benefit in a tangible way that can be measured. Reporting requirements, job creation, and direct investments are built into the agreements. (10/4)

Texas Border Town to Become Next Cape Canaveral (Source: USA Today)
For decades, the only things launching from Boca Chica Beach here were ospreys and seagulls. But in a few years, million-pound rockets will begin lifting off from this stretch of isolated beach at Texas' southernmost tip and fire into the deepest reaches of outer space. The recent announcement by SpaceX, that it plans to build a first-of-its kind, fully-private launch facility in Brownsville has rattled this border city and underscores the shifting story of space exploration from government-run missions to private-sector enterprise.

SpaceX, started by billionaire and PayPal founder Elon Musk, will build the spaceport over 50 acres of privately-owned land at the end of Texas Highway 4 and be launch-ready in about two years. The complex, which will include a rocket launch site, launch command center and ground tracking station, will do up to 12 launches a year.

The spaceport is unique in that it will be the first one built entirely by a private company, not by NASA or on a government base, Pura said. It's part of the so-called "new space" movement, led by firms such as Blue Origin, set up by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, the Virgin Group's Virgin Galactic and SpaceX, that are building cheaper, reusable spacecraft and paving the way to space tourism. (10/5)

How Big Data is Fueling a New Age in Space Exploration (Source: Venture Beat)
The dwindling cost of launches and the democratization of the satellite market are going to result in an unprecedented growth of orbital activity. Based on announced plans by various companies and space programs, between 2,000 and 2,750 cube- and nano-sats will be launched by the end of this decade — the Goddard Space Flight Center lists 2,271 satellites currently in orbit.

Historically, the single largest barrier that has kept the space data floodgates closed was the ability to transmit the collected information back to Earth. Most current space missions use radio frequency to transfer data, which is a relatively slow approach. NASA’s typical deep space explorer would send back data on the order of megabytes per second, while earth orbiting spacecraft are typically doing so in gigabytes per second.

In the future, however, the space industry is expected to start switching to new type of optical (or laser) communications that will significantly increase the download speed and mean a 1,000-multiple surge in the volume of data. Click here. (10/5)

How Richard Nixon Changed NASA (Source: Planetary Society)
In 1969, the Apollo 11 mission successfully met President John F. Kennedy’s challenge to land a man on the Moon and return him safely to Earth within the decade. The end of the Moon race raised the question: what, if anything, was next for NASA? It would be answered by Richard Nixon's Administration, and the decisions they made altered the nation's relationship with its space program forever. Click here. (10/4)

NASA Spots Million-Mile-Long Filament Across the Sun (Source: C/Net)
Our sun is a wild and fascinating place. While a big, fluffy, horizon-long set of clouds is an impressive sight here on Earth, the sun can handily top that with a single filament of solar material. Filaments appear on the sun from time to time. These unstable gaseous clouds of solar plasma sometimes hang around for weeks, giving scientists down here plenty to look at.

Recently, a filament appeared on the sun that stretches about a million miles in length. This massive formation is held up by magnetic forces and rotates along with the sun. Straighten it out and it would very nearly reach around the sun. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory keeps a constant watch on the sun and has been tracking the huge filament for days.

The filament appears in images taken in different wavelengths as a long, tendril-like line etched across the sun. It looks like something out of a CGI-fueled sci-fi movie. Scientists are studying filaments in an effort to learn more about how they are created and what causes them to occasionally turn into powerful eruptions shooting plasma out into space. Click here. (10/5)

Sierra Nevada's Protest is Justified (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
From the moment President Obama announced his intention to have private companies launch crewed spacecraft to the International Space Station, the deck was stacked in favor of SpaceX. Elon Musk’s campaign contributions have been interpreted by a number of space enthusiasts as a factor in Obama’s decision to cancel the Constellation Program and turn NASA over to private companies.

Curiously though, SpaceX received a minority contract of $2.6 billion, whereas Boeing received a contract for $4.2 billion. Was this a logical decision? Why Boeing? And why the majority contract for Boeing? Perhaps SpaceX received all the money it requested, but since NASA is not discussing the reasons for its decision, the true reason is, at present, unknown.

The other prominent contender for the Commercial Crew contract was the Sierra Nevada Corporation with its Dream Chaser, a lifting body spacecraft that would make a piloted landing, like NASA’s retired fleet of orbiters. Dream Chaser’s test flight is slated for November of 2016—a year ahead of Boeing’s scheduled unmanned test flight. But in the report, Dream Chaser was found to have “technical uncertainly and schedule risk”—an odd conclusion after Dream Chaser’s rapid progress, lower cost, and successful approach and landing test in October of 2013. (10/5)

Iran to Launch 3 New Satellites with More Powerful Launchers (Source: FARS)
Tehran is preparing to orbit three new home-made satellites, called Zafar (Triumph), Tolou (Sunrise) and Pars, from more powerful launch vehicles in the near future. Deputy Head of Iran Space Agency (ISA) Hamid Fazeli made the announcement on the sidelines of a ceremony at the start of the World Space Week in Tehran. "Launching the under-construction satellites, including Sharifsat and Nahid, are also among the short-term plans of the ISA," he added.

Also, Iranian Vice-President for Executive Affairs Mohammad Shariatmadari told reporters in the same ceremony that Iran hopes that its Sharifsat satellite would be sent into orbit this year. Fazeli had announced in May that Iran plans to launch three home-made monitoring satellites into orbit in the next Iranian calendar year (March 2015-March 2016). "Zafar, Tolou and AUT Sat will be sent into space onboard the Simorq satellite carrier," he said. (10/5)

Canadian Leads NASA Mission to Fake Space (Source: Globe and Mail)
The remote slopes of a volcano on Hawaii’s main island offer some of the clearest views of the night sky on the planet. For the six fake astronauts soon to be living inside a geodesic dome there, including the Canadian mission commander, those views will be for naught. For eight months, their world will consist of little more than the 1,000-square-foot dome and a shipping container.

They will don space suits to go outside, conduct their own research within the dome, and be guinea pigs for a NASA project studying the impact of long-term isolation. “I’m like the fake Chris Hadfield,” jokes Martha Lenio, the 34-year-old Canadian chosen to lead the crew of Americans. “I’m the leader of a fake mission to fake space.” (10/3)

Luke Wilson: How I Made My Award-Winning Short Film Satellite Beach (Source: Time)
In the fall of 2012, the actor Luke Wilson and a small film crew trailed the Space Shuttle Endeavor as it moved through the Los Angeles streets to the California Science Center. Wilson, along with his brother Andrew, shot largely improvised footage of a character named Warren Flowers (played by Wilson) who believes he is in charge of the shuttle’s journey; the footage became a 20-minute evocative short film called Satellite Beach.

For Wilson, the experience allowed him the chance to make a film in a different way and to explore space travel, a subject he says he finds compelling. A hit at festivals, where it’s snapped up a string of awards, Satellite Beach is an unusual film, and one that deftly twists the viewer’s expectations while showcasing what it was like to drive a space shuttle through LA’s busy streets. (10/2)

UrtheCast Says it Will be Largest Commercial ISS User (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
"I really believe that UrtheCast is poised to totally disrupt the traditional Earth resources multi-billion dollar market as to how you get the data," said Jeffrey Manber, managing director of NanoRacks. "Up to now, it's been assumed that you've got to have a dedicated satellite, you have to have dedicated launchers, you have to have finite power, you have a limited lifespan on the platform. What UrtheCast is doing, in my view, is demonstrating the disruptive power of a permanently manned space station, that you can use that platform as a big satellite with total power, things can be fixed, and launches are not as important once you're up there." (10/3)

Russia Postpones Automatic Lunar Exploration Program Until 2018 (Source: Itar-Tass)
Russia has postponed the start of its automatic lunar exploration program from 2016 until 2018, Space Research Institute Director Lev Zelyony said on Friday. “They [the timelines] have been changed from 2016 to 2018. These are Luna Globe and orbiting Luna [program],” he said, adding that there should be no further delays. “We want to implement three lunar projects this decade: Luna-25, Luna-26 and Luna-27,” he said. (10/3)

Buzz Aldrin to Visit Underwater Florida Lab (Source: Florida Today)
Two professors at an East Tennessee community college plan to spend 73 days underwater in a unique educational endeavor that will also attempt to break a world record. 63-year-old Bruce Cantrell and 25-year-old Jessica Fain will live in a special habitat 25-feet down in an ocean lagoon in Key Largo, Florida. During their time underwater, they will interview marine science experts and others for a weekly live broadcast called “Classroom Under the Sea.” Among those who will scuba-dive down to the laboratory will be Buzz Aldrin, the second astronaut to set foot on the moon. (10/3)

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