November 12, 2014

Planetary Science Community Split Over Asteroid Mission (Source: NASA Watch)
"What the critics don't seem to understand is that if we don't send humans to an asteroid that is moved closer to Earth, we will send humans nowhere for the foreseeable future, which means the next decade or two," Friedman says. "If we drop this mission, our planned rockets and crew modules can go out as far as the moon but we won't be able to land without investments that are frankly unrealistic right now."

ARM's harshest critics, asteroid scientists such as [Mark] Sykes of the Planetary Science Institute and M.I.T. professor Richard Binzel, remain unconvinced. "It's an empty threat to say if you don't take this thing that came from nowhere you'll get nothing and that will be the end of everything," Sykes says. "Well, you know, okay, fine--pull the trigger, guys. Maybe some people don't get the toy that they want but there are other options our leaders can pursue." (11/11)

MEI Gets Nearly $10M Contract To Help Air Force with ISS Payloads (Source: Space News)
MEI Technologies of Houston has won a sole-source contract worth as much as $9.8 million from the U.S. Air Force to support Defense Department payloads bound for the international space station. As part of the Defense Department’s Space Test Program, MEI Technologies is responsible for the department’s Human Exploration Payloads Bridge program. The Human Exploration Payloads Bridge program dates back to 1984 and work on the space shuttle program. (11/11)

Despite Setbacks, Space Entrepreneurship is About to be Huge (Source: Venture Beat)
No doubt about it. October was a tough month for space enthusiasts and the world’s private space industry. The explosion of the Antares rocket, which was headed to the International Space Station, was followed just a few days later by the crash of Virgin Galactic’s and Scaled Composites’ SpaceShipTwo.

While it’s entirely reasonable to see these pair of events as a setback for the private space industry, I heard a very different view last week in Vienna, where I was moderating a discussion about space entrepreneurship at the Pioneers Festival. In conversations on and off stage, all panelists sounded a common theme: We are on the cusp of an exciting new era in space entrepreneurship. Click here. (11/11)

Editorial: Civil Space Firms Are Key (Source: Defense News)
Recent accidents have prompted some to question the future of America’s commercial space industry. The suggestion that the era of commercial space providers is over is ridiculous. This is, literally, rocket science. Putting anything into space is a complex undertaking and it doesn’t take much for things to go very wrong.

Setbacks will happen and each failure offers lessons. Commercial firms have been a key part of America’s space program since its inception. And over those decades, industry worked to develop technology, systems and processes that put man into orbit and on the surface of the Moon, but also sometimes failed in spectacular and deadly fashion.

It is through the competition among veteran firms like Orbital, ATK, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman —and new ones like SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin and others — that the space industry will continue innovating and advancing. (11/11)

Controversy Over Object Orbiting Supermassive Black Hole (Source: SEN)
Astronomers using the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii believe that they have solved the riddle of a bizarre object spotted in the center of our Milky Way galaxy. But their claim has sparked fresh controversy, and is disputed by the object's discoverer. The object, widely known as G2, was earlier declared to be a hydrogen gas cloud headed toward our galaxy’s enormous black hole, and becoming stretched and distorted by the powerful gravitational forces.

However, having studied it during its closest approach to the supermassive black hole this summer the team led by Andrea Ghez, professor of physics and astronomy at UCLA, now suggest that it is an extremely large star, the product of a pair of binary stars having merged.

They say the binary system had been orbiting the black hole in tandem and merged together to form the star, cloaked in gas and dust, its behaviour controlled by the black hole’s powerful gravitational field. If G2 had been a hydrogen cloud, it could have been torn apart by the black hole, and the resulting celestial fireworks would have dramatically changed the state of the black hole, they say. (11/11)

After Spacecraft Failures, Caution — But No Fears — at Cecil Spaceport (Source: Jacksonville Business Journal)
Advocates of Cecil Spaceport said they're not worried that a deadly accident — like the recent crash in the Mojave Desert by Virgin Galactic— could happen in Jacksonville. But Cecil Airport Manager Rusty Chandler said he feels the occurrence will have an effect on the growth of the local space station. "Anytime you have an accident like that in an emerging business that hasn't really proven itself yet — and horizontal activity really hasn't proven itself — you will have an impact," Chandler said.

The industry as a whole will be even more cautious to prevent any repeats, which could lead to more more certifications for vehicles and additional training. The Chief Operating Officer of Generation Orbit— Cecil Spaceport's primary tenant — said that an accident like Virgin's makes everyone extra cautious, although the company has alway been safety minded.

"Any time something like that happens, you go back and review what you're doing," COO A.J. Piplica said. "We're pretty pleased with the processes we have in place. We don't see major changes happening with that." The launches Generation Orbit is planning are fairly different from those of Virgin Galactic. (11/11)

NASA Looks To Faster, Cheaper ISS Access For Researchers (Source: Aviation Week)
NASA’s International Space Station program plans to greatly compress certification schedules for science and exploration technology hardware in a bid to lower costs for researchers with interest in placing experiments and technology projects aboard the orbiting lab. The streamlining is aimed at scientists, engineers from the private sector and academia as well as partner nations and the agency itself.

The push coming from the ISS program office, which is hosted by Johnson Space Center, may be especially helpful to scientists and engineers working with commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware, which sometimes takes more than a year to be certified as safe, reliable and robust enough for duty in the weightless environment of the six-person outpost.

The timing coincides with plans announced by the White House last January to extend operations aboard the $3 billion/year ISS from 2020 until at least 2024, which added a note of urgency to an initiative already underway and beginning to gather internal momentum by mid-2013. (11/10)

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