November 21, 2014

Florida Delegation Members Move Up the Congressional Ladder (Source: Sunshine State News)
Members of the Florida congressional delegation are starting to move up the leadership ladder as the new Congress reconvenes in January. On Thursday, U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-FL, will take over as chairman of the Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Appropriations.

Having just won his first full term in the House, U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-FL, is headed to the Appropriations Committee. On the other side of the aisle, while she did not end up as the chairwoman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), admittedly a large role for a congresswoman who just won a second term, U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-FL, will be part of her party’s leadership, sitting on the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee which makes committee assignments and shapes policy. (11/21)

Texas' Culberson To Chair NASA House Appropriations Subcommittee (Source: Space News)
U.S. Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), a strong advocate of NASA’s exploration and planetary science programs, will chair the subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee that funds the agency in the next Congress, the committee announced Nov. 20. (11/21)

U.S. Warns EU Against Making Galileo Mandatory (Source: Space News)
The U.S. government has alerted the European Union that any preferential treatment the EU gives to its Galileo positioning, navigation and timing network will likely violate World Trade Organization (WTO) agreements signed by the United States and the 28-nation EU.

In particular, U.S. government officials voiced concerns that the EU is weighing equipment mandates for aviation, car-accident reporting and emergency-call regulations that could unfairly tip the scales in favor of Galileo to the detriment of U.S. GPS-enabled hardware.

Jason Y. Kim, senior adviser at the U.S. National Coordination Office for Positioning, Navigation and Timing, said regulatory measures put into place should be technology-neutral, putting GPS-equipped hardware on an equal footing as Galileo equipment if both meet the regulations’ performance requirements. (11/21)

Final SLS Engines Are Still An Unknown (Source: Aviation Week)
NASA's go-as-you-can-pay approach to exploration-system development means the heavy-lift Space Launch System‭ (‬SLS‭) ‬in development to‭ ‬carry Orion beyond low Earth orbit and eventually on to Mars is very much a work in progress‭, ‬starting with the engines‭.‬ NASA hopes new rocket engines built with additive manufacturing and other advanced techniques will help hold down powerplant costs‭.

For now‭, ‬however‭, ‬SLS engineers do not have a definite view of just how they will power the big new launcher once the 16‭ ‬surviving RS-25‭ ‬Space Shuttle Main Engines‭ (‬SSME‭) ‬are used and thrown away‭, ‬four at a time‭.‬ "If we are going to use something like an RS-25‭ ‬we need to find ways to make it in less expensive ways‭,‬”‭ ‬says Todd May‭, ‬NASA’s SLS program manager‭.‬ (11/21)

Seeing Through Our Galaxy (Source: Medium)
For a long time, the plane of our galaxy prevented us from seeing very much of anything that lay beyond it. Termed the Zone of Avoidance, searches for distant galaxies and nebulae turned up very few results in this 20% of the sky, while our discoveries elsewhere simply grew and grew. While we were discovering a plethora of objects beyond the galaxy in all other directions, surveying the portion of the night sky that was blocked by our own galaxy was prohibitive.

And this would still be true coming all the way up to today if we confined ourselves to the light that our own eyes can see. Thankfully, however, we now know better. Click here. (11/21)

Spaceport America Seeks Emergency Taxpayer Funds From New Mexico (Source: KOB-TV)
New Mexico's Spaceport America project is struggling for money and survival in the aftermath of the Virgin Galactic rocket crash in California's Mojave Desert last month. Spaceport executives went to the State Capitol today, asking lawmakers at a committee hearing to give them an emergency injection of taxpayer dollars.

Call it $1.7 million - that's about what Virgin Galactic would be paying to launch from Spaceport America next year. The trouble is Virgin Galactic won't be there until late 2016 - at the earliest! That threatens to leave Spaceport America high and dry in the southern New Mexico desert, without enough money for operating expenses.

Some lawmakers told us privately they would just as soon pull the plug, but they listened to the Spaceport pitch Thursday and promised to think it over carefully. Spaceport America does have considerable legislative support, however, and that includes Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith. (11/21)

New Mexico Lawmakers Press Spaceport Boss (Source: Albuquerque Journal)
Lawmakers demanded more details Thursday about how the New Mexico Spaceport Authority plans to succeed now that the nearly quarter-billion-dollar Spaceport America stands empty and commercial fights by anchor tenant Virgin Galactic have been delayed indefinitely. Members of a legislative finance oversight committee grilled spaceport Executive Director Christine Anderson after she handed them a presentation filled mostly with photographs.

Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, of Gallup, the committee’s vice-chairwoman, questioned the business plan and said the point of the meeting was to go over hard numbers and cover how the state should move forward. “I’m disappointed. We need to have more than six pictures,” Lundstrom said as she thumbed through Anderson’s presentation.

“We want to see something. What’s different? What makes us more competitive? This business plan we’ve seen the last six years in a row does not,” she said. There have been concerns about the spaceport’s future after Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft broke up over the California desert during an Oct. 31 test flight. One pilot was killed and another was seriously injured. (11/21)

Do We Have What It Takes to Explore Space? (Source: Huffington Post)
The recent accidents at Virgin Galactic and Orbital Sciences have stimulated an important discussion not only for space exploration, but also for our national economic future: What level of risk are we willing to accept in order to advance technology and exploration? Click here. (11/21)

A Sustainable 'Highway' for Unprecedented Deep Space Exploration (Source: Huffington Post)
The SLS is an absolute game-changer for ambitious robotic missions to the outer planets and large unprecedented astronomical observatories. Those missions will build on the discoveries of Curiosity on Mars, the Hubble Space Telescope and its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, and multiple robotic missions in the years ahead.

Through the development of the SLS and Orion, NASA has learned many lessons on how to streamline the design to make it more affordable than past systems. For the early missions, SLS will use heritage space shuttle hardware for the liquid engines and solid rocket boosters. Also, instead of initially building the "full-up" SLS, NASA has designed it to evolve by planning upgraded upper stages and boosters that future missions will require in the 2020's and 2030's. These innovations have allowed SLS to stay on a relatively flat budget throughout its design phase. (11/21)

XCOR Reaches Milestone in ULA Engine Program (Source: XCOR)
XCOR Aerospace has completed the latest test series for the liquid hydrogen engine it is developing for ULA. This is an important milestone in the long-running LH2 (liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen) program. It is also a step toward running the engine in a fully closed cycle mode. In its most recent milestone, XCOR successfully performed hot fire testing of the XR-5H25 engine’s regeneratively cooled thrust chamber, with both liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen supplied in pump-fed mode, using XCOR's proprietary piston pump technology.

"ULA has an ongoing effort to develop rocket engines for our next generation upper stage, and we are thrilled to see that progress continuing with XCOR," added ULA Vice President George Sowers. Upcoming test series will fully integrate the nozzle with the engine and piston pumps. Fully closed cycle testing will follow soon afterwards and will complete the sub-scale demonstration engine program. (11/20)

Europe’s Satellite Operators Urge Swift Development of Ariane 6 (Source: Space News)
The president of the European Satellite Operators Association (ESOA) applauded the apparent agreement between France and Germany on a next-generation Ariane 6 rocket and said the vehicle needs to be in service as quickly as possible. If it is not, said Eutelsat Chief Executive Michel de Rosen, ESOA’s president, SpaceX will establish itself as a leader in the commercial market — a position from which it will not be dislodged easily.

Asked whether Eutelsat, the world’s third-largest commercial satellite fleet operator by revenue, considered the Proton and Zenit rockets out of the commercial market, de Rosen said Eutelsat has been told that the Russian government will do what it takes to keep both vehicles viable in the market. Eutelsat, de Rosen said, pointedly asked SpaceX in September what its medium-term Falcon 9 pricing policy would be.

The company wondered whether SpaceX would raise prices once it had secured a sizable share of the commercial market. SpaceX’s response, he said, was that Falcon pricing would remain stable for a time and then head down, not up, as new technology, scale economies and partial reuse of the vehicle produced their intended effects. (11/20)

Indonesia’s PSN Switches to SSL after Boeing Unable To Pair Up All-electric Satellite (Source: Space News)
Indonesian satellite operator PT Pasifik Satelit Nusantara (PSN), after waiting a year for satellite builder Boeing to find a companion customer for a two-satellite contract for all-electric satellites to launch on a single SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, on Nov. 19 said it had contracted with Space Systems/Loral (SSL) for the satellite.

In a joint statement, PSN and SSL said the PSN 6 satellite will be launched in early 2017 aboard a rocket that SSL provided as part of the contract to operate at 146 degrees east in geostationary orbit. One industry official said SSL is providing a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch. It was not immediately clear whether the launch would carry a second payload.

The SSL contract is one of several ordered by Indonesian government and corporate operators in the past year. Orbital Sciences is building a satellite for PT Indosat that is intended for the same orbital slot, 150.5 degrees east, as a satellite under construction by SSL for Indonesia’s BRI bank. (11/20)

What Happened to the Water on Mars? (Source: Iowa Now)
With its empty channels and ghostly gullies, Mars resembles a planet once teeming with streams and flowing rivers. That begs the question: Where did all the water go? While some water is locked in the planet’s polar ice caps, scientists have hypothesized the rest could have gone either below the surface or out into space.

That’s where a new NASA satellite orbiting Mars comes in. The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission, or MAVEN, launched last month and expected to orbit the Red Planet for at least a year, aims to determine whether the brisk solar wind swept away water that had evaporated from Mars’s surface into its once denser atmosphere. (11/20)

Spy Satellite Launched to Serve Chinese Government (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
A Long March 2D rocket blasted off from a remote space base in northwest China on Thursday and climbed into orbit with a clandestine satellite to collect intelligence for the Chinese government. China’s government-run Xinhua news agency described the Yaogan 24 satellite launched Thursday as a “remote sensing” platform. The spacecraft “will mainly be used for scientific experiments, natural resource surveys, crop yield estimates and disaster relief,” Xinhua reported. (11/20)

Japan Records Huge Sunspot Sluster 66 Times Size of Earth (Source: Xinhua)
Japanese space probe and observatory have recorded huge sunspot activity with a sunspot cluster 66 times the size of Earth, the Asahi Shimbun reported Thursday. Images of the sunspot cluster were released by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) on Wednesday.

The solar observation probe Hinode and NAOJ took pictures of the sunspots on Oct. 16-30, before the sun's rotation obstructed the view. The sunspot cluster could be seen again on Nov. 15, but it had shrunk to one-third of its peak size on Oct. 26. (11/21)

Glitch Sends Latest NASA Mars Orbiter into Safe Mode (Source: Space News)
Less than a week after full science operations began, a processing glitch aboard a new NASA Mars orbiter forced the craft to temporarily shut down all of its science instruments. Operators on the ground were attempting to send commands to the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft Nov. 19, when “a timing conflict between commands” triggered an automatic shutdown of the orbiter’s three science instruments. MAVEN has been orbiting Mars since Sep. 22. (11/20)

String Theory Predicts a Time Before the Big Bang (Source: Scientific American)
Was the big bang really the beginning of time? or did the universe exist before then? Such a question seemed almost blasphemous only a decade ago. Most cosmologists insisted that it simply made no sense—that to contemplate a time before the big bang was like asking for directions to a place north of the North Pole. But developments in theoretical physics, especially the rise of string theory, have changed their perspective. The pre-bang universe has become the latest frontier of cosmology. Click here. (11/20)

NASA Selects Student Teams for High-Powered Rocket Challenge (Source: NASA)
NASA has selected eight teams from middle and high schools across the country to participate in the 2014-2015 NASA Student Launch Challenge, April 7-12, organized by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The Student Launch Challenge engages students in a research-based, experiential exploration activity.

Teams participating in the challenge must design, build and launch a reusable rocket, with a scientific or engineering payload, capable of reaching an altitude of one mile. Editor's Note: Among the eight teams is one from Plantation High School in Florida. Plantation has been a regular and successful competitor in NASA and other rocketry challenges. (11/20)

Roscosmos Denies Gas Leaks on Board ISS (Source: Itar-Tass)
There have been no gas leaks on board the Russian segment of the International Space Station (ISS), said a spokesperson for Roscosmos. Earlier, NASA in its official blog said there had been a minor leak of the gas khladon (Freon-218) from the system of air conditioning. “We do not confirm the NASA blog publication,” Irina Zubareva said. “There were no gas leaks on the Russian segment.”

According to the NASA blog, cosmonauts “Samokutyaev and Serova performed steps to release pressure in the Russian segment’s air conditioner system by venting khladon gas (Freon 218) overboard. However, several of the quick disconnects that were actuated during the procedure exhibited leaks. As a result, the khladon was vented into the cabin instead." (11/20)

ATK Body Language Hints at Russian engine for Antares (Source: Aviation Week)
Even before the Antares launch failure Orbital said it had selected a new engine, though the company has yet to publicly disclose the supplier. Among propulsion options considered were the restart of NK-33 production in Russia, a solid-motor solution proposed by ATK, and a variant of the Russian RD-180 that powers the Atlas 5.

But during a Nov. 19 investor update, ATK CFO Neal Cohen said something odd about Orbital's recovery strategy, including the new engine choice, citing “political risks” as one of the criteria used in ATK's recent assessment of Orbital's plan. Later in the call, when asked about ATK's plans for new propulsion systems, President and CEO Mark DeYoung said the company is always looking for opportunities to demonstrate the merits of solid propulsion, citing a proposal to the Air Force and the company's role with Orbital in Stratolaunch.

DeYoung also said when it comes to liquid-engine technology, however, the U.S. launch sector has no alternatives to Russian propulsion systems in the near future, and that it will take time to come up with other options. ATK's comments become even more interesting when you consider that, among the AJ26 options Orbital was weighing, only the Russian solutions bring any "political risks." (11/20)

Galaxies May Be Aligned Across 1 Billion Light-Years (Source: Science News)
The cores of several distant galaxies, spread out across roughly 1 billion light-years, appear to mysteriously align with one another. If confirmed, the new observations could be a hint of some unknown mechanism that shapes the largest structures in the universe.

Damien Hutsem├ękers and colleagues used the Very Large Telescope in northern Chile to measure the orientations of 19 quasars, blazing disks of gas that swirl around supermassive black holes in the centers of some galaxies. Each of the quasars lives in one of four groups that are about 13 billion light-years away and centered on the constellation Leo. Within the groups, powerful jets of charged particles that spew from the quasars seem to point in nearly the same direction, the researchers report.

The conclusions are on shaky ground, says Mike DiPompeo, an astrophysicist at the University of Wyoming. With only 19 quasars, the alignments could be just a coincidence. But even with a small sample, he finds the results intriguing and worthy of further investigation. It would be surprising, he says, if quasars knew how their neighbors were aligned. (11/20)

How NASA Plans to Land Humans on Mars (Source: Planetary Society)
There are three big reasons NASA can't lay out a comprehensive Mars plan: flat budgets, a perilous political landscape, and the sheer scale of a 20-plus-years program. Thus far, NASA's most audacious human exploration program kicked off in 1961, when John F. Kennedy declared Americans would walk on the moon by the end of the decade. The nine-year program was a success, but it was bolstered by a strong political mandate and more than double the funding NASA receives today.

The agency's budget peaked in 1966 at $43.5 billion (in 2014 dollars). Today, NASA gets about $18 billion. There's not much political will to go to Mars, and no indication that NASA's budget will change significantly. In fact, NASA doesn't even have a fiscal year 2015 budget yet, as it operates under a stopgap continuing resolution. Click here. (11/20)

A New Approach to the Delivery of Satellites to Orbit (Source: Space Daily)
Spain's Celestia Aerospace is developing the Sagitarius launch system, an airborne platform capable of reaching orbits of 600 Km of altitude, and composed of two components: The Archer, a demilitarized MiG-29UB supersonic jet; and The Space Arrow, a launcher based on a modified missile, with two load configurations: simple matrix, with a load capacity of 4 nanosatellites; and complex matrix, with a load capacity of 16. Click here. (11/20)

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