November 5, 2014

Sierra Nevada Evaluating Dream Chaser Landing at Public Use Airports (Source: SNC)
Sierra Nevada Corp. and partner organization RS&H, Inc., presented findings regarding the challenges and opportunities of landing the Dream Chaser reusable spacecraft at public-use airports during the Space Traffic Management Conference at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University campus in Florida. The presentation described present efforts to land at commercial airports with minimal impact to existing operations. (11/5)

Can Richard Branson Bounce Back From His Space Disaster? (Source: Daily Beast)
Emboldened by news that SpaceShipTwo’s fuel tanks did not explode, the Branson fightback begins with a vow that he--and his family--will still travel to space with Virgin Galactic. It was a quintessential Richard Branson moment. And how could any of us have ever expected anything less? With the wreckage still being pored over by investigators, the greatest spinner in business took to the airwaves to recast the epic disaster as a mere waymarker on the road to ultimate success.

He may have looked a little more strained and ill at ease than usual, but as Branson dramatically announced live on TV that he intends to pursue his dream of commercial flights to space—and insisted that he will be on Virgin Galactic’s first flight, together with his family—the familiar Branson blend of underdog chutzpah, lofty idealism and, above all, an unswerving commitment to communicating the “key message points.” (11/3)

Past Transit Tragedies Point to a Way Forward for Virgin Galactic (Source: Smithsonian)
Private spaceflight hit a large bump in the road to orbit last week, with Orbital Sciences’ rocket explosion followed days later by Virgin Galactic’s fatal spaceplane crash. But if early aviation and aerospace efforts can teach us anything, it’s that the key to surviving such tragedies is transparency and learning from any mistakes. And in a counterintuitive twist, the disasters may even increase public support for spaceflight and space tourism.

“People tend to take [spaceflight] for granted on a day-to-day basis, so when something terrible happens, many are reminded that it is something important that the country should continue trying to do,” says Valerie Neal, the space shuttle curator at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. (11/4)

The Real Problem Behind Virgin Galactic’s Flight Test Disaster is Bad Business (Source: Quartz)
The Virgin Galactic accident has attracted particular ire, because of the loss of life and the fact that its big-talking CEO, Sir Richard Branson, has long been hawking $250,000 tickets for tourist flights to space that always seem to be just around the corner. The accident inspired commenters to paint the company’s efforts as a sign of global inequality or simply not worth the sacrifice of a life.

But these criticisms get at a problem with Virgin Galactic, not the space industry at large: Branson’s company doesn’t have a real business plan beyond the vague talk of space tourism, and the spacecraft it built was hardly able to accomplish even that. Virgin says it has sold perhaps $80 million worth of tickets to space, but that is far less than the $490 million invested in the project, mostly from Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund.

But SpaceShipTwo, the rocket-plane designed by Virgin’s main contractor, Scaled Composites, to take people just above the 100km altitude that roughly marks the border with space, has yet make it there—hence the decision to switch to a new fuel compound that promised more power in this last test. Virgin Galactic, without revenue or even the capability to enter the satellite market until it proves it can reach low-earth orbit at the altitude of 300km, was in a somewhat desperate spot before the crash on Sunday. Now, it may be years before it can get off the ground again. (11/4)

Iridium Beats Analysts Expectations Despite Losing Two Satellites (Source: Satellite Today)
Iridium reported total revenue of $107.5 million for the third-quarter of 2014, surpassing the expectations of most analysts. The company also replaced two satellites with in-orbit spares during the quarter, leaving one spare between now and the launch of Iridium NEXT. CEO Matt Desch said the current network is performing very well, and that the company has averaged roughly one replacement per year for the last five years. Having one spare remaining is where he expected to be heading into 2015, he said. (11/4)

Explore The Forgotten Rocket Bases That Once Sent Americans To The Moon (Source: Business Insider)
As space technology moves further away from governmental oversight and towards commercialization, for better or worse, what happens to the history and relics of our nation's revered past in space exploration? Many of the facilities — once used for research, testing, and launching — now sit dormant, decommissioned years ago, now rusting in the sun. Others have met a worse fate, having been demolished and lost forever. Photographer Roland Miller is trying to do something about that. Click here. (11/4)

Boeing's (CST)-100 Debuts in Abu Dhabi (Source: Business Standard)
Boeing's newest space capsule that can carry up to seven crew members and will be used by NASA for its missions, made its international debut at a innovation summit in the UAE. The Crew Space Transport (CST)-100 spacecraft, which was designed at the Houston Product Support Center, will carry crew and cargo to low-Earth orbit destinations such as the International Space Station (ISS) and the planned Bigelow station. (11/5)

DOD to Congress: Don't Jeopardize Air Force Space Plan (Source: Space News)
The Air Force wants to modernize its space work to develop next-generation satellites, but Congress is resisting the plan and has made its stance clear in House and Senate versions of the defense authorization bill. Now the Pentagon is calling on lawmakers to let stand the flexibility built into the Air Force's Space Modernization Initiative budget. (11/3)

How Did SS2 Pilot Survive? (Source: Daily Mail)
Investigators are trying to piece together how SpaceShipTwo's surviving pilot managed to escape the rocket as it disintegrated around him and parachute to the ground from an altitude virtually devoid of oxygen. Pete Siebold, 43, sustained just an injured shoulder when the Virgin Galactic spacecraft broke apart mid-flight and crashed in the Mojave desert last Friday, killing co-pilot Michael Alsbury, 39.

Christopher Hart, acting chairman for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) that is leading the crash investigation, said Mr Siebold did not exit through the cockpit's escape hatch. 'We know it wasn't through there, so how did this pilot get out?' he said. Mr Siebold is being treated in hospital and is yet to speak to investigators. It has also been revealed that a 'human-factors' expert will join the investigation to study why the Mr Alsbury prematurely unlocked a pivoting tail section of the ship during a test flight. (11/4)

Harris Delivers First Aireon ADS-B Satellite Receivers (Source: Space News)
Harris Corp. of Melbourne, Florida, has delivered the first flight payload for the Aireon aircraft navigation venture, which will use the Iridium Next satellite constellation to help airlines save money by flying more efficient routes. The Harris-built Automated Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) payloads will be included on all 81 Iridium Next satellites, which are slated to begin launching in 2015.

The space-based ADS-B transceivers will enable aircraft flying transoceanic and other remote routes — beyond the reach of ground antennas — to continue to relay their GPS-based position location data to air traffic authorities. (11/4)

When Bigger Isn't Better (Source: Economist)
At first glance, DigitalGlobe paints an upbeat picture for investors. In its most recent quarterly earnings, released last week, the company met analysts' predictions, producing only a very slim loss of around $100,000. It seems to have good prospects for the future too. It has already secured $600m in contracts for the next 12 months, equal to around 30% of the global market for satellite imagery. And in October it activated its newest satellite, which can produce the highest definition images produced by any similar service currently available.

However, on closer inspection, the firm is not quite as healthy as it may first appear. Just under four-fifths of its revenues in the next year will come from the American government—and most of that from a single organization, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Because those contracts are subject to annual renewals, the firm's future sales are therefore more uncertain than they may first appear. Partly as the result of this over-reliance on one customer, DigitalGlobe's share price has fallen by 35% since January.

The firm's executives hope that its newest satellite, WorldView-3, can turn the company's fortunes around. This piece of kit can produce images in both visible and infrared light, allowing it to "see" through forest fires and perform tasks such as measuring the moisture content of soil. It can also produce pictures in far higher resolution than its competitors: each dot in its images represents a 31cm by 31cm patch of the earth's surface—which no other commercial satellite in the world can match. And next year, it will be joined by a more advanced version, WorldView-4. Click here. (11/4)

India Working on Landing Tech (Source: Deccan Herald)
The senior scientist of the Indian Space Research Organization, S K Shivakumar, said the space agency will focus on developing the lander and rover technology, which are crucial to next major space programs of landing a spacecraft on moon and Mars. He said the development of technologies and materials for the second moon and Mars missions will be completely indigenous, fulfilling Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dream call to the nation. (11/4)

For Tuesday's U.S. Elections, Space Policy Plays only Minor Role (Source: Space News)
Space policy is not a major factor in the Nov. 4 midterm congressional elections, but the outcomes of a number of key races could alter control of the U.S. Senate and the leadership of key committees that deal with space issues. Republicans, who are currently in the majority in the House of Representatives, are seeking to pick up several seats in Senate elections.

A gain of at least six seats would give the Republican Party a majority in the Senate as well. One race that may determine which party controls the Senate is in Colorado. Sen. Mark Udall, a Democrat who chairs the Senate Armed Forces strategic forces subcommittee, is running for re-election against Republican Rep. Cory Gardner. Recent polls give Gardner a slim lead, although typically within the polls’ margin of error. Click here. (11/4)

MarsWalk Invites Your Struts (Source: Lockheed Martin)
You’ve safely landed on Mars and want to make a grand entrance on the Red Planet. The Moon Walk doesn’t fit for Mars, so what do you do? You join us in the #MarsWalk. As Orion takes its first step on the journey to Mars in December with Exploration Flight Test-1, Lockheed Martin wants to see what your first steps on Mars would be – and be creative! Go solo or grab backup dancers, blast your favorite song and record your best dance moves!

Now, upload your Mars moves to Instagram using the hashtag #MarsWalk. Don’t have an Instagram, but still want to share your video? Participate by including the hashtag #MarsWalk with your video on all your social channels. We will feature ‘The Best of the Week’ Mars Walk video – so get down and upload your best Mars moves. Click here. (11/4)

Bold Talk From Team Chasing Google Lunar XPRIZE (Source: Florida Today)
Bold ideas usually mean bold talk and on that point, the team behind Moon Express, a privately funded Silicon Valley start-up, were up to the task Monday afternoon. In several days, "MoonEx" — the company's informal name — will begin test flights on a simulated moonscape north of KSC's shuttle runway. From there, the goal is to work with NASA personnel and have Moon Ex's washing machine-sized spacecraft on the moon by 2016.

"We're working shoulder to shoulder with our friends at NASA, learning, and we will become, as a result, the first private company to reach the moon," said Bob Richards, the chief executive officer and co-founder of Moon Express. Just as important as NASA is to Moon Express' efforts, the collaboration also is key for the federal agency's efforts to branch out and show it can be a viable partner as more private concerns look for ways to get into space and to the planets. (11/3)

World's First Space Detective Agency Launched (Source: New Scientist)
In the middle of a boundary squabble with your neighbour? Want to find out who is dumping waste near your house? You need to call the space detectives. Satellite imaging specialist Raymond Harris and space lawyer Raymond Purdy – both at University College London – have just launched Air & Space Evidence Ltd of London, the world's first space detective agency.

The pair intend to use their combined experience of space-based photographic databases and Earth observation privacy law to ensure that people can wield authentic imagery that stands up in court.

They want everyone to have the chance to use space imagery to settle legal disputes, from homeowners disputing garden boundaries to businesses fighting vehicle theft. Insurers might find it useful in investigating fraud and councils in tackling environmental assaults such as waste incineration or illegal logging and quarrying. And it won't cost much more than having your house surveyed, Harris says. (10/8)

Dozens of Virgin Customers Seek Refund (Source: Guardian)
Virgin Galactic has revealed that about 20 of the 700 customers who have paid up to £150,000 a head to reserve seats on the space tourism venture’s first flights have asked for their money back. After Friday night’s fatal test flight, which killed one pilot and left the other seriously injured in hospital, about 3% of Virgin Galactic’s customers had cancelled, a spokesperson confirmed.

The company has collected about £50m in deposits. Virgin Galactic declined to disclose which customers had torn up their tickets, but the waiting list includes household names from scientist Stephen Hawking to performers Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber, and Hollywood couple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. (11/4)

SpaceShipTwo Death Raises Question: Who's an Astronaut? (Source: NBC)
Does test pilot Michael Alsbury, who died last Friday in the crash of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo rocket plane, count as a "fallen astronaut"? Alsbury’s death presents those who manage space memorials with a new challenge and a new opportunity. One could have seen it coming, but nobody seems to have expected it quite so soon.

Alsbury's biography certainly seems to match what the public expects out of an astronaut. He was on his ninth flight aboard the SpaceShipTwo vehicle called "VSS Enterprise," helping to test a rocket-powered craft that was designed to rise above the internationally recognized boundary of outer space, 100 kilometers (about 62 miles). He accumulated 1,800 flight hours — most of them with Scaled Composites, a pioneering aerospace firm in Mojave, California.

At KSC stands a sober Astronaut Memorial that bears the names of men and women who lost their lives in America's space effort. For now, there are no plans to add Michael Alsbury’s name to the memorial. "Alsbury doesn't quite meet our criteria" for inclusion, said Thad Altman, director of the Astronauts Memorial Foundation. "Qualification is predicated on being a member of the United States astronaut corps on a government-sponsored space mission." (11/4)

Three Fireballs Lit Up US Skies Monday, But One Might Be Fake (Source:
Three brilliant fireballs - two from space and one apparently made by humans - lit up skies over the U.S. on Monday, prompting hundreds of reports by surprised skywatchers. The first fireball appeared over Arkansas at 9:30 a.m. CST; the second was spotted over Chicago at about 6:30 p.m. CST; the third appeared over West Virginia at about 6:22 p.m. EST. The objects over Arkansas and West Virginia appear to be meteors, but the object over Chicago now seems to be man-made.

Spectator Steve Sobel captured the last few seconds of what initially appeared to be a meteor moving through the eastern sky of Chicago. Another video posted on Tuesday, however, revealed that the event was a marketing stunt by Red Bull. The Red Bull video is dark, but appears to show at least one person jump out of a plane in a wingsuit over Chicago's Lake Michigan shoreline. One of the flyers releases a bright stream of sparks behind him. (11/4)

Asteroid Miners Plan Next Step After Spacecraft Explosions (Source: Bloomberg)
A satellite intended to be the first step in creating an asteroid-mining industry was destroyed last week in a rocket explosion. Its creator, a tiny startup, said the setback won’t keep the idea from taking flight. “It’s a big, audacious statement to make, that we’re going to bring resources from space to the economic sphere,” said Eric Anderson, co-founder and co-chairman of Planetary Resources Inc.

Losing the foot-long (30-centimeter) satellite “really hasn’t delayed us at all, in the overall scope of things,” said Anderson. Planetary Resources is planning its next launch as soon as August, with a larger satellite to replace and expand the functions of the equipment lost last week, said Chris Lewicki, president and chief engineer at the Redmond, Washington-based company, whose investors include Branson. (11/4)

Safety Obsessed Virgin Galactic’s VP of Safety Retired Ten Months Ago (Source: Parabolic Arc)
As Virgin Group Chairman Richard Branson defends the safety culture and record of Virgin Galactic against what it terms as unwarranted attacks, Parabolic Arc has learned that the man whom the company lists on its website as its vice president of safety retired in January 2014. Sources also say he has not been seen at the office for over a year. On his LinkedIn biography, Jon Turnipseed lists himself as a now retired safety official who served as Virgin Galactic vice president of safety from September 2010 to January of this year. His current status is listed as “Idaho.” (11/4)

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