December 10, 2014

2015 Spending Bill includes $18 Billion for NASA (Source: Florida Today)
NASA would get $18 billion in fiscal 2015 as part of a $1.01 trillion government-wide spending bill Congress is expected to pass as early as Thursday. That's $364 million more than the space agency got for the current fiscal year -- which ends on Sept. 30 -- and some $500 million more than it requested.

Most of that increase is due to lawmakers increasing funding for the Space Launch System and Orion multi-purpose crew vehicle designed to eventually take astronauts to Mars, a key congressional priority. The spending bill includes $3.25 billion for human exploration, up from the $2.78 billion the Obama administration had sought. (12/10)

NASA Budget Bill Removes Shelby Restrictions on Commercial Crew (Source: Florida Today)
A bipartisan spending agreement, hammered out in recent weeks by key Senate and House appropriators, removes language in the Senate version that would have expanded day-to-day oversight and reduced contract flexibility for the Commercial Crew Program. The program provides hundreds of millions to private aerospace firms under NASA's supervision to develop a replacement for the mothballed space shuttle.

A provision authored by Alabama GOP Sen. Richard Shelby would have required those firms to submit "certified cost and pricing data" similar to what's required in traditional contracts NASA uses for other services. Both the Obama administration and commercial space advocates lobbied for the provision's removal. They said such language would add costs and delays to a program. The bill includes $805 million for Commercial Crew, the most Congress has ever provided in a single year but still short of the $848 million the administration had requested. (12/10)

UK Plans to Drill Into Moon, Explore Feasibility of Manned Base (Source: Space Daily)
UK scientists have put forward goals for the country's recently-proposed Lunar Mission One program. The researchers plan to drill 100 meters below the surface of the moon, explore its geology, and assess the conditions for setting up a human base and an observatory. Their primary interest will focus on the moon's South Pole, the site of the deepest known impact crater (around 12km deep) in our Solar System. (12/9)

FinalFlight to Scatter Ashes in the Stratosphere Over Australia (Source: Space Daily)
FinalFlight is a new service that offers families the chance to scatter a loved one's ashes in the upper atmosphere, about one third the way to space. This unique service does not just scatter the ashes over Australia, but like all dust in the upper atmosphere, much of the ash will circle the earth many times before returning to earth often as the heart of a rain drop or snow flake.

FinalFlight honours the dreams and memories of your loved one by lifting their ashes close to the edge of space in what is essentially a dedicated high quality science balloon. At the time of dispersal it is likely that they will be the highest object in the world.

Once the science balloon reaches its highest point, the ashes are released into the atmosphere where they will rise and fall on the strong winds that circle the earth. It may be many months before the last ashes reach the earth, often forming the heart of a rain drop or snow flake. Over the period of a month or so, the ashes may circle the globe several times, slowly settling across the planet. (12/10)

ADS to Build Falcon Eye Earth-Observation System for UAE (Source: Space Daily)
Airbus Defence and Space has signed as the leader of the industrial team (including Thales Alenia Space as co-prime contractor), a contract with the Armed Forces of the United Arab Emirates (UAEAF) for the development, manufacture and launch of Falcon Eye, a high-performance optical Earth-observation satellite system. The contract was officially signed by the United Arab Emirates in August 2014 and is now entering into force. (12/10)

Microgravity Helping Us Understand Immune System's Tiny Warriors (Source: Space Daily)
Scary threats to human health dominate the news these days. Space travel may help scientists strengthen our bodies' ability to fight such threats. Two upcoming studies on leukocytes-human defense cells-seek to understand how these tiny warriors mount their defense. Astronauts' immune systems don't work as well in microgravity as on Earth. Knowing why is key to protecting astronauts' health and could lead to new treatments on Earth for those with impaired immune systems.

TripleLux-B launches to the International Space Station in December 2014 on SpaceX's fifth commercial resupply mission. In February 2015, TripleLux-A will follow aboard SpaceX's sixth mission. Both investigations examine cellular changes in the immune system and separate out the specific effects of microgravity from other spaceflight factors like radiation. (12/10)

Europe Proposes Joint Moon Trips with Russia (Source: Nature)
Science ministers in Europe have resurrected plans to explore the Moon’s surface — and the only strategy currently on the table is to join two uncrewed Russian missions. The developments, which follow the shelving of a proposed European Space Agency (ESA) Moon lander two years ago, come amid growing political tensions between Russia and Western nations.

On 2 December, at a meeting in Luxembourg to determine ESA’s policy, the space agency got the go-ahead and funding to investigate “participation in robotic missions for the exploration of the Moon”. Science ministers from the ESA member states did not approve collaboration with Russia specifically, but at the meeting, ESA scientists presented a proposal to join Russia on its missions to put a lander and a rover on the Moon’s south pole. (12/9)

NASA Centers Get Less Funding Under Budget Bill (Source: Florida Today)
NASA would receive $2.76 billion in fiscal 2015 to fund the agency's various field centers -- including Florida-based Kennedy Space Center -- and other operations across the nation. That's slightly less than what the administration asked for and what Congress approved for fiscal 2014. (12/10)

Phew! Giant Asteroid Not a Threat to Earth, NASA Says (Source:
Claims that Russian scientists have discovered a huge asteroid that could threaten Earth in the near future are just not correct, according to NASA. Recent news reports from Russia have stated that a researcher discovered a 1,312-foot (400 meters) space rock that could pose a danger to Earth. However, calculations from NASA and the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, show that the asteroid 2014 UR116 does not pose a danger to Earth for at least the next 150 years. (12/10)

NASA, Commerce Among the Best Places to Work (Source: Federal Times)
NASA and the Commerce Department are among the best places to work in government, while the Department of Homeland Security is among the worst, according to a new report. The Best Places to Work in the federal government 2014 rankings by the Partnership for Public Service ranked agencies of all sizes as well as their components by overall satisfaction scores, and ranked them accordingly. (12/8)

Virgin Galactic Aims to Begin Testing New Spaceship in 2015 (Source: Al Jazeera)
The part of the commercial space economy that most captures our imagination is space tourism. The race is on to develop a spaceship that will take paying customers to space and back. But the crash of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo in October, killing one test pilot, showed the world that spaceflight is an adventure with extremely high stakes.

Virgin Galactic is already in production on its latest spaceship, the 202VG, nicknamed Hope. George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic, said the company hopes to begin testing the craft in early 2015. He said the future of Hope depends on the results of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation of the crash of SpaceShipTwo. Click here. (12/9)

Space Whiskey in Space City: Ardbeg's Latest Project Lands in Houston (Source: Houston Press)
Q: What's the only thing better than whiskey? A: Space whiskey. Appropriately enough for Space City, Houston has just acquired what some people are calling "Space Whiskey". Officially, it's an experimental Ardbeg distillation that's just returned to Earth after three years in space. Click here. (12/9)

China to Roll Out Own Global Navigation System by 2020 (Source: Space Daily)
China's domestically developed global navigation satellite system Beidou will be fully operational by 2020, Xinhua news agency reported Tuesday citing the head of China Aerospace Science and Technology corporation.

"The system's completion will help nurture a satellite navigation industry chain, producing economic and social benefits in diversified fields, including mapping, telecommunications and disaster relief," Lei Fanpei said. By the beginning of the next decade, China will become the third country to field a global navigation satellite system, after the United States and Russia, Lei said. (12/10)

One Small Step Back to the Future (Source: Daytona Beach News-Journal)
The successful first test flight of NASA’s Orion space capsule last week was, viewed in a vacuum, an impressive feat. For those old enough to remember, it evoked the Apollo program — which was both good and bad. Orion reminds us of what we once aspired to, while at the same time keeping the future tantalizingly out of reach.

It was one small step — with the giant leap yet to be determined, years down the road. That’s why enthusiasm over Orion should be tempered. It was an important engineering achievement, to be sure. Reviving manned spaceflight also represents a potential economic boost to Central Florida, which was hit hard by the end of the shuttle program in 2011. But unlike America’s space program of the 1960s, it’s difficult to see exactly where this incremental progress takes us, and when. (12/10)

China Develops New Rocket for Manned Moon Mission (Source: Space Daily)
China is developing a huge rocket that will be used for its first manned mission to the moon, state media said Monday, underscoring Beijing's increasingly ambitious space program. The first launch of the Long March-9 will take place around 2028. The rocket's development is currently at the research stage.

It will carry a load of 130 tonnes, equal to what NASA is aiming for with its Space Launch System (SLS), which aims to blast off for the first time in 2018 with an initial test payload of 70 tonnes. The US space agency has touted its deep-space rocket as having "unprecedented lift capability". (12/8)

Chinese Hypersonic Strike Vehicle May Overcome US Missile Defense (Source: Space Daily)
China's successful testing of a Hypersonic Strike Vehicle (the HGV) demonstrates the country's potential to affect US national security in a serious way. "US anxiety is centered on the fact that China is actively experimenting with weaponry that is based on hypersonic speed, which is nearly impossible to intercept using currently-available US missile defense systems," Igor Korotchenko said.

It had been reported earlier that China had conducted another test of the HGV, dubbed the WU-14 by the Pentagon, an ultra-high speed vehicle capable of travelling up to eight times the speed of sound. Earlier tests of the vehicle had shown it capable of carrying nuclear warheads at a speed of over Mach 10, or 12,359 kilometers per hour. (12/8)

Russia to Conduct 7 Launches at Baikonur Next 3 Months (Source: Space Daily)
Russia plans to conduct seven launches from the Baikonur spaceport during the period from December 2014 until February 2015. The Baikonur Cosmodrome is the world's largest operational space launch facility. It is located in Kazakhstan, about 125 miles east of the Aral Sea. The space center is leased by the Kazakh government to Russia until 2050, and is managed jointly by Russian Aerospace Defense Forces and the Russian Federal Space Agency. (12/9)

Costa Rica’s Franklin Chang Pushes Space Agenda in Washington (Source: Tico Times)
Costa Rican astronaut-turned-businessman Franklin Chang Díaz warns that NASA and the United States may get left behind as European and Asian rivals pursue their own well-funded space programs with excitement and imagination. Chang, who holds the world record for number of times in space (seven) and number of space walks (three), visited Washington last week to promote his own venture, Ad Astra Rocket Co.

he Houston-based company, with subsidiaries in Costa Rica and Germany, is developing plasma technology for space travel, as well as renewable energy sources Chang says are crucial for helping the world end its addiction to fossil fuels. What we’re trying to build is a transformational engine that will redefine the way we travel in space – making it easy, affordable, fast and economically rewarding,” said Chang. (12/10)

Orbital Orders Atlas 5 To Bridge Gap Between Old and New Antares (Source: Space News)
Orbital Sciences Corp. will buy at least one Atlas 5 rocket from ULA to resume ISS cargo deliveries for NASA in the fourth quarter of 2015 while it works to return its Antares rocket to flight after an October failure. Orbital has contracted for one Atlas 5 launch of its Cygnus space capsule next year, with an option for a second Atlas 5 launch for 2016 “if needed.” The missions would launch from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport.

In what was to be its third paid cargo delivery to the space station for NASA, Orbital’s Antares rocket exploded Oct. 28 moments after liftoff from its launch pad in Virginia. Orbital is on the hook to deliver 20,000 kilograms of cargo to the station by 2017 under a $1.9 billion contract signed in 2008. Originally the company planned eight flights, but now says it only needs seven because of the Atlas 5’s extra lifting power and the impending introduction of a larger Cygnus capsule.

Editor's Note: I'm guessing ULA, in its ongoing effort to reinvent itself, offered a sweetheart deal to Orbital. In addition to bringing up to two Cygnus commercial launches to Florida, ULA's drive toward improved commercial competitiveness is good news for the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, as their current manifest is dominated by government missions. (12/10)

Russia, Orbital Sciences, and the American Rocket Problem (Source: Fortune)
With political tensions between the United States and Russia running high, both the U.S. government and the American spaceflight industry want to reduce their reliance on the Russian rocket engines that power a number of American private and military space launch vehicles.

But even as Congress considers banning Russian launch technology from U.S. military satellite launches, Orbital Sciences’ search for a new rocket engine following a spectacular late-October rocket explosion demonstrates just how difficult it’s been for American space launch companies to wean themselves off of Russian rocket hardware—or to field new, American-made replacements. Click here. (12/10)

The Curious Case of Curiosity's Budget Overrun (Source: Planetary Society)
The budget problems for MSL began early. Budget issues in the Mars Exploration Program forced deferment of some work on MSL to FY 2008. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory requested additional funds in 2007 and 2008 to meet the 2009 launch date. The Critical Design Review in June revealed additional cost overruns. Materials NASA planned to use on the heat shield didn’t pass tests, resulting in more costs for redesign efforts.

Mission designers planned to use dry, titanium-based actuators (motors that move the wheels, robotic arm, and camera mast) that would allow MSL to operate in a wider range of conditions on Mars, but the technology didn’t pan out, requiring more funds for replacement and redesign. Many other issues plagued the MSL team, and the 2009 launch window kept getting closer.

In late 2008, with a nearly $220 million shortfall looming and no margin left in the schedule, NASA Administrator Mike Griffin, Associate Administrator of the Science Mission Directorate Ed Weiler, Director of Planetary Science Jim Green, and Director of the Mars Exploration Program Doug McCuistion announced that MSL would not launch in 2009. A two-year delay would add an additional $430 million in “standing army” costs to the price tag just to keep all the necessary people on the team for an additional 26 months. Click here. (12/8)

Orbital Selects Atlas for 2015 Cygnus ISS Launch, From Florida (Source: Florida Today)
Cape Canaveral will be the starting point for all cargo launched from the United States to the International Space Station next year. Orbital Sciences Corp. confirmed plans to launch an unmanned Cygnus cargo craft from the Cape late next year on United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rocket. That mission, and an option for another in 2016, are part of Orbital's plan to recover from the Oct. 28 explosion of an Antares rocket in Virginia. (12/9)

Research Offers Explanation for Titan Dune Puzzle (Source: UT Knoxville)
Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, is a peculiar place. Unlike any other moon, it has a dense atmosphere. It has rivers and lakes made up of components of natural gas, such as ethane and methane. It also has windswept dunes that are hundreds of yards high, more than a mile wide and hundreds of miles long—despite data suggesting the body to have only light breezes. Click here. (12/9)

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