December 24, 2014

Boeing Passes 2nd Key Test for NASA Space Taxi Flights in 2017 (Source:
The private spaceflight company Boeing is on its way toward launching astronauts to space for NASA by 2017. Boeing's ground support for NASA's Commercial Crew Program passed a critical test recently, its second milestone as part of the program. NASA took three weeks to examine the company's work at the former space shuttle processing facility at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, as well as a future mission control center. (12/24)

How ESA’s Next Director-General Got the Job (Source: Space News)
Perhaps the only surprise in the election of Germany’s Johann-Dietrich Woerner as director-general of the European Space Agency is that Woerner agreed to do what was necessary to get the job. As chairman of the board of the German Aerospace Center, DLR, which like NASA has a mandate to conduct both aeronautical and space research, Woerner has said in the past that he had no burning ambition to take the ESA post and would be happy staying in what he called “the best job in the world.”

“I am not now ready to say what plans I have for ESA; I’ll be focused on DLR until the last day of my position here at DLR,” Woerner said. “DLR has given me so much over the past eight years. I feel like a very lucky man. This is not a step I planned for my career, and I feel humbled by the vote of the council.” (12/23)

Frank Rose’s New Job at State Finally Wins Senate Approval (Source: Space News)
Frank Rose, one of the U.S. State Department’s top space officials, was finally confirmed  for a new State Department job some 17 months after the White House sent his nomination to the Senate for approval. Rose has served as the deputy assistant secretary of state for space and defense policy since 2009 and as such had been the department’s point person on missile defense, an international proposed code of conduct for space activities, space security and space situational awareness. (12/23)

ATK and NASA Announce Commercial Space Capabilities Partnership (Source: ATK)
ATK and NASA have announced an agreement to support near-term core technologies for space logistics, hosted payloads, and space transportation. The Space Act Agreement (SAA) allows ATK’s Space Systems division and NASA to collaborate on technologies and new product development that meet the needs of the emerging satellite transport and space logistics industry. The SAA is an unfunded partnership through NASA’s Collaborations for Commercial Space Capabilities Office at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

“The SAA agreement allows ATK and NASA to develop solutions that support NASA’s 2014 Strategic Plan to advance commercial space efforts in use of space logistics and space vehicle transport technologies,” said Tom Wilson, vice president and general manager of ATK’s Space Systems division. “By sharing these innovative commercial space capabilities, we will strengthen our existing partnership with NASA and expand the space logistics market for government and commercial missions.” (12/23)

Research underway into moving Sea Launch project to Brazil (Source: Itar-Tass)
Experts are looking into the possibility of moving space rocket launches under the Sea Launch project to Brazil, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said. “A quite remarkable dialogue at the level of experts is currently in progress; possibly, the idea may take shape within the BRICS group, or in our bilateral relations with Brazil, of carrying out such joint launches and furnishing assistance to Brazil in developing its space industry and making its own spacecraft,” he said.

He recalled that the Sea Launch floating launch pad had been designed and built specifically for the Zenit rocket — a joint product of Russia and Ukraine. “Now, after the latest events in Ukraine, one may forget about industrial production in Ukraine, let alone high-tech manufacturing. It’s dead. As a result the project is suspended,” Rogozin explained. “Moreover, the floating launch pad is close to US shores, near Los Angeles. Naturally we will take it away for our own use,” he added.

Editor's Note: Russia is using Sea Launch as a geopolitical bargaining chip. They previously announced potential plans to relocate Sea Launch to a port in Vietnam. There were also rumors in September about the sale of Sea Launch to an Israeli company. (12/24)

Rosetta Update: Philae Landed in a Hole (Source: Sky & Telescope)
Along with sensing the comet’s now-iconic silhouette, ROSINA detected an array of heavy elements and organics, some with molecular masses higher than 60. “The comet surprises us nearly every day with new results,” says Altwegg. Specifically, ROSINA has detected methanol (CH3OH), formaldehyde (CH2O), ammonia (NH3), and cyanide (CN) to name a few. “The comet stinks,” jokes Altwegg. The team did not expect to detect these compounds in the coma with the comet still so far from the Sun.

The patchwork view Philae set back of its new home shows the lander to be sitting in hole, surrounded by a number of cliffs. This is a good thing, as the science team believes these cliffs and their shadows could act as a shield against the extreme environment caused by when the comet surges to life near perihelion. (12/22)

NASA Image Captures x-rays Streaming Off the Sun (Source: Washington Post)
The sun isn't a smooth, contained ball of plasma. It's actually got radiation shooting off it all willy-nilly, all the time. But it's never looked quite as lovely as it does in the image above. The picture was made using observations taken by NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, which were laid over a picture taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory.

NuSTAR was designed to look at distant black holes, and this is the first time scientists have turned it on our own sun. But only NuSTAR was powerful enough to capture the faint x-ray emissions of the star, which are seen in green and blue. These high-energy x-rays come from gas heated higher than 3 million degrees. (12/22)

Meet The Phenomenal NASA Pioneer Doing 'Whatever It Takes' (Source: Forbes)
Niki Werkheiser, a NASA project manager, is no ordinary scientist. She is bringing about a transformation in the entire future of space exploration. Her personal development to become a pioneering woman working in technology is equally remarkable. Werkheiser last month engineered a simply stunning development: the creation of the first object to ever be 3D printed in space. That object, a part for the 3D printer itself, has swiftly been followed by a ratcheting wrench and numerous other tools vital to the work on the International Space Station. (12/23)

Russia’s Angara 5 Rocket Launched on Successful Maiden Flight (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
A new Russian rocket designed as a successor to the workhorse Proton booster lifted off Tuesday on a maiden test flight that could signify Russia’s shift away from launching satellites at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The 180-foot-tall Angara 5 rocket ignited five kerosene-fueled RD-191 booster engines and lifted off from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome — a military-run spaceport 500 miles north of Moscow. (12/23)

How Chris Kraft Got Un-Invited to a Senate Hearing on Spaceflight (Source: Houston Chronicle)
A couple of months ago I had lunch with Chris and we spoke about how Congress and the White House now micromanage NASA, and how space officials are reticent to confront or contradict political officials. Was it like that during his day, I asked? He laughed and then told me a story about how, not long ago, a staffer from Sen. Bill Nelson’s office invited Kraft to testify at a hearing. Nelson was a key architect of NASA’s SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft strategy.

Nelson wanted a public blessing from an Apollo legend for the plan. Are you sure you want me, Kraft asked. He would have told them, Kraft says, what damned fools they were for trying to do too much, with too little funding. You’re right, the staffer said, we don’t want to hear that. Kraft didn’t go.

Back in the 1970s a congressman wanting to put a road directly through Johnson Space Center to ease congestion. Kraft smiled, and looked across the road to the center, where deer were grazing near the fence line. “I told them no, of course,” he said. Today NASA might not just build the road, but name the road after the congressman. (12/23)

$20M in Federal Funds Planned for Wallops Rehab (Source: The Dispatch)
Nearly two months after a failed launch of a major rocket from Wallops Island, NASA’s flight facility on the Virginia shore will be getting a significant fiscal shot in the arm with the approval this month of $20 million in federal funding for rehabilitation and restoration.

U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) last week announced the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015 includes $20 million for NASA’s Wallops Island Flight Facility to help repair the damage following the failed launch of an Antares rocket that exploded just after liftoff in late October. The legislation has passed both the Senate and House of Representatives and is now headed to the White House to be signed into law by the president. (12/23)

Sierra Nevada Challenge of Boeing's NASA Contract Could Mean Big Win for Paul Allen (Source: Puget Sound Business Journal)
Paul Allen's best chance of making his Stratolaunch profitable may turn on whether Boeing really won the right to make a new spacecraft to support the International Space Station. Sierra Nevada Corp. challenged Boeing's win of the $6.8 billion NASA contract, based on the contention that NASA added new criteria that favored Boeing, and that those criteria were not in the original bid.

The outcome of the challenge matters to Allen because Sierra Nevada plans to use Allen's mammoth Stratolaunch aircraft to launch Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser, or a smaller version of it. That would be a big win for Stratolaunch and pave the way for the company's future expansion. Stratolaunch spokeswoman Anna Imperati declined to comment on the dispute, or its potential impacts on Stratolaunch. (12/23)

Application Another Step Forward For Colorado Spaceport (Source: KUNC)
Commercial space flight may be coming to Colorado as soon as 2016. Front Range Airport, just southeast of Denver International Airport will soon complete a spaceport application. From there, the Federal Aviation Administration will have six months to evaluate it, and make the final decision. Front Range Airport's proximity to downtown Denver, as well as rail lines, interstates and DIA make it an ideal location according to airport manager Dave Ruppel.

"It has about 3,600-acres so we have a lot of space for aerospace related and commercial space related businesses to be able to operate out there and to build their operations," he said. One of those businesses is Switzerland based S3, who last year signed a memorandum of understanding to house its North American headquarters in Adams County. S3 is developing a flight system similar to Virgin Galactic, but instead of offering space tourism, Ruppel said the company will focus on satellites. (12/23)

Lynx Space Plane Achieves Construction Milestone (Source:
A private suborbital space plane is really starting to come together. Technicians successfully attached a key structure called a "carry-through spar" to the body of XCOR Aerospace's Lynx rocket plane just before Thanksgiving, at a hangar at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California, company officials announced late last week.

XCOR is developing three versions of Lynx: a prototype called the Mark I, which will enter the flight-test phase next year, and two more advanced variants, called the Mark II and Mark III. The company is currently selling seats aboard the Mark I and Mark II for $95,000 and $100,000, respectively. (12/23)

Virgin Galactic: One Crash Won’t Stop Space Tourism (Source: Venture Beat)
Serious space tourists aren’t scared by a little risk. Despite the crash of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, which killed one pilot and seriously injured another, the company says its customers are still “incredibly strong and supportive.”

In a highly optimistic blog post today, Virgin founder Richard Branson claimed that even after the deadly accident in California’s Mojave Desert, which has likely indefinitely delayed initial passenger flights into space, “a huge number [of customers contacted] us to reaffirm their desire to fly with Virgin Galactic.” (12/23)

Virgin Show Must Go On, Says Astronaut (Source: The Times)
Richard Branson should press ahead with plans to send tourists into space despite the death of a test pilot, according to the Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield. Speaking in London, the former commander of the International Space Station said that a project such as Virgin Galactic was key to making extraterrestrial travel accessible not just to highly trained astronauts but also to “space travelers”. (12/24)

Virgin Galactic Significantly Altered Claims After SpaceShipTwo Crash (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Immediately after the tragic crash of SpaceShipTwo on Halloween, Virgin Galactic took down its website and replaced it with a single page containing a brief statement about the accident. The website stayed that way, with additional statements and a handful of links, for three weeks. It was not until Nov. 20th that Virgin Galactic pushed a new website with full information about itself and its services.

Not only did the website have a different design from the old one, the text on it had been significantly altered. Previous claims about passenger load, maximum altitude and safety had been toned down, subtly altered or abandoned completely. My guess is that Virgin’s lawyers went through the site line by line before it was relaunched. Click here. (12/22)

Editorial: New Mexico Must Make Long-Term Investment In The Spaceport (Source: KRWG)
Spaceport America is not easy to use right now. First we have to use the spaceport. A lot! It is beautiful. And it will get easier to use with the road. As we grow the capability of this facility, bring in more operators and use the one we have right now, we must retain the beauty of the site. Our spaceport is part of the commercial space transportation industry. The states and federal government invest in our country's transportation industry, including its airports, rails, roads and seaports.

It is time for the state of New Mexico to accept the reality that for Spaceport America to be successful as a transportation facility, it must be an active partner and investor for many more years. Our congressional delegation must get on board as well. We are creating a transportation industry in New Mexico. This is a state and federal concern. We cannot expect Spaceport America to do this work alone. (12/23)

Russia, China, U.S. Developing “Dual Use” Technologies. One Peaceful the Other Not (Source: Slate)
“Almost everything we put in space is dual-use—you can use it for a good or malignant purpose,” says Michael Listner, founder of the consulting group Space Law and Policy Solutions. One example is NASA’s Robotic Refueling Mission. As its name implies, the project launched technology to refuel satellites. Seems innocuous enough, but to other nations, the RRM could be viewed as a potential space weapon development mission. Click here. (12/23)

Search For Methane-Breathing Martians Isn't Completely Crazy (Source: Forbes)
So far, robotic exploration of the Martian surface reveals nothing but bad real estate – it’s cold, dry, lacking in atmospheric pressure and subject to sterilizing radiation. But below ground might be another story. In recent years scientists have found life underground on our planet in the form of organisms that might just be tough enough to survive on Mars . And so the investigation continues. Click here. (12/23)

SpaceX Completes First Commercial Crew Milestone as Protest Clock Winds Down (Source: Space News)
As SpaceX joins Boeing in completing the first milestones in their commercial crew contracts, the companies and NASA are awaiting a bid-protest decision now due in less than two weeks. NASA announced Dec. 19 that SpaceX completed the first milestone in its Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract, awarded Sep. 16.

That milestone, called a certification baseline review, confirms the process that SpaceX will follow to achieve NASA certification of its Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket and Dragon v2 spacecraft to carry astronauts to and from the international space station. Boeing, the other company to receive a CCtCap milestone, previously achieved a similar milestone. (12/23)

8 Most Important Spaceflight Stories of 2014 (Source:
From accidents to soaring daredevils to space capsules, 2014 was a big year in spaceflight. Humanity soft-landed a probe on the face of a comet for the first time, while Virgin Galactic experienced a tragedy making it a bittersweet 12 months for people involved with space. Click here. (12/22)

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