December 28, 2014

The 29 Most Spectacular Space Photos of 2014 (Source: Huffington Post)
The year 2014 was a stellar one for spaceflight, what with ESA's Rosetta mission putting a robotic lander on a distant comet and NASA successfully testing its Orion spacecraft. But 2014 was also a great year for space photography. Join us for a trip through the cosmos--and be prepared to pick your jaw up off the floor. Click here. (12/27)

The Year in Space: Politics Could Steer Space Explorers in 2015 (Source: Al Jazeera)
Human beings and their robots continued to explore space and other planets in 2014, but they did so as Earth’s politics and economics began playing an increasing, sometimes negative, role on how they will reach space in 2015 and after.

The countdown is on to when the U.S. will exhaust its contract — the end of 2017 — with Russia for seats on its Soyuz shuttle craft on trips to the International Space Station (ISS), a $100 billion research lab that flies about 260 miles above Earth. Click here. (12/25)

Challenges for Orion and SLS (Source: Space Daily)
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is the audit, evaluation, and investigative arm of Congress, which exists to support Congress in meeting its constitutional responsibilities and to help improve the performance and accountability of the federal government. GAO Director of Acquisition and Sourcing Management Christina Chaplain testified on the progress of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion crew vehicle, which are being developed for deep space human missions that will take astronauts to the Moon and Mars. Click here. (12/26)

Why Do Major News Media Exempt NASA from Critical Investigation? (Source: LinkedIn)
According to many renowned veteran NASA aerospace engineers, the Orion spacecraft and the rocket which NASA calls the Space Launch System (SLS) are not the deep space transportation system of tomorrow – despite the claims of NASA’s massive social media advertising campaign coinciding with the recent Orion test launch. They warn that if allowed to continue too long, these two projects will give America’s international rivals time to erode away the still considerable technological lead in space technology that the U.S now enjoys.

Why is there not more media attention to this predicament? It is very puzzling because in all of the decades I have been following the space agency, I have never seen so many greatly respected NASA insiders as critical of anything to as high as a degree as I currently see in regard to space exploration schemes involving SLS and Orion. Click here. (12/28)

Moon Robots to be Built at Kennedy Space Center (Source: MyNews 13)
A company that is planning to send robots to the moon is getting to work here in Central Florida. Moon Express is basing its operations at Kennedy Space Center to help them develop technologies to send robots to the moon. This month, the private company began their test of their first robotic vehicle, called MTV-1X, at KSC's Shuttle Landing Facility. (12/23)

Space Florida Sets Course on Reviving Cape Launch Pads (Source: Florida Today)
Space Florida is trying to land a couple of private companies, including one that could service human flights, by promising to upgrade two launch pads at Cape Canaveral. Board members of Space Florida, the state's aerospace arm, have agreed to put up a combined $6.4 million as part of two matches with the state Department of Transportation for improvements at Launch Pad 36 and Launch Pad 41.

A third project, which could cost Florida $60 million, is also in the works and has ties to Space Florida and Enterprise Florida, according to Space Florida staff. All three projects are cloaked under code names. The third project, Project Vienna, is an effort to have a major commercial airline sign a long-term land lease to set up a regional headquarters, including a maintenance facility, at one of Florida's major airports, according to Space Florida staff.

As for the launch-pad projects, the more costly of the two, shielded under the code name Project Mountain, has Space Florida putting up $6.15 million for improvements to Launch Pad 41, including a new tower to make the facility capability of servicing human flights. The work at Launch Pad 36 is for an unnamed company referred to as Project Pineapple that is anticipated to spend $34 million at the site and employ 100 people within five years. (12/24)

Alaska Governor Halts Spaceport Project to Save Money (Source: Juneau Empire)
In the face of plunging oil prices, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker has ordered progress stopped on six major Alaska construction projects. On Friday, Walker issued an administrative order that directs “state agencies to halt to the maximum extent possible discretionary expenditures” for the Ambler Road Project, Juneau Access Project, Susitna-Watana Dam Project, Kodiak Launch Complex, Knik Arm Crossing and Alaska Stand-Alone Pipeline Project.

The estimated cost to complete all six projects is in the billions of dollars, but none except the Kodiak Launch Complex have advanced beyond the study stages, and it was not immediately clear what impact the order will have on the progress of the projects or how much money it will save. The order came three days after Republican legislative leaders sent Gov. Walker a letter requesting immediate action to address the budget issues the state faces.

The state-owned spaceport in Kodiak was damaged by a rocket explosion in August. Alaska Aerospace, the state-owned corporation that operates the spaceport, announced earlier this month that it plans to rebuild its main launch pad to support larger rockets, at a cost of $6 million to $9 million. (12/28)

Oklahoma Could Learn from N.M. Spaceport Effort (Source: The Oklahoman)
We recently noted that the crash of a Virgin Galactic rocket ship would have negative impact on commercial space ventures in the United States, providing another reason for Oklahoma lawmakers to rethink state funding of a local “spaceport.” Developments in New Mexico buttress those arguments. Oklahoma’s efforts at attracting commercial space operators have been ongoing since the 1999 creation of the Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority.

The idea was to turn an abandoned air strip near Burns Flat into a launch site for private space ventures. Since then, lawmakers have provided millions in tax credits to one failed company, and have cumulatively spent millions on the authority. Those efforts have yet to bear fruit. But things could be worse. Oklahoma’s focus on commercial space development pales in comparison to New Mexico. Click here. (12/28)

SpaceX Plans for Lots of Launches, Then on to Mars (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Once the launchpad for Apollo and space shuttle flights, NASA's historic Launch Complex 39A is now in the hands of SpaceX and its enigmatic billionaire leader, Elon Musk. With a 20-year lease, the privately held company is rebuilding the launch complex to fit its rockets — the Falcon 9 and the soon-to-debut Falcon Heavy super-rocket — just as it envisions reshaping the space-launch industry.

During the next several years, SpaceX has contracts for 40 more rockets, include five for launching the Falcon Heavy. All five of the big rockets and 23 of the others currently are slated to launch from Florida. That could change once SpaceX finishes its private launch complex near Brownsville, said Roger Handberg, who specializes in space policy at University of Central Florida. In Florida, SpaceX can only launch on dates approved by the Air Force, but in Texas the company has freedom to launch on its own schedule. Click here.

Editor's Note: I believe SpaceX will not have as much schedule freedom as might be expected at their Texas launch site. Here's a paper I co-authored on the topic last month. (12/27)

Colorado Dominates Aerospace in 2014 (Source: Denver Post)
This was a huge year for space exploration, and Colorado's collective aerospace and scientific community was represented in most of the biggest space-related headlines. The innovative work of Colorado triumvirate Lockheed Martin Space Systems, United Launch Alliance and Ball Aerospace & Technologies made NASA's Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 a rousing success. Click here. (12/28)

New Mexico Space Grant Consortium Sets Sights on Growth (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
Education and outreach are key to the future of spaceflight and the aerospace industry in New Mexico. That was the message developed and delivered by leaders in the commercial space, research, education and economic development community at a recent strategic planning meeting of the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium.

The meeting, which drew 24 participants from across the state, is required every five years for NMSGC to apply for $1.138 million in funding from NASA to continue to shepherd the development of aerospace technology and spaceflight for New Mexico. That funding, which will allow the consortium to continue operations for the next three years, must be matched by local sources, which include the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight. (12/23)

After SpaceShipTwo Tragedy, How Will Virgin Galactic Return to Flight? (Source:
Virgin Galactic is working to complete its second SpaceShipTwo vehicle, even as the NTSB continues its investigation, which is expected to take about a year. "It doesn't mean the end. It means that you have to pick yourself up and learn what you need to learn and keep moving," Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said. "And that's what our team is doing."

"We are working day and night on that vehicle now. From a structural perspective, the vehicle is about 90 percent done, including the installation of landing gear and electrical harnesses," Whitesides said. "What remains is a number of internal systems. So we still have several months in front of us for that batch of work." Virgin Galactic is "pretty close" to getting that second SpaceShipTwo airborne, Whitesides said, but he's not getting into dates for first flight. (12/24)

Editorial: Japan's Space Goals (Source: Japan Times)
While Hayabusa’s achievement has been laudable and Hayabusa2 is an upgraded and improved version, Japan should not feel complacent. It must move to the next phase in space exploration, since the nation’s overall space exploration capabilities thus far leave much to be desired. Click here. (12/25)

Former Astronaut Details What's Required for Crewed Mars Mission (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
There are few people in the world today who have traveled into the black of space, fewer still who have commanded missions to orbit. ATK’s Kent Rominger – is both and he is currently one of the people working to enable NASA’s crewed deep space exploration objectives. Rominger talks about how NASA’s Orion spacecraft, powered aloft by the new heavy-lift Space Launch System or “SLS” booster – is being built to send crews to Mars. Click here. (12/23)

Tales from a Martian Rock (Source: Space Daily)
A new analysis of a Martian rock that meteorite hunters plucked from an Antarctic ice field 30 years ago this month reveals a record of the planet's climate billions of years ago, back when water likely washed across its surface and any life that ever formed there might have emerged. It is the oldest meteorite we have from Mars, a chunk of solidified magma from a volcano that erupted four billion years ago. Since then something liquid, probably water, seeped through pores in the rock and deposited globules of carbonates and other minerals. (12/26)

Opportunity Nears Highest Ever Mountain Peak of Astounding 11-Year Martian Trek (Source: America Space)
The longest living Red Planet rover ever crafted in human history is about to accomplish another astounding feat along her astonishing 11-year trek across the most Earth-like planet in our Solar System. NASA’s Opportunity rover is within reach of the summit of Cape Tribulation, heading southwards along gigantic Endeavour crater—and it counts as the highest Martian mountain she will ever scale in her unbelievably incredible and momentous life of exploration and discovery. Opportunity is now at an elevation of some 1,380 meters! (12/27)

Europa's Atmosphere Thinner Than Previously Thought (Source: SEN)
Data collected by NASA's Cassini spacecraft during its 2001 flyby of Jupiter shows that Europa's tenuous atmosphere is thinner than had been thought. Europa is considered one of the most exciting destinations in the Solar System for future exploration because it shows strong indications of having an ocean beneath its icy crust. Click here. (12/22)

Europa Is Far Less Geophysically Active Than Previously Thought (Source: America Space)
New estimates on the density of Europa’s atmosphere, also call the hypothesis of the moon’s active water plumes into question. For instance, if the latter had been actively venting water ice into space during the spacecraft’s flyby of the Jupiter system, then the plasma torus around Europa should have been dominated by oxygen ions instead. Since that wasn’t the case, this indicates that Europa might exhibit far less geophysical activity than previously thought. (12/24)

Venus Gets Weirder: CO2 Oceans May Have Covered Surface (Source:
Venus may have once possessed strange oceans of carbon dioxide fluid that helped shape the planet's surface, researchers say. Venus is often described as Earth's twin planet because it is the world closest to Earth in size, mass, distance and chemical makeup. However, whereas Earth is a haven for life, Venus is typically described as hellish, with a crushing atmosphere and clouds of corrosive sulfuric acid floating over a rocky desert surface hot enough to melt lead. (12/28)

Tilted Aquaplanets Might Still be Habitable (Source: America Space)
With so many exoplanets now being discovered on a regular basis by astronomers, the focus has turned to what number of them might be habitable for some kind of life. For life as we know it at least, that depends on a number of factors, including being in the “habitable zone” of stars, where liquid water could exist on the surfaces of smaller, rocky planets like Earth.

It has been thought that planets with extreme axial tilts, even horizontal to the plane of their orbits, would be less likely to host life. But now a new study suggests that they could still be quite habitable, if they are covered by oceans. Click here. (12/24)

Rosetta Captures Kilometer Cliffs and Boulder-Strewn Terrains on Comet (Source: Independent)
The steep, ragged cliffs and boulder-strewn terrains on the surface of Comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko (Comet 67P) have been captured in images taken by the Rosetta spacecraft. The rugged cliffs and patches of smooth terrain were then identified by Stuart Atkinson, a British amateur astronomer, who zoomed in on views published by the ESA. Mr Atkinson's picture was chosen as NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day.

The stunning shot of ragged cliffs featured in the image were taken about two weeks ago. Despite being so high, the low surface gravity of Comet 67P means a jump from the cliff by a human would probably be survivable. At the foot of the cliffs is relatively smooth terrain scattered with boulders measuring up to 20 meters across. Click here. (12/24)

Russia Declassifies Satellite Earth-Sensing Data (Source:
The Russian government said Friday it will provide public access to previously classified Earth-sensing data received from domestic and foreign satellites. "The Earth-sensing data received from civilian domestic and foreign satellites are no longer considered state secrets and it will be open to public access in line with the Russian legislation," the government said in a statement posted on its legal database portal. (12/26)

Russia's Glonass to Provide Brazil With Alternative to GPS (Source: Space Daily)
The Russian Global Navigation Satellite System (Glonass) will provide Brazilians with an alternative to the American Global Positioning System (GPS), giving them more localized data and stability, the Glonass project coordinator in Brazil said.

"For us, Brazilians, it will be an alternative system in case the North American system experiences some problems or a decrease in the number of satellites - [as the GPS] also has some room for improvement - so Glonass will be able to cover this break in the US system," he said. (12/26)

Russia Launches Lotos-S Spy Satellite (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
Early on Christmas morning in Russia, a Lotos-S Kosmos-series satellite launched aboard a Soyuz-2-1b rocket from the Plesetsk cosmodrome. The Lotos-S satellite payload is an electronic intelligence (ELINT) satellite; specifically, the prototype version of the Lotos component of the Liana system, a two-part satellite system that was devised in the 1990s and has been in slow development ever since. (12/26)

Angara-A5 Rocket to Enhance Defense Capability of Russia (Source: Space Daily)
Russia's new Angara-class rockets will be used to enhance defense capability of Russia and its security partners by putting military and dual-purpose satellites into orbit, the Russian president said. "This rocket is intended to put payloads measuring up to 24.5 metric tons to low-earth circular orbits," Vladimir Putin said during an extended meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). (12/24)

Proton Launch Puts Astra 2G Broadcast Satellite in Orbit (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
A Russian Proton rocket fired six main engines and soared into space from Kazakhstan on Saturday, deploying a commercial communications satellite owned by SES for a 15-year mission linking Europe, Africa and the Middle East. The powerful launcher blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and climbed into mostly clear skies over the barren plains of Central Asia. (12/28)

Sanctions Have No Impact on ILS Proton Business (Source: Itar-Tass)
The West’s sanctions against Russia have not hampered the operations of the International Launch Services (ILS), which performs commercial launches of Proton rockets from the Baikonur space center. The sanctions introduced against Russia amid the Ukrainian crisis “have not had a direct impact on our business, some customers have concerns over the situation and have been temporarily cautious about placing new business,” Karen Rose Monaghan said. (12/26)

Chinese Military Spy Satellite Deployed in Orbit (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
China launched a Long March 4B rocket Saturday to deploy a military reconnaissance satellite into orbit 300 miles above Earth. The Yaogan 26 satellite lifted off at 0322 GMT Saturday (11:22 p.m. EST Friday) from the Taiyuan space center in northern China’s Shanxi province. (12/27)

China's FY-2C Satellite Successfully Deorbited (Source: Xinhua)
It is reported that from December 10 to 13, FY-2C satellite has been successfully deorbited. FY-2C was the first operation application satellite of FY-2 satellites and the first geostationary meteorological satellite achieved continuous and stable operation in-orbit. It was launched in October 19, 2004 and stopped operation in November 25, 2009. After that, the satellite had been in backup status. (12/26)

No Way to Live Outside Earth: Space Colonization a Myth - ESA Director (Source: Russia Today)
For decades in history space was the giant playground - but only for NASA and the USSR. Now, many nations strive to reach and explore the last frontier. With the enormous costs for the venture, will cooperation prevail over national interests? Are there benefits in the near future - for all of us - in spending so much to get to the orbit? We touch upon all these questions with Director-General of the European Space Agency, Jean Jacques Dordain. Click here. (12/26)

KSC Lights Up the Holidays (Source: CFL News 13)
As the sun sets over Brevard County just after Christmas, the moon emerges, while the warm glow in the sky brings the promise of something bright from the past. A new, limited-time holiday program is loading at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. "The Saturn 1B rocket in the Rocket Garden becomes one of the world's longest projection screens for this 3-D mapping presentation that is simply out of this world," said KSC's Andrea Farmer. (12/25)

NASA Selects ULA for Commercial Space Partnership (Source: Denver Business Journal)
Centennial-based United Launch Alliance, the nation's largest rocket company, is one of four companies NASA selected as partners for developing technologies for commercial space exploration in the next five years. NASA's unfunded Collaborations for Commercial Space Capabilities initiative aims to help private-sector space companies make new capabilities available to the space agency and commercial customers alike. NASA will offer technical expertise, data and assessments, the agency said. (12/24)

NASA Partners with Four Companies for Commercial Space (Source: Satellite Today)
NASA has announced collaborative partnerships with four U.S. companies developing new space capabilities for government and commercial customers. The un-funded partnerships with SpaceX, United Launch Alliance (ULA), ATK Space Systems and Final Frontier Design are part of the Collaborations for Commercial Space Capabilities (CCSC) initiative to bring new space technologies to market in five years time. Click here. (12/24)

NASA JPL Gecko-Inspired Gripping Technology Performs Tests in Microgravity (Source: America Space)
Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory are developing a gripping system that could grip objects like orbital debris or old satellites that are difficult to handle. What is the inspiration behind this specific grappling system? Gecko feet. This new system of adhesive gripping tools, or gecko gripper project, could potentially make it easier to capture dangerous space debris.

The systems of tiny hairs on geckos’ feet help it cling to walls and rough surfaces with ease. According to NASA, “geckos’ feet have branching arrays of tiny hairs, the smallest of which are hundreds of times thinner than a human hair. This system of hairs can conform to a rough surface without a lot of force. Although researcher cannot make a perfect replica of the gecko foot, they have put ‘hair’ structures on the adhesive pads of the grippers.” (12/27)

Israel-From-Space Pics Take Off Online (Source: Times of Israel)
Photos of Israel as seen from the International Space Station on Christmas Day are attracting immense interest online, with tens of thousands of likes on NASA’s Facebook page. The photos were posted by US astronaut Barry Eugene “Butch” Wilmore, who is currently on his second space mission as part of Expedition 41 to the International Space Station.

The pictures were posted by NASA with the message: “Israel – completely clear – on Christmas morning from the International Space Station. Astronaut Barry Wilmore woke up early on Christmas to reflect upon the beauty of the Earth and snap some images to share with the world.” Facebook discussion of the pictures has included exchanges about the area’s geology and falling water resources, and also much bitter political argument about whose land it is anyway. (12/28)

Wanted: Poster Design for Top Space Program in Israel (Source: Times of Israel)
To celebrate the arrival of the International Space University (ISU) in Israel in 2016, the ISA and the Technion — which will provide facilities for the program — are looking for a great poster design that will represent Israel’s hosting of the group. Winners get a Wacom Intuos Pro Medium digitizing tablet (perfect for budding digital artists), as well as the fame that comes with having their poster produced and printed as the official poster for the ISU’s stay in Israel. (12/26)

$20 Million Gift Pushes UA Closer to the Stars (Source: UA News)
On Oct. 19, 1916, all classes were canceled at the University of Arizona and a huge bonfire was staged to celebrate the two largest donations in the University's history at the time: $75,000 for a new mining building and $60,000 to build an observatory. Now, almost a century later, UA astronomers have a reason to celebrate an equally impactful gift supporting the UA's partnership in the construction of the Giant Magellan Telescope, a telescope with an effective mirror diameter of 80 feet (25 meters).

Thanks to a donation of $20 million from Richard F. Caris, the University is poised to take its next giant leap into the future of space science. The UA is one of 11 institutions that have joined forces to build the GMT. Located in Chile's Atacama Desert, the GMT will have more than six times the light-gathering area of the largest telescopes in existence today, and 10 times the resolution of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. (12/17)

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