December 9, 2014

Vandenberg Prepping for West Coast's Most Powerful Atlas Launch (Source: Lompoc Record)
The most powerful Atlas rocket to ever take off from the West Coast is scheduled be launched Thursday evening from Vandenberg Air Force Base. An Atlas V 541 rocket, built by United Launch Alliance, is expected to blast off during what is believed to be a two-hour launch window beginning at 7:17 p.m. It will carry a secret payload from the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) into orbit.

The 20-story rocket will lift off on 2 million pounds of thrust and feature a new upper stage engine that is expected to provide a sound and light show for spectators on the ground. The rocket was stacked on the launch pad over a three-week span beginning in mid-September. The satellite that will be carried aboard the rocket was delivered to the pad Nov. 21. (12/8)

NASA: Mars Once Had Lakes Capable of Sustaining Life (Source: USA Today)
It's dry and dusty now, but Mars was once home to a vast, shallow lake or series of lakes that made the Red Planet a welcoming spot for microscopic life for millions of years, scientists said. Pictures and other data collected by NASA's Mars rover Curiosity show that rivers once flowed into a lake or lakes at the bottom of Gale Crater, an enormous dimple carved out by an incoming space rock.

The persistence of the lakes means that the Mars of eons ago probably boasted an ocean or some other large water body, and perhaps rain, the researchers said. Scientists have known since last year that Mars once featured a life-friendly freshwater lake, but they didn't know how long that lake, at a spot called Yellowknife Bay, had stuck around. Now new data gathered by Curiosity suggest that the water body nicknamed Gale Lake offered a potential haven to microbes for millions or even tens of millions of years.

The latest portrait of a lush Mars comes courtesy of NASA's hard-working Curiosity rover, which touched down on Martian soil in 2012. Pictures taken by Curiosity's bevy of cameras show rock outcrops very much like those that form at Earth's own river deltas, where a river flows into a lake or other still body of water. Nearby, Curiosity found rocks that bear telltale traits of having formed on the floor of the lake itself, Curiosity scientists said. (12/8)

How I Became a NASA Engineer Despite My Disability (Source: Cosmopolitan)
Victoria Garcia turned her love of problem solving into a career as a NASA engineer. Landing a job in one of the government's most elite organizations is no easy feat. Competition is fierce, job requirements are demanding, and expectations are high. That's stressful for anyone, and Garcia has done it all as a deaf person. Click here. (12/8)

5 Top Landing Sites For A Manned Mission To Mars (Source: Forbes)
If the European Space Agency (ESA) can put a probe on a reckless comet out beyond the orbit of Mars, suddenly sending humans to the Red Planet seems altogether doable. Coupled with last week’s successful test launch of NASA’s Orion spacecraft, talk of astronaut encampments on Mars now actually appears credible. If so, where would the first manned mission to Mars choose to set up shop?

There are three basic criteria for picking a Mars manned landing site — a spot that’s sustainable in terms of water, energy generation and building materials. One that’s scientifically interesting for a lengthy mission. And, most importantly, one that is safe to land. Thus far, most researchers remain wary of committing themselves to any given site. Click here. (12/9)

Chinese Rocket Fleet Celebrates 200th Launch (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
China successfully launched an Earth-observing satellite in conjunction with Brazil. The fifth satellite produced from this collaboration, Chinese-Brazillian Earth Resource Satellite-4 (CBERS-4), lifted off from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center atop a Long March 4B rocket at 11:26 a.m. local time (0326 UTC on Sunday) Dec. 7th. The mission signaled a major milestone for the Chinese, as it marked the 200th launch of the Long March family of rockets. (12/8)

The Beginning of a New Era -- But Which One? (Source: Space Review)
The successful inaugural flight of Orion last week was hailed by many as a beginning of a new era in human spaceflight, as a first step towards humans on Mars. Jeff Foust reports on the test flight and just how much of a step towards Mars it really was. Visit to view the article. (12/8)

Everything Old is New Again (Source: Space Review)
The flight of Orion looked, to some, like a throwback to the capsules of the 1960s. Andre Bormanis says that the rationales for human space exploration, by contrast, can't look back to the past but instead embrace the capabilities of today and tomorrow. Visit to view the article. (12/8)

Space Resiliency: Time for Action (Source: Space Review)
The US military is making increasing use of smallsats, but these efforts are spread out over multiple organizations with little coordination. Ethan Mattox argues for greater coordination of those programs so smallsats can be used more effectively in a crisis. Visit to view the article. (12/8)

World View: a New Capability for Suborbital Research and Education (Source: Space Review)
Researchers have shown an interest in recent years in the capabilities afforded by commercial suborbital vehicles under development. Alan Stern describes how a commercial high-altitude balloon project can provide similar, complementary capabilities for these people. Visit to view the article. (12/8)

New Antares Set for Late 2015 Hot Fire Test at Virginia Spaceport (Source:
Repairs to the Antares launch facility at Wallops Flight Facility are expected to be completed within 12 months, in time for the return of the Orbital rocket – in her upgraded propulsion configuration – for a hot fire test at the end of 2015.

This test will also mark the debut of Antares in her upgraded configuration, specifically new first stage engines. While Orbital has already only noted it is “likely” they will discontinue to use the AJ-26, a stop order has since been put into effect. As per the replacement engine, evaluations are taking place on utilizing the RD-193 – or RD-181 as they are known when labelled under their ‘”foreign export” designation. However, Orbital is yet to confirm this is the engine of choice.

Editor's Note: I am surprised that Orbital is leaning toward another Russian engine for Antares. Congress seems inclined to prohibit Russian engine purchases, and such a choice by Orbital might limit its opportunities for future U.S. government (NASA and DOD) launch business. (12/8)

How Did Life Become Complex? Could it Happen Beyond Earth? (Source: Astrobiology)
When astrobiologists contemplate life on nearby planets or moons, they often suggest such life would be simple. Instead of there being some kind of multicellular organism on, say, Jupiter’s moon Europa, scientists instead aim to find something more like a microbe.

But from such simple life, more complex life forms could eventually come to be. That’s what happened here on planet Earth, and that’s what could happen in other locations as well. How did the chemistry evolve to get life to where we are today? What transitions took place? Click here. (12/8)

Pluto Probe Wakes Up One Last Time (Source: Science News)
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, scheduled to fly by Pluto on July 14, came out of hibernation for the last time to get ready for the final six months of its cruise to the dwarf planet. Mission controllers received word from the probe on December 6 at 9:53 p.m. Eastern time that it was awake and ready to work.

Currently 4.6 billion kilometers from Earth, New Horizons has spent much of its nine-year journey in hibernation with most of its electronics switched off. While mission controllers have previously woken the probe several times to run tests, it will now stay active for the remainder of its mission. Over the next several weeks, engineers will check out the spacecraft’s systems and prepare for the start of science observations on January 15. (12/8)

Expert Sees Upward Trajectory for Space Travel (Source: Rapid City Journal)
If you want to know the value of space exploration, look no further than the local weather report. According to an expert who spoke in Rapid City on Sunday, one of the most recognizable benefits of mankind's desire to explore beyond our planet is the surprisingly accurate nature of weather reports based on satellite images of meteorological patterns back here on Earth.

"Just think of the amount of lives that have been saved as a result of being able to predict hurricanes, thunderstorms or floods," Tom Durkin, deputy director of the NASA South Dakota Space Grant Consortium, said. Many more technological advances are on the horizon if space exploration — while remaining extremely costly and dangerous — is continued, Durkin said. (12/8)

Spaceport Colorado's Future Gains Pace with New Airport Leadership (Source: Denver Post)
Efforts to establish Spaceport Colorado — the proposed facility for the commercial space industry at Front Range Airport — are back on track after a difficult year in which the general aviation airport in Watkins went without a manager and Adams County took over its operations.

Dave Ruppel, who took the post as the 3,600-acre airport's manager less than a month ago, said Monday that Front Range's spaceport application to the FAA should be completed in the next few months and submitted to the agency by spring or early summer. The FAA then will have six months to review the application and say "yes" or "no" to a facility designed to attract high-tech research, commercial space development, and eventually the creation of a horizontal launch pad for space transport. (12/9)

The Role of the State in the Space Race (Source:
Since the last Apollo mission in 1973, funding for NASA has continually declined from 1.35% to less than 0.6% of the federal budget. Without competition in this field from the now-defunct USSR, and in this age of capitalist austerity and decline, more than $1 billion has been cut from the NASA budget in recent years. This not only threatens future projects, but also the continuation of existing projects.

The American mythology speaks of all technological innovation as having come from the toil of a solitary inventor. So pervasive is this idea that even an article on the NASA website highlighting the benefits of the space program quotes Eisenhower’s lament in his farewell address: “the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop [is being] overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields.” Click here. (12/8)

From New Space to Indispensable Space (Source: Space News)
In many ways, DigitalGlobe is the original “new space” company, one that dared to create a new industry for commercial satellite Earth imagery more than 20 years ago. With a relentless focus on innovation and meeting critical mission requirements, we became a trusted partner of the U.S. government, its allies and a wide array of commercial firms and global development organizations.

In 1992, our founder, Walter Scott, started DigitalGlobe from a spare bedroom in his house with $3,000. In those days, few people outside of the Russian and U.S. governments had even seen a high-resolution satellite image, and no licensing regime existed. We were granted the first commercial remote sensing license, and we pursued private equity funding to build our first satellite. Click here. (12/8)

Editorial: Give Cost-cutting a Chance (Source: Space News)
Excess infrastructure and duplicative activities are an unnecessary budgetary drain that NASA can ill afford these days. It’s a longstanding problem that has proved to be very stubborn. Civil service rolls are notoriously difficult to trim and NASA often encounters stiff congressional resistance when it tries to shutter outdated facilities or consolidate functions at a single center. Actually closing a center is a political nonstarter.

NASA has had some success finding users for facilities it no longer needs. Examples include the lease of former space shuttle processing facilities at Kennedy Space Center to Boeing for its CST-100 commercial crew capsule and for the U.S. Air Force’s Boeing-built X-37B spaceplane; and the more recent lease of a large aircraft hangar at Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, to a company owned by Google.

Lawmakers have been receptive so far, but that could change once concrete proposals to reduce personal or transfer functions from a given center are laid on the table. Congress has contributed substantially to NASA’s budget woes by funding pet projects and blocking center consolidation efforts. Lawmakers owe it to the U.S. space program and taxpaying public to give fair and objective consideration to the forthcoming proposals from NASA's TCAT process. (12/8)

Time for U.S. Focus on Earth Observation, Space Industrial Base (Source: Space News)
In early November, the Earth Observation Industry Alliance (EOIA) — the only advocacy organization founded to exclusively promote the interests of the entire U.S. Earth observation sector — co-hosted a symposium on Commercial Space-based Laser Communications and the Space Data Highway with Airbus Defense & Space and General Atomics.

Many of the over 170 people who attended asked, why would EOIA work with a foreign aerospace prime contractor and a U.S.-based unmanned aerial vehicle manufacturer? The answer is that the commercial remote sensing and Earth observation environment has changed radically since its founding in the mid-1990s. Commercial technology development has accelerated rapidly, bringing new capabilities — like laser communications — that can benefit and enable this sector regardless of its origin. Click here. (12/8)

Object 2014-28E: Benign or Malignant? (Source: Space News)
Much ado has been made in recent weeks of a mysterious object that was launched last May along with three Russian military communications satellites. The object, designated 2014-28E and tracked by the North American Aerospace Defense Command as 39765, recently has performed intricate orbital maneuvers that suggest it is more than debris from the launch of the satellite.

Even more so, the behavior of 2014-28E has brought into question whether it is a prototype of a new co-orbital anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon. The suggestion that it might be such is not unreasonable considering that the Soviet Union performed numerous co-orbital ASAT tests that led to the deployment of the Istrebitel Sputnikov or co-orbital “satellite-killer” during the Cold War until it was taken out of operational service after the fall of the Soviet Union. Click here. (12/8)

Why India Has Become a Major Military Space Market (Source: Space News)
In a first, the heads of the world’s largest democracies, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and U.S. President Barack Obama got together to pen an op-ed declaring their commitment to a “robust, reliable and enduring” partnership among their respective nations. It’s a partnership whose time has come and is of particular significance in military and economic terms.

The economic significance is apparent on considering numerous reports, ranging from McKinsey to Global Policy, predicting a shift of the world’s economic center of gravity to Asia in general, and India and China in particular, by around 2025. The military significance is apparent given that the military center of gravity, in economic terms, has already shifted to India. Click here. (12/8)

NASA Opens Competition for SLS Cubesat Ride-Along (Source: Space News)
NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate is putting up a $5 million prize purse to encourage private teams to send small satellites to and beyond lunar space as ride-along payloads on the first launch of the Space Launch System and Orion crew capsule. NASA announced the so-called Cube Quest Challenge competition on Nov. 24 and will begin accepting entries Dec. 2.

Teams must be based in the US and complete the competition’s flight objectives one year after the first SLS-Orion launch, which will take the rocket and crew capsule to a distant lunar retrograde orbit. NASA has said this mission will probably not launch before late 2018. Satellites must be built in accordance with cubesat standards, which call for standardized modules that measure 10 centimeters on a side and weigh several kilograms each. (12/8)

Lockheed Martin Examines Cost-Cutting Options for SBIRS (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Air Force’s current-generation missile warning satellites each carry two main infrared sensors, but a new study by prime contractor Lockheed Martin concludes that a new version carrying a single sensor could offer nearly the same performance. The study was carried out as part of an Air Force effort to trim hundreds of millions of dollars from the cost of its next two Space Based Infrared System satellites, known as GEO-7 and -8.

On average, the current SBIRS satellites have taken about seven years to build at a cost of about $1.1 billion each, a figure that has drawn criticism from budget conscious lawmakers. Air Force officials want to cut the price tag of the next satellites by 30 percent or more and in March put Lockheed Martin under contract to study how to do so. (12/8)

Filing Suggests Jurisdictional Challenge in SpaceX Lawsuit Against Air Force (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Justice Department is arguing that a federal court lacks jurisdiction to hear some or all elements of a lawsuit challenging the Air Force’s $11 billion bulk purchase of rockets from United Launch Alliance, according to legal experts and recent court filings. In April, SpaceX asked the U.S. Court of Federal Claims to void a large portion of the sole-source deal, which was signed last year and includes the purchase of 36 rocket cores from ULA.

SpaceX, whose Falcon 9 rocket is undergoing Air Force certification to launch national security payloads, argues that it should have been given the opportunity to bid on a large number of those missions. The Justice Department, which is representing the Air Force in the suit, asked the court in June to dismiss the case, claiming SpaceX missed its window to appeal the contract. The judge presiding over the lawsuit, Susan Braden, apparently declined, and in July put media gag orders on all involved parties. (12/8)

Venus Express Spacecraft May Be Out of Fuel (Source:
The end may be near for Europe's venerable Venus probe. On Nov. 28, mission controllers lost contact with the European Space Agency's (ESA) Venus Express spacecraft, which has been circling Earth's hellishly hot "sister planet" for more than eight years. Over the past few days, the team was able to re-establish limited contact and also downlink some data, confirming that Venus Express' solar arrays are pointed at the sun as desired. The reasons for the communications blackout remain unclear at the moment, but one possibility is that the probe has finally run out of fuel. (12/7)

Russian Upgraded Space Missile Defense System to Begin Operating Before 2020 (Source: Itar-Tass)
The Russian upgraded space-based missile attack warning system will begin operating before 2020, the designer-general of the Almaz-Antei company, Pavel Sozinov, said. Technical solutions are being tested to develop the space echelon of the ballistic missile attack warning system, and it is expected to begin operating before 2020, Sozinov said. (12/8)

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