January 26, 2015

Details on Boeing and SpaceX Crew System Schedules (Source: Space News)
Most of Boeing’s major CST-100 test milestones are scheduled for 2017. A pad abort test is planned for February 2017, followed by an uncrewed flight to the Space Station in April. Boeing will then fly the first crew on the CST-100 — one Boeing test pilot and one NASA astronaut — in July 2017. If all those tests are successful, the first operational mission to the ISS, carrying four NASA astronauts, is planned for December 2017.

SpaceX offered a slightly more accelerated schedule for completing the crewed Dragon spacecraft. A pad abort test is now scheduled “in the next month or so” at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, followed by an in-flight abort test later this year. SpaceX plans an uncrewed flight of the upgraded Dragon to the ISS in late 2016, with a crewed test flight in early 2017. SpaceX will have flown more than 50 Falcon 9 missions prior to that crewed test flight.

When SpaceX unveiled its crewed Dragon design in May 2014, one feature it highlighted was the vehicle’s ability to perform “propulsive” landings under rocket power. Gwynne Shotwell said that while such landings are an “ultimate goal” of the vehicle, initial crewed missions will return to Earth in much the same way as the current Dragon cargo spacecraft. “We won’t be certifying the propulsive landings initially,” she said. “We will be certifying the water landings with parachutes.” (1/26)

Roscosmos to Review Project Cost Due to Exchange Rate Shift in Rouble (Source: Itar-Tass)
Roscosmos plans to review the cost of its projects because of a shift in rouble exchange rate, the newly appointed head of the agency Igor Komarov said. “We’re now seriously considering what happened after a shift in dollar exchange rate, what happened to credit interest rates and inflation. I think that all this will make us review the cost of our projects by the end of the first quarter,” he said. Komarov added that the credit interest rates are being reconsidered now. “We’re discussing some ideas how to constrain interest rates for new projects. I am confident that we will make the decision,” he said. (1/26)

Sorry, Skeptics: NASA and NOAA Were Right About the 2014 Temperature Record (Source: Washington Post)
Last week, in an announcement that not only drew massive media attention but was seized upon by President Obama in his State of the Union address, NASA and NOAA jointly declared that 2014 was the hottest year ever recorded, based on temperature records that go back to the year 1880.

Why revisit all of this? Because since the announcement there has been a strong reaction, and a lot of climate “skeptics” have suggested that really, 2014 might not have been the hottest year after all. Consider, for instance, this article in the UK’s Daily Mail, whose first sentence reads, “The Nasa climate scientists who claimed 2014 set a new record for global warmth last night admitted they were only 38 percent sure this was true.”

So what’s up with this 38 percent figure, and does it really undermine the idea that 2014 was the hottest year on record? NASA scientists noted that there was a 38 percent chance that 2014 was the hottest year, but only a 23 percent chance that the honor goes to the next contender, 2010, and a 17 percent chance that it goes to 2005. NOAA’s scientists were even more confident in the 2014 record, ranking it as having a 48 percent probability, compared with only an 18 percent chance for 2010 and a 13 percent chance for 2005. (1/23)

Planetary Society Announces Test Flight for LightSail (Source: Space Daily)
The Planetary Society today announced the first of its LightSail spacecraft will embark on a May 2015 test flight. Funded entirely by private citizens, the solar sail satellite will hitch a ride to space aboard an Atlas V rocket from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport in Florida.

The mission will test LightSail's critical functions, a precursor to a second mission slated for 2016. That second flight will mark the first controlled, Earth-orbit solar sail flight and ride along with the first operational launch of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket. (1/26)

National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Eyes Role for Small Satellites (Source: Aviation Week)
The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is in the early stages of crafting a strategy to leverage the influx of imagery available from what agency director Robert Cardillo calls an “explosion” of new information services providers. The strategy will include money, but how much is not yet known. Policymakers are pondering how to take advantage of this new market, which intends to field many small Earth-observation satellites.

Though not offering the high-resolution products provided by the National Reconnaissance Office’s (NRO) secret satellites or DigitalGlobe’s commercial fleet, the types of spacecraft being developed by providers such as Skybox, UrtheCast and Planet Labs are intended to “darken” the skies with sensors. Their advantage is the ability to revisit a target multiple times a day, offering more intelligence on the patterns of life and activities taking place there. (1/26)

California Launch of Delta 2 Rocket with NASA Probe Thursday (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
Liftoff is scheduled for 6:20:42 a.m. local time in California (9:20:42 a.m. EST) at the opening of a three-minute window on Thursday for NASA's Soil Moisture Mapping satellite. A United Launch Alliance Delta 2 rocket will serve as the launch vehicle to deliver SMAP into space. The Delta 2, making its 153rd launching, will fly in a configuration with two stages, three strap-on solid-fuel boosters and a 10-foot composite payload shroud. (1/26)

Manned Mission to the Moon's Far Side? (Source: CRI)
Let's forget about Mars for a while. The European Space Agency says our future can be built on the Moon, particularly the far side of the Moon. Due to tidal locking, the Moon has one side that permanently faces Earth. In 2009, NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera took high-definition photos which gave scientists a detailed glimpse of the Moon's other side. The same year, NASA's Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite discovered frozen water in a shadowed crater near the lunar southern pole.

The European Space Agency believes that if we explore, more water can be found on the lunar surface. On the far side of the Moon is the South Pole-Aitken basin, one of the largest impact craters in our solar system. While parts of the crater are in perpetual darkness, its rim features huge mountainous peaks that are constantly bathed in sunlight. In its planned missions, ESA wants to send robots to these peaks and eventually humans. (1/26)

The Official and Unofficial Stories of Google in Space (Source: Guardian)
Much like Google Earth’s satellite imagery collection, this is a project where the business model is not clear - yet. It is an extreme case of first-mover advantage: the exact advantage that has made Google ubiquitous today. By building a pervasive digital infrastructure, a job previously reserved for national governments, Google became an everyday verb.

Google actively encourages ‘moonshot thinking’ through their Solve for X platform. There is a sense that if you don’t dream big, you won’t get even half way there. The same ethos is behind the tech giant’s speculative R&D lab Google X. They have talked about investigating space elevators almost since the company began.

In 2012, Google founders invested in Planetary Resources, a company that develops technology for asteroid mining. So far, it’s not clear that anything more that this ambition distinguishes the company from other space engineering firms specialising in communication and avionics devices. Click here. (1/26)

Spacecraft's Double-Take Reveals Changes on Mars (Source: Discovery)
Here today, gone tomorrow; a bright layer of frost lining a crater wall is vanquished by the springtime sun — and seen by the HiRISE camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter high overhead. Click here. (1/26)

USAF To Boost Launch Competitions as SpaceX Shelves Lawsuit (Source: Aviation Week)
SpaceX has agreed to drop its lawsuit against the Air Force. In return, the service is vowing to increase the number of launches it plans to compete. SpaceX is working to break a long-held monopoly on national security space missions held by ULA, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing formed in 2006. ULA builds the Air Force’s Atlas V and Delta IV Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELV).

The Air Force and SpaceX, however, are mum on how many launches SpaceX will have the opportunity to win in the near term. Last year, the Air Force said it expected to open 14 launches up for competition; that later was halved due to changes in the manifest. This trend only bolstered SpaceX’s claims that it was unfairly excluded from work. (1/26)

ULA's Tory Bruno Talks Next Generation Rocket (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
Colorado-based United Launch Alliance (ULA ) is preparing to move away from established, and aging, launch vehicles such as the Delta II (which is set to conduct its last launch this year), Atlas V and Delta IV. Instead, the joint venture, between aerospace titans Boeing and Lockheed-Martin, has stated that it will produce the Next Generation Launch System or “NGLS” booster. Click here. (1/26)

EU Space Policy Needs Innovation to Stay in 'Race' Against US (Source: The Parliament)
There is so much more to a well-developed space policy than just landing on the moon or a desire to one day land on Mars. Telecommunications, traffic surveillance, navigation, earth observation, danger prevention and even weather forecasts - the space industry is one of the main driving forces of innovation, the benefits of which can be felt by all. However, there is very little room at the top and the competition never sleeps.

Last year, the organisation for economic cooperation and development (OECD) examined data from over 40 countries with space programs. The US remains the leader and is able to afford the largest space program. Worldwide in 2013, there were at least 900,000 people employed in the space industry - not including universities and research facilities.

It goes without saying that the EU needs to collaborate with the European space agency (ESA) and find new ways of holding its ground against the growing competition. Europe can look back on 50 successful years in European space travel - and we need to build on this. We need to make Europe more competitive. Politicians can establish the right framework conditions, but the impulse needs to come from the economy itself. Click here. (1/26)

Team Indus Wins Google Lunar XPrize of $1 Million (Source: Economic Times)
Bengaluru headquartered space startup Team Indus has won a $1 million prize for completing an intermediate milestone as it competed with teams from across the world to become the first private enterprise which will land a robot on the moon.

Team Indus is one of the five teams in the $30-million Google Lunar XPrize, that crossed a major milestone of developing a robot that can land on the moon and travel 500 meters on its surface and send data back to earth. "This is good news for India for sure, but it is a better news for the mankind because it shows that governments no longer have a monopoly on space exploration," said entrepreneur-turned-academic Vivek Wadhwa in a statement.

Team Indus is up against large private funded companies like the Moon Express, Astrobotic —a spinoff from the Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Institute and Israel-based Space-IL backed by several top Israeli institutions. (1/26)

Israel Space Week Lifts Off as Google Space Race Intensifies (Source: Times of Israel)
Israelis are looking to the stars once again, as Space Week begins Sunday, with exhibits, lectures, contests, demonstrations and more showing off Israel’s prowess in space tech. The event is perhaps more relevant this year than ever, according to Dr. Isaac Ben-Israel, chairman of the Israel Space Agency (ISA), because this year the core tech that will bring Israel to the moon needs to be finished.

“Israel sees space technology as an incentive to advancement and a key to a highly developed information economy which will attract high-quality professionals and skilled workers,” he said. “SpaceIL’s initiative is the first of what we expect will be many Israeli innovations in space exploration.”

That exploration, along with all things space, will be celebrated this week in dozens of special events marking Space Week in Israel. Timed to coincide with the anniversary of the tragic death of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who died on February 1, 2003, when the NASA space shuttle Columbia disintegrated during reentry. Space Week is being held for the third time this year. (1/26)

Moon Express Puts Space Launch Complex-36 Back in Business (Source: America Space)
A private commercial space company headquartered in California recently announced it has signed an agreement to use the historic Space Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The agreement leads to an immediate creation of about 25-50 new jobs, with the potential for hundreds of direct/indirect new jobs over the next five years. A number of robotic spacecraft will be launched to the Moon for exploration and commercial development under the company known as Moon Express, or MoonEx.

Moon Express has been undergoing flight tests of their MTV-1X lunar lander at the Kennedy Space Center. The agreement, signed Jan. 22, allows Moon Express to begin using SLC-36 for spacecraft development and flight operations this year. The agreement also permits Moon Express and the state of Florida to invest in the refurbishment of the launch site. Moon Express reported in a press release that the company plans to make an initial capital investment of up to $500,000 into the iconic launch pad.

“This historic site, from which U.S. lunar exploration began, is beginning a new mission as a commercial facility that will help take us back to the Moon,” said Space Florida President Frank DiBello. “We are proud to partner with Moon Express on the development of SLC-36 and a new generation of exploration technologies in Florida.” (1/26)

Houston Has a Solution (Source: SpaceKSC)
In July 2011, as the Space Shuttle flew for the final time, I wrote a column titled “Houston Has a Problem.” It was primarily about the whining out of Space City because it didn't receive a Space Shuttle orbiter for display. Former Space Shuttle program manager Wayne Hale wrote in his April 14, 2011 blog article: "Houston is blasĂ© about the shuttles. Houston and Texas have come to regard NASA and JSC as entitlements. We deserve JSC and the shuttle just because of who we are."

More than three years later, it appears that some in Houston have figured out that they have to compete in the real world just like the rest of us. KPRC-TV Channel 2 in Houston reported on January 22 about the comment period about to end for a proposal to certify Houston's Ellington Field as a commercial spaceport.

The video falsely claims that “All of manned flight, every one of them, has been managed, has been controlled, has been guided from Houston.” Mario Diaz, the Director of the Houston Airport System who made the false statement, apparently never heard of the Russian and Chinese human space flight programs. Here in the United States, all six Project Mercury missions were “managed” and “controlled” from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, as well as the first crewed Gemini flight. (1/25)

More Astronauts for China (Source: Space Daily)
The next Chinese crewed space mission won't fly until 2016. China is expected to send a crew of three astronauts to the Tiangong 2 space laboratory, which is expected to launch in the same year. Right now, nobody knows who will be aboard the Shenzhou 11 spacecraft, which will carry these astronauts to the laboratory. The Chinese themselves probably won't even have a rough idea for at least another year.

But other questions about China's astronaut corps need to be explored. A changing of the guard must happen at some point in the next few years. New astronauts must be selected. Old ones must also be retired, even if they remain officially listed as active. So far, China has done an impressive job of preserving its small corps of astronauts. There has been no attrition, at least not officially. We can probably say with confidence that some of China's astronauts will never fly in space again, and are secretly forbidden from doing so. (1/26)

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