February 4, 2015

ESA's Spaceplane Test: 100 Minutes of Critical Teamwork (Source: Space Daily)
During its brief but crucial mission, experts on three continents and the high seas will work in close cooperation for ESA's IXV spaceplane mission, monitoring its free flight in space, spectacular reentry and safe splashdown in the Pacific. On 11 February, ESA's Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) will be released into a suborbital path by a Vega rocket launched from Kourou in French Guiana.

The wingless spaceplane will soar to about 420 km , then return as though from a low-orbit mission, making a safe splashdown in the Pacific. During its 100-minute hypersonic and supersonic flight, it will test crucial new European reentry technologies.

After IXV separates from Vega, around 18 minutes after launch, experts not only in French Guiana but also in Europe, Africa and on a recovery ship in the Pacific will be responsible for the mission, working together to monitor the craft throughout its data-gathering flight. (2/4)

Missile Defense Agency Spends $58M on New Alabama Facility (Source: Space Daily)
The United States has spent about $58 million on a large Missile Defense Agency facility construction at the Von Braun Complex in Alabama. "The 225,000 square foot facility has office space to accommodate more than 900 employees...The construction cost of Von Braun IV was approximately $58 million," the US Missile Defense Agency's Wednesday press release said.

"This new facility will increase the Agency's efficiency and effectiveness by consolidating the majority of MDA's Huntsville workforce into one central location," Todorov was quoted as saying in the release. The Von Braun Complex will now accommodate 5,500 personnel from both MDA and the US Army Space and Missile Defense Command, who will thus be working together on one campus, according to MDA. (2/4)

Hawaiians Aim To Lure Tourists From Space (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Dark igneous rock crunches beneath Garry Hoffeld’s sandals as he crosses the cratered landscape of a remote corner of Hawaii’s Big Island. But he is walking over no ordinary field of hardened lava: This is the site of Hawaii’s Star Visitor Sanctuary and UFO Landing Pad. Mr. Hoffeld, a member of the Lawful Hawaiian Government, a Hawaiian sovereignty group that seeks independence from the U.S., sees the lava field as a perfect spot for extraterrestrial encounters.

“It just sort of looks like a landing pad,” says the 61-year-old Mr. Hoffeld, gesturing toward an undeveloped patch of black and red earth. An altar of black rocks cradling some futuristic-looking ornaments stands nearby. A handmade sign announces “Star Visitor Sanctuary.”

Seeking out alien visitors might seem as improbable as reinstating the Hawaiian Kingdom of more than 120 years ago. But the Lawful Hawaiian Government, which created the alien welcome mat last year, believes it could help advertise its cause. Alien visitors are invited to “establish diplomatic relations” and demonstrate their technologies “for the benefit of all humanity, marine and animal life.” (2/3)

NASA, Adrift (Source: Houston Chronicle)
In a speech Monday at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden called the agency's proposed budget a "clear vote of confidence" in NASA's employees. It looks more like a vote of confidence in the employees of SpaceX. That's not necessarily a bad thing for Houston and the Johnson Space Center. The space agency's $18.5 billion budget, proposed by President Barack Obama, adds $519 million in new funding, but much of that increase is dedicated to the commercial crew program

Shifting to the private sector for manned missions may seem like a threat to Houston's role as the home to NASA's astronaut corps, but this is more of a collaboration than a zero-sum competition. SpaceX is currently building a launch site on the South Texas coast at Boca Chica Beach, where it plans to launch its Falcon rockets. Boeing already has contracted with Houston's Johnson Space Center to use its Mission Control for flights, a welcome development for that currently underutilized facility.

The promise of less expensive launches should also mean more room in the budget to sustain the International Space Station, a core duty of the Johnson Space Center. If Congress doesn't have room in the budget for humanity's only outpost beyond the Earth's surface, Houstonians can say goodbye to Mission Control as one of our city's key economic jewels. (2/3)

Sea Launch Considers Replacement of Ukrainian-Made Zenit-3SL (Source: Sputnik)
A decision on the replacement of Ukrainian-made carrier rockets for space launches from a floating platform in the equatorial Pacific Ocean could be made by April, the Sea Launch SA company said. The Sea Launch consortium has used Zenit-3SL carrier rockets, manufactured by Dnipropetrovsk-based Yuzhmash company, to put commercial payloads into orbit. However, Yuzhmash production capacity has been seriously affected by the current political and economic crisis in Ukraine.

"The [Zenit-3SL] replacement is being discussed, but no decisions have been made by the Board of Directors so far," Sea Launch Chief Executive Sergei Gugkaev said in an exclusive interview with RIA Novosti. "We are hoping to come up with a decision in a month or two," Gugkaev said, adding that several replacement options are being considered, including Russian-made space rockets. (2/4)

Projects to Advance Kazakh Space Industry Near Completion (Source: Astana Times)
Kazkosmos projects aimed at creating a space industry in Kazakhstan are nearing completion, according to Chairman of the Aerospace Committee of the Kazakh Ministry of Investment and Development Talgat Mussabayev. “These projects will help the Kazakhstan space industry enter the global space market. Today, we can say that our country is already on a par with countries that have spacecraft systems at their disposal,” Mussabayev said.

Two satellites for medium and high-resolution Earth remote sensing were launched in 2014 from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana and Yasniy spaceport in Russia. In addition, the KazSat-2 communications satellite has continued to work successfully in orbit and a testing procedure has been started for the KazSat-3 satellite.

Plans are also underway to establish a Baiterek space rocket complex on the base of Baikonur spaceport by 2022. Joint proposals between Kazkosmos and Roskosmos to implement the project were approved during the second session of the Kazakh-Russian intergovernmental commission on the Baikonur complex held Nov. 24, 2014. The final joint action plan should be approved during the first quarter of the current year. (2/4)

Don't Miss These 13 Space Events In 2015 (Source: Popular Mechanics)
Later this year, New Horizons will reach Pluto, Messenger will crash into Mercury, and the Air Force's secret X-37B space plane will fly again. New science missions will study solar winds and magnetism, and a NASA probe may even find a liquid ocean in the asteroid belt. Check out this guide to the launches, fly-bys, and crashes that will make the news this year. Click here. (2/4)

Europe Tired of Playing ‘Simon Says’ with SpaceX (Source: Space News)
European governments spent a year grafting parts of the SpaceX rocket-manufacturing business model onto Europe’s rocket sector, and are now talking up reusable-rocket technology as a promising direction as SpaceX heads that way. More recently, SpaceX, Google, Virgin Group and others have signaled interest in global satellite constellations to deliver Internet, and the French government has said it is interested in that business too.

It sounds like “Simon Says” with SpaceX founder Elon Musk as Simon, and some exasperated European government officials are now asking for it to stop. Jean-Jacques Dordain, director-general of the European Space Agency, said one of his 2015 New Year’s resolutions is that “we don’t copy.” “It’s less risky when you copy, but there is no way to be No. 1 if you copy,” Dordain said. (2/3)

U.S. Satellite Group: Simplify Regulatory Procedure, Create New Regime for Smallsats (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Satellite Industry Association (SIA) has asked U.S. regulators to include nongeostationary-orbit satellite systems in a proposed streamlining of regulatory documentation accompanying requests for spectrum and orbital slots. The organization also proposed that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) acknowledge the different nature of cubesats and other very small spacecraft by creating a separate regulatory regime “to address the myriad regulatory issues that these satellites pose.”

Very small satellites are capable of performing tasks that only a few years ago were limited to much larger satellites. International regulators have expressed concerns that some of these small-satellite constellations are not registering their broadcast frequencies, creating potential signal interference issues and are not following guidelines on end-of-life disposal of their hardware to reduce space debris. (2/3)

FAA Commercial Space Office Seeks Budget Increase To Hire More Staff (Source: Space News)
The FAA is requesting a nine-percent budget increase for its commercial space office, whose resources have been stressed by an increase in launch activity and two high-profile accident investigations. The FAA’s FY2016 budget request seeks $18.1 million for its Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST), an increase of $1.5 million above what it received in a 2015 omnibus bill that funds the federal government through September.

Most of that increase will be used to hire additional staff for the office, responsible for both regulating and promoting commercial space transportation activities. The budget increase would allow the office to increase its staff by 25 employees, to 106. (2/3)

ESA Says Philae Lander Could Wake Up in May (Source: Washington Post)
The European Space Agency is optimistic that the Philae lander's solar panels will absorb enough power to turn on in May or June, after being wedged in an area without much direct sunlight on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. (2/2)

Shelby Calls Obama's Budget 'Unserious,' Will He Complain About NASA Increase? (Source: Huntsville Times)
It was a bit ironic on Monday that Marshall Space Flight Center Director Patrick Scheuermann conducted a press conference about NASA's FY 16 budget from a welding lab last used to test elements of President George W. Bush's Constellation moon rocket.

That rocket program was killed by President Obama soon after he took office, and replaced by NASA's current Mars mission, featuring a Huntsville-designed deep-space rocket known as the Space Launch System. The death of Constellation caused vapor lock at Marshall for a time and resulted in widespread contractor layoffs until a new mission -- SLS -- took its place.

If you're a conservative, any increase in federal spending is taboo. If you're a conservative representing Alabama, particularly, Huntsville, the 6,000 civilian and contractor jobs supported by Marshall Space Flight Center trump the party line. Good thing most conservatives hate relying on the Russians to get to space almost as much as they hate Obama. (2/3)

Pentagon Budget Seeks More Money, Cuts Than Capitol Hill Wants (Source: Aviation Week)
The Obama administration’s budget blueprint for the next five fiscal years will try to kick-start the long-awaited defense technology push at the Pentagon, including futuristic fighters, energy weapons, underwater unmanned vehicles and other advances sought to stay ahead of China, Russia, hackers and terrorists.

But to do so it calls for $585.3 billion, about 17% more than current budget caps stipulate for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1, as well as by asking Congress, again, to swallow politically unpalatable changes like base closures and personnel benefit reductions. The combined request represents an increase of almost $25 billion, around 4%, over the current fiscal year. (2/3)

Why it Takes So Long to Get Data Back from New Horizons (Source: Planetary Society)
As I write this post, New Horizons is nearing the end of a weeklong optical navigation campaign. By taking photos of the Pluto system at regular intervals, New Horizons' navigators can precisely measure the observed positions of Pluto and its moons with respect to background stars, and determine the spacecraft's position. The last optical navigation images in the weeklong series will be taken tomorrow, but it will likely take two weeks or more for all the data to get to Earth. Two weeks! Why does it take so long? It's not like it's all that much data: 10 full-resolution LORRI images per day.

The short answer to that question is: Pluto is far away -- very far away, more than 30 times Earth's distance from the Sun -- so New Horizons' radio signal is weak. Weak signal means low data rates: at the moment, New Horizons can transmit at most 1 kilobit per second. (Note that spacecraft communications are typically measured in bits, not bytes; 1 kilobit is only 125 bytes.) Even at these low data rates, only the Deep Space Network's very largest, 70-meter dishes can detect New Horizons' faint signal. (1/30)

Sierra Nevada Completes Dream Chaser Study with German Partners (Source: SNC)
Sierra Nevada Space Systems and OHB System AG (OHB) have completed the initial Dream Chaser for European Utilization (DC4EU) study co-funded by the Space Administration of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and OHB.

In late 2013, SNC and OHB entered into an agreement to study the feasibility of using SNC’s Dream Chaser spacecraft for a variety of missions. The DC4EU study thoroughly reviewed applications for the Dream Chaser including crewed and uncrewed flights to low-Earth orbit (LEO) for missions such as microgravity science, satellite servicing and active debris removal (ADR).

“The inherent design advantages of the Dream Chaser ... make it an ideal vehicle for a broad range of space applications,” said OHB's Dr. Fritz Merkle. “We partnered with SNC to study how the design of the Dream Chaser can be used to advance European interests in space. The study results confirm the viability of using the spacecraft for microgravity science and ADR... We look forward to further maturing our design with SNC as we expand our partnership.” (2/3)

Why is NASA so Interested in Europa? (Source: CSM)
On the surface, Europa is a solid sphere of ice, interesting only because it is crisscrossed by reddish streaks. But beneath the frozen exterior, say NASA scientists, "is one of the most likely places to find current life beyond our Earth." Data gathered from Earth-based telescopes and far-flung satellites have provided clues about Europa's interior, suggesting that, like a frozen lake, Europa holds liquid water beneath its icy surface.

While it's not a unanimous opinion, it's certainly a tantalizing one. "If we've learned anything about life on Earth, it's that where you find the liquid water, you generally find life," said NASA astrobiologist Kevin Hand. "So what if I told you that there is an ocean out there, beyond Earth? An ocean in our solar system, that has been in existence for billions of years?" (2/3)

Earthly Extremophiles Prompt Speculation about Alien Life (Source: Scientific American)
Discoveries of extreme life here on Earth often provoke speculation about what might lurk in other worlds. And so it was, when I reported on January 21 that fish were found living in an isolated corner of the ocean beneath 740 meters of ice in Antarctica: People asked what this might mean for finding life on distant worlds such as Europa, a moon of Jupiter that very likely harbors an ocean of liquid water beneath a crust of ice.

Astrobiologists wax poetic about the possibility that we might someday find carpets of microbial slime clinging to the aquatic underside of Europa’s ice, but might they be setting their sights too low? Might there be something more exciting gliding through Europa’s waters, like the spidery-legged, bioluminescent xeno-arachnids envisioned in a sci-fi sketch recently published in Nature? “The question will always be energy,” says Britney Schmidt. Click here. (2/3)

Melbourne Beach Air Force Dome Moved Into Storage (Source: Florida Today)
The dome that once topped the Air Force tracking station in Melbourne Beach has been placed in storage at an undisclosed location, said Chuck Least, who is helping with the "Radome" restoration project. Saturday, volunteers loaded the disassembled dome onto a trailer and hauled it from the Melbourne Beach Old Town Hall History Center property. Town officials had issued a Saturday deadline, citing liability and potential hazards. (2/3)

NASA Budget Lists Timelines, Costs and Risks for First SLS Flight (Source: Planetary Society)
NASA will set the Space Launch System's inaugural flight date at the end of this year, according to the agency's 2016 budget request, which was released on Monday. The 25-day mission, which will carry an uncrewed Orion spacecraft to lunar orbit, is currently scheduled for no later than Nov. 2018. That date, however, is subject to a series of design reviews that will be conducted throughout 2015. The reviews are expected to wrap up in December, at which point NASA will set a date for the flight, dubbed Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1).

EM-1 timelines, costs and project risks are laid out in NASA's 713-page budget request, which is subject to funding adjustments by Congress. The budget says a flight date will be set after all three mission components—SLS, Orion, and ground systems—have completed their Critical Design Reviews. These reviews, called CDRs, are conducted by independent panels before vehicles and systems enter their final design and fabrication phases. Click here. (2/3)

Congress Warms to Commercial Crew Idea (Source: CSM)
From shop floors to launch pads at Cape Canaveral, momentum is building toward lofting the first commercial services to carry humans to and from the space station by the end of 2017. The two companies NASA has selected for the job – Boeing and SpaceX – are clearing initial, crucial milestones, and to keep the program moving, President Obama has proposed that the government spend $1.24 billion on the effort in fiscal 2016, which begins Oct. 1. That's up from $805 million the program received this year.

During the past five fiscal years, Congress repeatedly has provided less money for the program than the White House sought, although the gap has narrowed significantly. In the eyes of some analysts, Congress is increasingly warming to the program. The 2017 target "will be here before we know it," and all indications are that the two companies are on pace to launch, says Eric Stallmer, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation. (2/3)

Commercialize The Moon With Startup Businesses (Source: Investor's Business Daily)
Reuters is reporting that the U.S. government "has taken a new, though preliminary, step to encourage commercial development of the moon." At first glance, this is good news: Commercial development is part of a strong, growing economy. But take a second look: Is government really needed for commercial development of the moon?

We've been behind the privatization of space for some time now. The government did a fine job of kicking off space exploration, but the private sector needs to take the lead now because capitalism can do what government does and do it far better. Click here. (2/3)

NASA is Building this Monster Rocket to Shuttle Astronauts to Mars (Source: Business Insider)
Right now, NASA is constructing a monster rocket, called the Space Launch System, that will be the most powerful rocket ever built. This rocket is designed for NASA's future deep-space missions. It will launch four astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft toward far-off destination, which could include an asteroid and even Mars in the not-too-distant future.

NASA's SLS will be able to carry more than twice the payload weight as any of the agency's space shuttles. Moreover, it will generate 12% more thrust than NASA's Saturn V rocket — the most powerful launch vehicle in history that sent Apollo astronauts to the moon. NASA recently received an additional $1.7 billion to continue building SLS. And it's scheduled to send astronauts to the moon in November 2018 for NASA's first major deep-space mission since the Apollo program. Click here. (2/3)

Astrotech Appoints Raj Mellacheruvu as Chief Operating Officer (Source: Astrotech)
Astrotech Corporation (ASTC) announced that it has appointed Raj Mellacheruvu as Chief Operating Officer ("COO") of the Company. Mr. Mellacheruvu’s appointment is effective as of February 2, 2015. In this new role, Mr. Mellacheruvu will report to Thomas B. Pickens III, Chairman & CEO of Astrotech Corporation, and help lead business operations for Astrotech and its subsidiaries.

Editor's Note: Astrotech sold its "Space Operations" commercial satellite processing business (including a large facility on the Space Coast) to Lockheed Martin last year. (2/3)

Is Dava Newman's Nomination In Limbo? (Source: NASA Watch)
Dava Newman was chosen as the nominee for NASA Deputy Administrator in October 2014. We have heard nothing since then. Dava Newman has yet to testify before the Senate (and get their approval) so it is unclear when she will be confirmed. With impending food fights in the Republican-led Congress, such routine things as nominations may be stalled - or (worse) may become opportunities to score partisan points agains the Administration - with the nominee taking the brunt of the negative energy. Stay Tuned. (2/3)

FAA: Bigelow Can Stake a Moon Claim (Source: SpaceKSC)
Bob Bigelow has been very vocal about the need to clarify lunar property rights. A November 2013 Bigelow report delivered to NASA concluded that property rights would need to be clarified in order for private companies to invest in exploitation of lunar resources.

The FAA’s decision “doesn’t mean that there’s ownership of the moon,” Bigelow told Reuters. “It just means that somebody else isn’t licensed to land on top of you or land on top of where exploration and prospecting activities are going on, which may be quite a distance from the lunar station.”

If history is a guide, one day in the future someone will try to seize lunar territory already claimed by a nation or company, and we will see a repeat of empires warring with each other for natural resources. The Outer Space Treaty probably will be ignored, as nations struggle to keep their corporations in line. Rogue nations will do what they feel like anyway. (2/3)

SpaceX Leasing Second Pad at Vandenberg (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Air Force is leasing a second launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California to SpaceX, giving the company neighboring launch sites on the service’s western range. Robin Jackson, chief of public affairs at Vandenberg, confirmed the lease of the Space Launch Complex-4 West (SLC-4W) site. Further details, including the date and duration of the lease, were not provided. SpaceX spokesman John Taylor did not respond to multiple requests for comment. (2/3)

MDA Will Have Lead Role in Developing New Kill Vehicle (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Missile Defense Agency intends to lead the effort to design a new kill vehicle for ground-based interceptors by using the best ideas from three previously submitted industry concepts, the agency’s director said Feb. 2.

Once the MDA-generated design is complete, which is expected around 2018, industry would be invited to compete for the production contract, U.S. Navy Vice Adm. James Syring said. The competitors for that would be Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, each of which submitted separate kill vehicle designs for a since-canceled program, he said. (2/3)

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