March 18, 2015

Whoa! Opportunity Discovers Purplish Rocks at Mars Overlook (Source: America Space)
NASA’s long-lived Opportunity rover has discovered a matchless patch of purplish, blocky rocks at a spectacular mountaintop overlook that are unlike anything encountered before during her amazing 11-year science expedition across the alien terrain of the Red Planet.

Opportunity found the intriguing colored rocks—“different from any ever measured before”—last month while driving to an overlook near the summit of Cape Tribulation to survey “Marathon Valley,” her long-term science destination. Click here. (3/17)

How AI Can Calculate Our Oil Surplus...From Space (Source: WIRED)
No one knows how much oil we have left on the planet. No one can even say with any certainty how much oil is waiting to hit the market. The startup Orbital Insight thinks it can answer those questions by analyzing satellite photos.

Founder Jimi Crawford—an AI expert who has worked for NASA and Google—explains that it can do this by analyzing massive numbers of photos of oil tanks with floating lids. As a tank is depleted, the lid sinks, and the sun casts shadows on the inside of the tank changes. By detecting patterns in how those shadows change, analysts can estimate how much oil is available in all the tanks it monitors. (3/16)

Rocket Scientist says Washington State Could Take Off as Space Leader (Source: UpStart)
The outer space industry is growing fast in Washington, and one business leader says it would be nice to get the same tax breaks Boeing does. With them, Roger Meyers argues, the state could be a hot spot in the private sector space race. Click here. (3/16)

Angara Rocket Key to Russia’s Launch Future (Source: EarthSky)
Just a week after announcing intentions to build their own space station and leave the International Space Station in 2024 – with plans to try Mars again and send cosmonauts to the moon – Russian Space Agency officials are calling for the postponement of a heavy lift launch vehicle that would rival NASA’s powerful Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.

Recommendations call for reliance on the Angara family of launch vehicles, over 20 years in the making, with recently accomplished successful test flights. Russia’s new plans are yet another change among launch providers in the space industry, an industry with numerous aged launched vehicles facing increasing competition.

The announced intentions for Angara by the Russian space agency follow numerous stories of leadership changes, changes to Russia’s relationship with Ukrainian rocket suppliers, new mission plans and an austerity program to reduce costs under a limited government-sponsored budget. (3/16)

Russia Aims To Retire Proton in 2025 as Angara Takes Over (Source: Space News)
Russia plans to retire its Proton rocket, a heavy-lift workhorse with 50 years and 400 successful missions under its belt, in 2025, some four years after its replacement becomes operational, a top Russian industry official said. The Angara family of rockets, now in testing, will become operational in 2021 and fully replace Proton by 2025. (3/17)

Spire Global Aims To Orbit 25 Smallsats in 2015 (Source: Space News)
Spire Global Inc., which in July 2014 raised $25 million in Series A backing from RRE Ventures, Moose Capital, Quihoo and Mitsui & Co. Global Investment, plans to have up to 25 satellites in orbit by the end of this year and 100 or more within three years, Spire Launch Manager Jenny Barna said. Spire, whose total financing is about $29 million, is focusing on maritime vessel tracking using the Automatic Identification System transponders mandated on certain classes of ships. (3/17)

Skybox Imaging Selects Arianespace Vega to Launch Satellite Block (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Arianespace has signed a contract to launch a block of high resolution imaging satellites for Skybox Imaging aboard the Vega launch vehicle from the Guiana Space Center in 2016. “The Vega launch system has already achieved four flawless flights for commercial and government customers. This new contract with Skybox marks our first U.S. customer of the Vega and adds to Vega’s order book of nine small satellites to be launched in the coming three years.” (3/17)

Are Humans Really Headed To Mars Anytime Soon? (Source: NPR)
With recent news headlines proclaiming that dozens of people have been selected as finalists for a Martian astronaut corps, it might seem like a trip to this alien world might finally be close at hand. But let's have a little reality check. What are the chances that we really will see people on the Red Planet in the next couple of decades?

Most people just don't get how hard this would be, says Mary Lynne Dittmar, an aerospace consultant in Washington, D.C. "The distances that are involved and the complexities that are involved in going and staying there are really enormous," she says. Click here. (3/17)

Let's Go to Mars, for Science and for America (Source: Independent Alligator)
I have to agree with Aldrin. We could be doing more in space exploration, especially considering that we have two subsequent administrations that have not been very supportive of NASA. President George W. Bush started a trend of budget cuts to NASA, and the current Obama administration continued this pattern.

I believe almost everyone agrees, regardless of ideology, that NASA is important for research and development and leading the world in exploration. John F. Kennedy got it right when he said we move forward with these things, “not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” Click here. (3/17)

Why NASA Is Betting SpaceX Can Help Reinvent the Shuttle Program (Source: ReCode)
When former NASA astronaut John Grunsfeld was in elementary school, America was racing Soviet Russia to the moon. Today, the U.S. is launching astronauts into orbit on Russian rockets, and the U.S. space shuttle program is a thing of the past. There’s a plan to revive it, albeit in a different form. Click here. (3/16)

Fight Between SpaceX and Industry Heavyweights Heads to Capitol Hill (Source: Washington Post)
The last time these two companies faced off before Congress, their top executives, sitting side by side, exchanged tense, if restrained, barbs. In the year since, the fight over lucrative contracts to launch national security satellites has grown even more contentious.

In a recent interview, Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president, accused ULA of being a slow-moving monopolist that is dependent on government handouts and resistant to change. “It’s not in the ULA genetics to be an innovative company,” she said. “But innovation is key to survive in this marketplace.” (3/16)

SpaceX is Rapidly Expanding (Source: Business Insider)
SpaceX, the technology upstart founded by entrepreneur Elon Musk, is stepping up hiring of engineers and other workers to help boost production, including many from other sectors such as the automotive industry and the military, company officials said. This year, the company expects to produce at least 180 engines, with that number set to increase to 240 next year, and 400 in 2017, Shotwell told Reuters in an interview late last week.

Shotwell said increasing production put the company on track to complete 13 launches this year. It fell short of its targets last year due to a number of factors. "Certainly from a manufacturing perspective, we should be able to meet those targets," said Shotwell. Click here. (3/17)

‘Goodness’ From Falling Space Budget; Outsource WGS C2 Next Year? (Source: Breaking Defense)
A full house at the Capitol Hill Club was treated last week to a bravura performance of straight talk by Dave Madden, executive director of the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center. The space budget, he noted, has dropped about 25 percent since 2012, “but we were still able to deliver on time and on schedule.”

In fact, he thinks “there has been goodness in the budget’s drop” because it has — wait for it — “forced us to think. We are having conversations in the building now about things we never would have addressed unless the budget dropped,” Madden said. Click here. (3/17)

Colorado Aerospace and Defense Caucus Convenes at Capitol (Source: Denver Post)
What started out as a group of "Star Trek"-loving space enthusiasts gathering on lunch breaks to watch the adventures of the USS Enterprise and talk about Colorado aerospace has spawned what could become one of the statehouse's most influential groups. "We had a Star Trek Caucus last session and nobody came, so we decided to rename it and look, everybody came," said Rep. Paul Rosenthal, D-Denver.

The Colorado Aerospace and Defense Caucus officially met at the Colorado State Capitol on Monday for the first time in years, bringing together top aerospace industry leaders, educators and space advocates with a bipartisan group of state legislators.

Space is a hot topic right now, and Colorado is at the industry's epicenter. Colorado ranks first in the nation for private aerospace employment as a percentage of total employment, according to data from the Colorado Economic Development Commission. And the state's universities and research centers are at the core of nearly every ongoing space mission while training the next generation of aerospace workers. (3/17)

'Journey To Space' Launches into Giant-Screen Theaters (Source: Collect Space)
"Journey To Space," narrated by actor Patrick Stewart, is now playing at NASA visitor centers, space museums and science centers across the U.S., with more venues being added weekly. The large-format movie, co-produced by K2 and Giant Screen Films, showcases NASA's plans for the future of spaceflight, including landing astronauts on Mars. (3/16)

Funky 'Gagarin' Tribute Song Whips Up a Storm (Source: Moscow Times)
Two men walk into a room, put on space costumes and then dance like crazy, mixing hip-hop moves and air guitaring as the story of Yury Gagarin, the first man in space, is told in a funk-driven song created by the group Public Service Broadcasting. The song "Gagarin" is on the group's new album "The Race for Space," which as usual mixes real speech and driving beats. Click here. (3/17)

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