April 22, 2015

ISS is Open for Business (Source: Popular Science)
Last week’s SpaceX launch jettisoned an espresso machine into space for the first time ever. Called the ISSpresso, the coffee maker is about the size of a microwave, and all it needs is a pouch of water and a capsule of espresso to make a great pick-me-up for sleepy astronauts. While space-faring coffee machines may make for interesting cargo, the Falcon 9’s Dragon capsule also held other precious freight.

Embedded within the capsule, five experiments--ranging from musculoskeletal and neurological research on rodents to synthetic muscles--made their way to the International Space Station. The sponsors of this research? Private companies including Novartis, Merck, and Ras Labs.

The station’s primary function is to serve as a research laboratory. Its sterile microgravity environment, surrounded by the harshness of space, makes it a unique place for testing the behavior of various materials, as well as experimenting with the growth of biological tissues and crystals. NASA has conducted a significant amount of research on the station, but now the space agency is beginning to understand how the ISS could help the private sector as well. Click here. (4/21)

Robots Will Extend Human Explorers’ Capability (Source: Aviation Week)
Engineers are using industrial robots and an ingenious gripper developed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to pick up simulated bits of asteroid generated by mining experts in West Virginia, while a testbed the size of a dorm-room refrigerator cooks in a thermal vacuum chamber in preparation for a trip to the International Space Station.

Dubbed Raven, it will perch on the Earth-facing side of the main station truss to practice the feats of machine vision that will be needed at an asteroid, using the Russian, Japanese and U.S. “visiting vehicles”—Soyuz, Progress, HTV, Cygnus and Dragon—as targets. Click here. (4/22)

Scaled-Up Version of Our Solar System 130 Light-Years Away (Source: Science Daily)
The planetary system of HR8799, a young star only 30 million years old, was the first to be directly imaged, with three planets found in in 2008 and a fourth one in 2010. "This star was therefore a target of choice for the LEECH survey, offering the opportunity to acquire new images and better define the dynamical properties of the exoplanets orbiting," said Christian Veillet. Click here. (4/20)

NASA Assembles Unprecedented Scientific Team to Find ET Life (Source: Venture Beat)
NASA is launching an interdisciplinary effort aimed at searching for extraterrestrial life. Known as the Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (or “NExSS”), the project will bring together a wide range of scientists, researchers, and academics to try to “better understand the various components of an exoplanet [a planet around a star], as well as how the planet stars and neighbor planets interact to support life.”

NASA’s new project, run by its Science Mission Directorate, will bring together earth scientists, planetary scientists, heliophysicists, and astrophysicists “in an unprecedented collaboration to share their perspectives, research results, and approaches in the pursuit of one of humanity’s deepest questions: Are we alone?” (4/21)

SpaceX CRS-6 Mission to Assist in Osteoporosis Research (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
Until recently, Florida residents Sally and Don have been quite ambivalent about space exploration. The launches at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center take place a mere 70 miles away from their home, but did not pay them much mind. That changed on April 14, when NASA and SpaceX delivered another collection of experiments to the Space Station. One is aimed at discovering new treatments for osteoporosis.

“After the Shuttle Program concluded in 2011, we just lost interest in anything related to space,” Sally said.  “We’ve already been to the Moon, and we just don’t see the value of the government spending more billions of dollars on going to an asteroid or Mars.  But that was before we read about the experiment seeking new discoveries to treat bone density loss.”

Sally is among the estimated 10 million Americans who have osteoporosis, a condition marked by low bone mass (a thinning of the bone), which can lead to a weakening of the bone architecture and increased susceptibility to fracture (usually of the hip, wrist and /or spine). (4/22)

Thales Alenia Space Inks Elaborate Tech Transfer Deal with Brazil (Source: Space News)
Satellite builder Thales Alenia Space of Europe, as part of what may be the most elaborate satellite technology-transfer contract ever signed, will be joining forces with Brazilian companies to develop local expertise in satellite thermal control, onboard propulsion, solar arrays and ground support, the company’s chief representative in Brazil said. (4/22)

SpaceX Faces Another Proposed Labor-Focused Class Action Suit (Sources: Parabolic Arc, Space News)
A former clerical employee hit SpaceX with a proposed class action in California court on Monday, accusing the company of shorting him overtime and minimum wage pay as well as proper break periods. Plaintiff Sebring Whitaker alleged in his complaint that SpaceX didn’t adequately pay him and similar nonexempt employees for normal and overtime work and didn’t adequately provide required meal and rest breaks.

The suit seeks class action status, claiming at least 100 current or former employees qualify. SpaceX was sued last year by employees who said they did not receive proper notices of layoffs or also did not get breaks as required by state law. (4/21)

Russia to Increase Orbital Grouping to 181 Satellites (Source: Sputnik)
Russia's orbital grouping will be expanded to 181 satellites as a result of the implementation of the new Federal Space Program for 2016-2025, the head of the Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos, said on Wednesday. According to Igor Komarov, the number of communications satellites will be doubled, while the number of scientific satellites will be tripled. (4/22)

More Embezzlement Alleged at Russia's New Spaceport (Source: Itar-Tass)
Russian officials are investigating another case of embezzlement involving work at the Vostochny Cosmodrome. Russia's Interior Ministry said Wednesday it's looking into the "misappropriation" of nearly $1 million by one of the contractors building the spaceport in Russia's Far East. That company received an advance payment "and spent the funds for its own financial and business needs and for personal purposes." (4/21)

UCSD Crowdfunds Small Rocket Engine (Source: UT San Diego)
Student engineers at UC San Diego are off to a fast start in trying to raise $15,000 on Kickstarter to develop a small engine that's designed to propel their Vulcan-1 rocket almost two miles into the atmosphere. The local chapter of the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) generated more than $7,000 on April 21st, the first day of their campaign to underwrite an engine that would be produced with 3-D printing.

The SEDS team -- which is composed entirely of undergraduates -- says the engine could produce about 750 pounds while lofting the 16-foot tall rocket. The engine would be fueled by liquid oxygen and RP1 (kerosene). If the rocket development proves to be successful, the team will attempt to launch Vulcan-1 in June from Green River, Utah. (4/21)

New Mexico Tech tests rocket at Spaceport America (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
Spaceport officials announced the April 18 launch of the New Mexico Tech Rocket Design Team's experimental rocket. The nearly 10-foot-long experimental rocket was designed and built by the students in the Mechanical Engineering Department at New Mexico Tech. The launch took place from Spaceport America's vertical launch area. The student rocket lifted off at 8:03 a.m. and attained its predicted 11,500-foot altitude, according to Spaceport officials. (4/23)

Space Commander Urges Progress on Automated Flight Safety (Source: AFSPC)
General John Hyten, commander of Air Force Space Command, recently identified several key actions to be taken to ensure U.S. strength in space for the future. One concern for assured access to space is the state of the launch ranges, which he said are not structured to support the launch business today because of the aging infrastructure of radars, telescopes, telemetry systems that track launches. 

He said, "We have to build an automated flight safety system and get that approved." An automated flight safety system will use GPS tracking for launches, reducing maintenance and sustainment costs for aging telemetry and tracking systems. In addition, an automated flight safety system will make the ranges more responsive to industry and government launch requirements.

Editor's Note: I don't know why this hasn't been done yet. It has been an Air Force priority for the past decade. Perhaps this is a symptom of the Air Force's broader budget priority problems. Money for range upgrades has often been cut in favor of funding other programs, or to deal with cuts from sequestration and other belt-tightening. (4/21)

The Next Great Gold Rush Won't Be Taking Place on Earth (Source: Mic)
There's a new gold rush heating up, but the hunt isn't for oil, gas or tech stocks — it's for asteroids. There are more than 10,000 near-Earth asteroids shooting by at any given moment, and many of them contain valuable resources like water, platinum and iron. While water and iron don't seem worthy of a gold rush by Earth standards, their value skyrockets due to their scarcity in space and the challenge of extracting them.

If private companies can figure out a sustainable way to mine and sell these cosmic assets, they could make a killing in the new space economy and help fuel the next stage of galactic pursuits in the process. Already, private companies are betting big on the potential of asteroid mining and working hard to get there first. Japan launched its own asteroid mining operation last year. Serial entrepreneur and X Prize founder Peter Diamandis believes the first trillionaire will be made in space. (4/21)

Japan Eyeing Asian Space Rivals, Ponders Moon Landings, Unmanned or Manned (Source: Toronto Star)
Japan’s space agency is considering an unmanned mission to the moon by 2018 or early 2019, part of an effort to beef up aerospace technology and keep pace with China and other emerging powers. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, included the possibility of a lunar landing in the fiscal year that begins April 1, 2018, in its summary of moon exploration plans by Japan and other countries.

Japanese media reported Tuesday that JAXA presented the proposal to a government panel of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology on Monday. The agency still needs to win funding for the project. But it is raising hopes for a revival of space exploration. And the public broadcaster NHK showed satellite images of the Japanese islands, alit at night, and of the aurora borealis, or Northern Lights, as possible attractions for passengers of space flights. (4/21)

Canada's Federal Budget Extends Support For International Space Station (Source: Huffington Post)
The Harper government has made a commitment to extend Canada's participation in the International Space Station mission for another four years — until 2024. The announcement was included in Tuesday's federal budget. The United States and Russia have already announced their continued support until 2024. (4/22)

Audacity in the Dust (Source: Airport Business)
The main things Mojave has going for it, are that 1. it’s very dry and 2. in the middle of nowhere. With those two somewhat underwhelming advantages, it’s fair to say that to run an airport like Mojave successfully, you need a ‘can do’ entrepreneurial spirit at the helm – someone who sees the opportunity at the heart of a problem. Enter Stuart Witt, the CEO & General Manager at Mojave. Click here. (4/20)

Appropriations Committee Chair Encourages NASA Support for Stennis (Source: Sen. Cochran)
Amid questions about U.S. space policy priorities, U.S. Senator Thad Cochran, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, is seeking assurances that sufficient resources will be available to continue on-time development of the Space Launch System and to support rocket engine testing like that done at Mississippi's Stennis Space Center.

Cochran highlighted the importance of the role of Stennis Space Center to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden at a hearing of the Senate Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee on Thursday. Bolden testified on the FY2016 NASA budget request. At the hearing, Cochran sought Bolden’s guidance on how that panel could better serve NASA’s mission and the Stennis Space Center. (4/21)

Man Behind Moore’s Law Bankrolling Cubesat Mission (Source: Space News)
Clyde Space of Scotland will build two 4-kilogram cubesats to be launched in 2017 to study ocean color worldwide in a mission financed by a private U.S. foundation, Glasgow-based Clyde announced April 20. The two satellites, intended as precursors for the Sustained Ocean Observation for Nanosatellites (SOCON) constellation, will carry sensors designed and built by Cloudland Instruments of Santa Barbara, California. T

Clyde Space, whose UKube-1 spacecraft was launched in July to study radiation effects on satellites, will provide the satellite’s platform, system design, integration and prelaunch testing. The satellites will be launched on separate rockets – yet to be chosen – for redundancy and to permit their operation in different orbits.

The mission’s total value is $1.675 million. Program managers are aiming at a launch in early 2017. Financing is from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, created by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore and his wife. (4/21)

NASA Reaches Out to Universities for Smallsat Technology Collaborations (Source: NASA)
NASA is extending an opportunity to college and university teams to propose small spacecraft technology projects that they can conduct in collaboration with NASA researchers. This is the second time NASA has issued this type of call after the highly successful efforts that emerged from the first call in 2013.

The Small Spacecraft Technology Program is issuing the Smallsat Technology Partnerships solicitation as an appendix to the Space Technology Mission Directorate's NASA Research Announcement for 2015. This is opportunity will engage university students and graduate researchers in advancing technology of value to NASA and the nation and help strengthen our high-tech workforce. Proposals are due by June 5, 2015. (4/20)

ULA Launch Capability Payments Still an Issue as Competition Nears (Source: Space News)
Both United Launch Alliance and rival SpaceX expect the U.S. Air Force to factor the $1 billion in annual overhead payments that ULA receives from the service into upcoming competitions to launch national security satellites, but how that will be done remains unclear.

The issue, one that SpaceX has seen as a major stumbling block to a fair competition, has gotten increased attention from the Air Force since January, Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president and chief operating officer, said April 14. SpaceX is poised to end ULA’s monopoly in the U.S. defense launch market, with competitions for a limited number of missions expected to get underway this year. (4/21)

Virginia Launch Pad Slowly Recovering From Antares Accident (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
Pad 0A at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia is starting to show signs of recovering over the explosion of an Orbital ATK Antares rocket attempting to carry out the third operational resupply mission (Orb-3) to the Space Station in October of 2014. In terms of Pad 0A, located at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) in Virginia, the damage caused by the rocket’s explosion, while still evident, are fading.

Visually, the Antares launch site, looked in pretty good shape. The lightning towers sustained major damage and are being replaced before the next flight, currently scheduled for March of 2016. The large water tower at the site, also had some minor scorching discoloration, but is structurally sound and survived in relatively good shape. (4/21)

Embry-Riddle Hosts Aerospace Conference (Source: Daytona Beach News-Journal)
Plans to attract major aerospace companies to Volusia County could get a boost Thursday and Friday when more than 150 industry leaders come to town for a conference at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. It’s the spring meeting for the Aerospace Alliance, which includes aerospace leaders from Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida.

With the presence of big-name companies such as Airbus, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and NASA, these states comprise one of the largest aerospace corridors in the world, employing millions throughout the region. This year the alliance will focus on the future of aerospace in the four-state region and particularly the region’s most critical and valuable asset — its educated workforce — and aligning the workforce to meet corporate needs.

Locally it also will give Volusia County an opportunity to make a lasting impression, especially at a time when Embry-Riddle is trying to attract businesses for its upcoming research park under construction on Clyde Morris Boulevard, said Melissa Medley, who works with Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development organization which is sponsoring the summit. (4/21)

NASA Puts Space Between it and Hyundai Ad Campaign (Source: Globe and Mail)
Should astronauts be in bed with advertisers? NASA thinks not. It is distancing itself from a Hyundai ad campaign that attempted to use the romance of space to sell cars. Earlier this month, Hyundai released an online video showing its cars writing a 5.5-square-kilometer message, “Steph [loves] You!” in tire tracks in the sand of a dried out lake bed.

It was written by a 13-year-old American girl for “her astronaut father working at the International Space Station,” according to Hyundai. According to NASA spokeswoman Jennifer Knotts, no NASA employees appeared in the video. Hyundai’s team would not identify the astronaut’s full name when asked. When Hyundai contacted NASA a number of months ago, “they told us they were going to use an actor to stage the scene [aboard the ISS,]” Ms. Knotts said.

In an e-mail, Hyundai’s global public relations team said it “cannot comment” on questions about Stephanie’s father’s role on the ISS; whether it used NASA’s public domain footage; who filmed any other footage; and if so, how Hyundai secured permission to film aboard the ISS. “All we can say is that it’s based on a real story,” the e-mail stated. However, Ms. Knotts said none of NASA’s astronauts were involved, on an authorized or unauthorized basis. (4/21)

Lockheed Martin Rocket Launches Boost Earnings and Guidance (Source: 24/7 Wall Street)
Lockheed Martin reported first-quarter 2015 earnings with revenues of $10.11 billion. Consensus estimates called for revenues of $10.23 billion. In the company’s aeronautics division sales were down 7% year over year and operating profits were down 6%. Information systems sales were down 2% and profits fell 22%. Missiles and fire control sales were 19% lower and profits were down 18%.

On the plus side, mission systems and training sales were up 1%, but profits fell 12%. Space systems sales rose 5% and profits rose 13%. Included in the space systems division’s profits were equity earnings of $75 million primarily from its United Launch Alliance (ULA) joint venture with Boeing. (4/21)

New Satellite Payload Ensures Safe and Efficient Air Travel (Source: Raytheon)
Thanks to a newly awarded $103 million FAA contract, Raytheon Company will field the newest element in a space-based system which makes air travel safer and more efficient for millions of travelers. The Raytheon-supplied system will be a key feature of the FAA's Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) which improves the availability and accuracy of Global Positioning System (GPS) signals to enable use by commercial and general aviation aircraft.

The company will develop a payload to be incorporated into a new geostationary (GEO) satellite and two associated ground uplink stations to support the WAAS system within U.S. airspace. As the original developer of the WAAS system, Raytheon has more than 60 years of experience in providing global air traffic management (ATM) technology, including precision satellite-based navigation products. (4/21)

Editorial: Adjust Schedule for RD-180 Phaseout (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Air Force and United Launch Alliance have a problem with the timetable for enforcing the congressionally imposed ban on the future use of Russian-made engines in launches of U.S. national security space missions. The ban, enacted following Russia’s annexation of Crimea last year, will effectively shut ULA’s most competitive rocket, the Atlas 5, out of what soon will become a hotly contested military market with the arrival of SpaceX’s Falcon 9.

Lawmakers are legitimately concerned about feeding Russia’s military industrial complex, and some worry that a relaxation of the current RD-180 phaseout timetable will erode U.S. resolve to stop using the hardware. But it might be riskier still to prematurely force the Atlas 5 out of the national security market. The rocket’s availability ensures competition in the near term, which gives ULA a fighting chance to preserve competition in the long term. Congress absolutely should phase out the RD-180, but on a schedule that does not foreclose this possibility. (4/21)

Satellite Capacity Glut Weighs on APT’s 2014 Profits (Source: Space News)
Satellite fleet operator APT Satellite Holdings reported higher revenue but lower pretax profit in 2014 as it made profitable use of a borrowed Chinese satellite but was obliged to reduce prices given the oversupply in the Asia-Pacific.

Hong Kong-based APT said pressure on transponder-lease prices will continue in 2015 as more conventional and high-throughput-satellite capacity enters the region. The company said it is determined to maintain its market share and its satellite fill rates even if that means dropping lease prices. (4/21)

Building an Earth-Size Telescope, 1 Station at a Time (Source: Scientific American)
For years, the Event Horizon Telescope has been operating as a trio of sites in Hawaii, Arizona, and California. (It’s a little more complicated than that—other sites have joined in here and there, and there are actually two telescopes on Mauna Kea that participate—but basically, until this year the EHT was a triangle.)

Its goal is to image Sagittarius A*, the 4 million-solar-mass black hole at the center of the Milky Way, an achievement that could have profound implications for our understanding of the universe. To do that, the EHT needs to grow into a truly worldwide array. That’s a matter of adding the following telescopes to the array. Click here. (4/20)

Russia Accounts for Almost Half of World Space Launches in 2014 (Source: Itar-Tass)
Prime Minister Medvedev said that in the conditions of tough competition Russia has been able to maintain leadership on the world space launch market. "We have made progress in the rocket and space industry, increasing our orbital constellation by 17 satellites and their total number reached 134, which is about 10% of the world’s constellation...[and ] despite the rather tough competition, Russia has maintained its leadership on the world market, carrying out almost half of the total space launches." (4/21)

Blue Origin To Begin Test Flights Within Weeks (Source: Space News)
Blue Origin, the commercial spaceflight company backed by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, will soon start flight tests of its New Shepard suborbital vehicle, an FAA official said April 21. George Nield, FAA associate administrator for commercial space transportation, said he expected Blue Origin to begin test flights in a “couple of weeks.” (4/21)

NASA Delays Award of Commercial Cargo Follow-On Contracts (Source: Space News)
NASA has pushed back by three months a decision on a new series of contracts to transport cargo to and from the International Space Station, claiming it needs more time to review the proposals it received. NASA posted a message April 16 on the procurement website for the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) 2 contract stating that the estimated award date was now Sept. 16. The site had previously listed an award date of June. (4/21)

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