April 29, 2015

Air Force Eyes Private Insurance as Part of Rocket Contracts (Source: Reuters)
The U.S. Air Force may require private insurance as part of future contracts to ensure the companies that launch military satellites into orbit survive even if one of their rockets explodes and causes a long halt in launches. Gen. Hyten said the government needed a new approach to reflect the emergence of a commercial launch industry while still giving it assured access to space by at least two providers.

He said terms of future contracts would need to include some private insurance or public indemnification clause to ensure the survival of at least two launch providers, even in the event of an accident that halted launches for some time. Private insurance was the more likely option, he said. He said the Air Force would also need to spell out how long a launch vehicle would be grounded after an accident, and which agency would have the authority to resume launch flights. (4/28)

With a Bustling 'Spaceport,' Midland Finds Sky is No Longer the Limit (Source: Palestine Herald-Press)
A West Texas oil-and-gas hub is poised to shoot the moon, as a nascent space tourism industry that's already selling tickets promises to remake the local economy. Midland's FAA-certified spaceport has landed a tenant from Mojave, Calif., XCOR Aerospace, which plans to move its headquarters and is booking reservations for its reusable, two-person aircraft piloted by a veteran NASA shuttle commander.

The company is renovating and expanding an existing hangar at the city-owned airport to house a research and development operation. It's 35-minute, ground-to-ground flights - costing $95,000 per trip - are expected to begin next year. “You can fly in on Southwest and fly out on XCOR,” said Justine Ruff. “It’s my understanding that they’ve sold upwards of 400 tickets.” (4/28)

Progress Supply Ship Malfunctions en Route to ISS (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The six crew members of the International Space Station (ISS) are safe and continuing regular operations with sufficient supplies as Russian flight controllers plan for another attempt to communicate with a cargo resupply spacecraft bound for the station. Right after it separated from the Soyuz booster’s third stage, an unspecified problem prevented Russian flight controllers from determining whether navigational antennas had deployed and whether fuel system manifolds had pressurized as planned. (4/28)

Progress Anomaly Strains Space Station Supply Lines (Source: Space News)
A Russian Progress cargo spacecraft suffered technical problems immediately after its launch early April 28, delaying its docking with the International Space Station and raising new concerns about the station’s resupply capabilities.

NASA officials said that food supplies on the ISS would reach a threshold called “reserve level” on July 24, and go to zero by Sept. 5. That assumed that the station received no more supplies beyond a SpaceX Dragon cargo mission launched to the station in April.

The other major limiting consumable is a solid waste container known by the Russian acronym KTO. Without additional cargo missions beyond the Dragon flight, KTO supplies would reach the reserve level July 20 and be exhausted on Sept. 2. Other consumables, including water, would not reach reserve levels until later in the year or early 2016. The next Dragon launch is scheduled for June 19. (4/28)

Air Force to Test Futuristic 'Hall Thruster' on X-37B Space Plane (Source: NBC)
After years of silence on all but the most prosaic aspects of the secretive X-37B space plane program, the Defense Department has revealed that the mysterious, truck-sized craft's next mission will host an experimental new thrust system that could greatly improve the shelf life of satellites. Hall thrusters combine electricity and a noble gas like xenon to produce a miniscule amount of direct force — weak in comparison with thrusters that use ordinary solid fuel, but at a far lesser cost of fuel. (4/28)

Florida House Adjourns Before Session's End, Leaving EconDev for Later (Source: Tallahassee Democrat)
The Florida House abruptly adjourned its 2015 legislative session Tuesday, leaving town three days early and leaving the Senate with plenty of work to do — possibly in violation of the Florida Constitution. The move is in reaction to an impasse with the Senate on Medicaid and health care policy.

With the 60-day session called after 57 days, that means a special session is coming in May or June to produce a budget by the end of the fiscal year June 30. In the interim, the governor and members will have to work out some budget compromises, so members can come back to town and enact it quickly. (4/28)

U.S. House Science Committee Whacks NASA Science Budget (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The House Science Committee would whack nearly a half billion dollars out of NASA’s proposed Earth Science budget in order to boost funding for deep space exploration under a two-year authorization legislators will mark up on Thursday. “For more than 50 years, the U.S. has led the world in space exploration,” said Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX). “We must ensure that the U.S. continues to lead in space for the next 50 years. (4/27)

Florida Ranks No. 1 for Aerospace Manufacturing Attractiveness (Source: Orlando Business Journal)
Florida ranked first in the United States for aviation manufacturing attractiveness for the second year in a row, according to the PwC US 2015 Aerospace Manufacturing Attractiveness Rankings. The report ranked states on tax rates, industry size, operating cost and education. The study used a weighted average of variables such as costs, workforce and number of aerospace companies located in each state.

Florida is home to more than 2,000 aerospace and aviation companies that employ more than 82,000 Floridians and create an annual payroll impact of more than $5 billion in the state. Florida’s manufacturing sector also is a leading industry with more than 18,000 companies employing more than 311,000 workers around the state, ranking it first in the nation in manufacturing export intensity — the percentage of our total manufactured goods that are exported. (4/27)

Space Beer! New Brew Made from Spacefaring Yeast (Source: Space.com)
Space fans can now toast to a beer with an out-of-this-world origin: A new brew was made from yeast that survived a trip to space. The yeast was unaffected by its brief microgravity experience, but the new beer faced some challenges on its journey to space and back. At 10:30 p.m. on the night before Ninkasi Brewing Co.'s yeast was supposed to launch into space this past October, the founder of the company faced a crisis.

The yeast required dry ice to protect it during its ride, but the closest place to buy the stuff — the Walmart nearest to New Mexico's Spaceport America, where the launch was taking place — was sold out of it. This was bad news, because the yeast needed to be packed on the rocket by 3 a.m.

After the minor misadventure, three variants of yeast successfully launched on the so-called Mission Two on Oct. 23, 2014. The launch was carried out by private aerospace company UP Aerospace for NASA's Flight Opportunities Program. Ninkasi's contribution included six vials stored just below the rocket's nose cone. Of those vials, four survived. (4/28)

Signs of Subsurface 'Alien' Life Found in Antarctica (Source: Discovery)
An airborne survey of a presumably dry Antarctic valley revealed a stunning and unexpected interconnected subsurface briny aquifer deep beneath the frozen tundra, a finding that not only has implications for understanding extreme habitats for life on Earth, but the potential for life elsewhere in the solar system, particularly Mars.

The briny liquid -- about twice as salty as seawater -- was discovered about 1,000 feet underground in a region known as Taylor Valley. The aquifer is widespread, extending from the Ross Sea’s McMurdo Sound more than 11 miles into the eastern part of valley. A second system was found connecting Taylor Glacier with the ice-cover Lake Bonney. (4/28)

Space, the Final Frontier — for Tourism (Source: Market Watch)
Astronautics has evolved tremendously since the early 1980s, when few countries had the technology and resources to launch satellites and build space stations. Over the past few years, the space sector has flourished, and an increasing number of companies are now engaged in space-related activities. Today I’d like to discuss a branch within the growing commercial space industry: tourism. Click here. (4/28)

Congressional Republicans Move Toward Missile Shield on East Coast (Source: Politico)
The development of a missile battery on the East Coast is gaining support in the Republican-controlled Congress after years of being blocked by Democrats. The Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee is calling for "immediate work on site design and other study and process work to homeport such radar on the East Coast." (4/27)

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