May 3, 2015

United Launch Alliance Union Workers To Vote Sunday on Proposed Contract (Source: Noozhawk)
United Launch Alliance employees represented by the machinists union at Vandenberg Air Force Base and in Alabama and Florida will vote Sunday on the company’s final contract offer, which union leaders said they can’t recommend. The Vandenberg workers will vote between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Sunday at the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers local lodge, 3265 Orcutt Road.

ULA officials urged workers to approve the three-year contract. “In the coming years, ULA will face several daunting challenges, including fierce competition for new launch opportunities, a government-mandated deadline for an American-made engine, and customer demands for a lower-cost rocket,” said Tory Bruno. "ULA has a finite window to secure our place as the spaceflight partner of choice for the next generation of government and commercial customers.” Click here. (5/3)

Astronauts May Suffer Brain Damage During a Mars Mission, Study Suggests (Source: Mashable)
Astronauts exploring the solar system on a Mars mission might experience brain damage because of exposure to space radiation, a new study suggests. If the results are confirmed by other research, they could have implications for the feasibility of NASA's planned Mars mission, set to take place sometime in the 2030s.

In the study, published Friday in the journal Science Advances, scientists bombarded mice with doses of charged particles that simulate those that astronauts would be exposed to on a trip to Mars. The researchers' goal was to see how the brains of the rodents changed afterward, and the results weren’t exactly heartening for future space explorers.

Charles Limoli, a radiation oncology professor, and his team of researchers found that the mice weren't as curious and became confused after they were blasted with radiation. The mouse brains were also physically altered by the radiation. The researchers involved in the study concluded that astronauts' cumulative radiation exposure during a Mars mission, which would likely take up to three years, might have cause them to have difficulty focusing or performing certain tasks. (5/2)

Russia’s New Program: Search for Extraterrestrial Life Amid Budget Cuts (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
Roscosmos has stated its intent to search for extraterrestrial life despite losing 35 percent of its budget. According to a draft of the federal space program's goals for 2016-2025, Russia plans to launch several spacecraft designed to find alien life. The project includes sending satellites and interplanetary missions to Mars and Earth’s moon. The announcements come at a time when Russia's space efforts come into doubt as the nation faces an economic crisis. (5/2)

North Korea Unveils New Satellite Control Center (Source: Sputnik)
North Korea will continue developing space technology despite international sanctions, the country’s leader Kim Jong-un said when visiting a newly-built satellite command and control center earlier this week. "Peaceful space development is an option taken by our Party and people and a legitimate right of [this country]," Kim said while touring the center of the National Aerospace Development Administration.

“The status of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea as a satellite producer-launcher remains unchanged though the hostile forces deny it and its space development can never be abandoned, no matter who may oppose," Kim said. North Korea will continue its efforts to emerge as "a space power”, Kim Jong-un said. (5/3)

Astronaut Scholarship Foundation Auction Offers Rare Look at Orion Capsule (Source: Collect Space)
Since splashing down after its historic test flight last December, NASA's first Orion capsule to launch into space has been, for the most part, out of public sight. Now, an auction benefiting students is offering the chance for two lucky people to go behind-the-scenes and see the Orion spacecraft up close.

The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF), founded by the Mercury astronauts in 1984 to award college students who are excelling in science and engineering degrees, is auctioning access to the Orion as part of its annual Spring sale of astronaut memorabilia and experiences. "You and a guest will join Hugh Harris, the legendary voice of NASA, for a private behind-the-scenes tour of Kennedy Space Center and the Orion!" according to the foundation. (5/1)

Is Commercial space Flight Viable? (Source: Management Today)
The problem is perhaps not really an engineering one. When Howard Hughes built his giant ‘Spruce Goose’ cargo plane in the 40s, he thought it would revolutionise aviation. It didn’t, not because it wasn’t feasible (a bigger plane has since been built and successfully operated –the Soviet Antonov-225) but because there wasn’t sufficient commercial need for it.

Bezos, Musk and Branson seem to be in a race to be the Howard Hughes of space. Yes, being an astronaut is cool (see Blue Origin’s sales pitch – prices and dates yet to be revealed) but how many people will do it, and how many times will they come back for more at what will still presumably be a very steep price?

The problem with space is there’s nothing there. There’s no destination, just a journey (Musk has a destination, Mars, that's -63 degrees Celsius and doesn't have any oxygen - not likely to rival Tuscany any time soon). Space flight as a means of getting across the world faster is different, and that may in time become a big business. But space tourism, for all the attention it grabs, probably won’t. (5/3)

Mojave Spaceport Seeking New CEO (Source: Mojave Air & Space Port)
The man who built a former Marine Corps Air Station into the nation’s first FAA-certified commercial spaceport is retiring, and the search is on to find a replacement. Stuart Witt, a former Navy Top Gun pilot, test pilot, and businessman, has informed directors of the Mojave Air and Space Port (MASP) that he plans to leave at the beginning of next year at the conclusion of 14 years leading the busy commercial spaceport.

Dr. Allen Peterson, board president of MASP, a California special district, announced that applications for the position of Chief Executive Officer will be accepted from May 1 until midnight July 1. “We’re aiming for the new CEO to begin work here between December 1 and January 4th,” Peterson said. Interviews will be conducted in late Summer and Fall of 2015. (5/1)

Sell Spaceport America to Jeff Bezos (Source: PNT Online)
Jeff Bezos is too close to New Mexico. He owns a ranch between Guadalupe Peak and Van Horn, Texas. That’s scary. He’s scary. Jeff Bezos is crazy smart. You seldom hear in advance about the stuff he does. He just does it. Past tense. He buys everything in his path for reasons only he can understand. It’s not good he is hanging around this close to New Mexico.

Jeff Bezos wants to go into outer space. I am not sure he isn’t from outer space. He owns a space travel company. Shouldn’t everyone? Just a couple days ago, at a site across our southern border, Jeff Bezos launched what CNN called a “surprise test flight” of his New Shepard space vehicle. His spaceship worked. Do you see where this is going? Jeff Bezos is hanging around our neighborhood. He likes space. Turns out he is apparently good at it. New Mexico is in the space business. Turns out we’re good at roping cattle.

The state owns a $200 million facility we modestly call Spaceport America. It is in some God forsaken territory somewhere near Truth or Consequences. Some call it a boondoggle. Why not sell the whole thing to Jeff Bezos? So he would not have to bother with bank loans and all that clutter, keep the price low enough to make it a pocket change deal. Say a half billion. If the Spaceport has a future, Jeff Bezos will find it and New Mexico’s economy will soar like a rocket. (5/2)

You Still Shouldn't Believe in the emDrive (Source: Popular Mechanics)
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. Which is why you should still be suspicious of the "emDrive," a theoretical propulsion system that supposedly could propel objects to near-relativistic speeds, despite this week's headlines touting the technology. The emDrive, invented by Roger Shawyer, purportedly works by repeatedly bouncing microwaves back and forth in a chamber.

Though it would appear to violate the laws of physics, the idea is to create a propellant-less thruster that can move a spacecraft at extraordinary speeds if enough pressure is applied. He claims that it could gain 3 tons of thrust with 1 kilowatt of power input by essentially moving the particles around the chamber of the thruster in a vacuum.

However, there are a few things you should know. Previous tests of emDrive haven't held up to scrutiny. And the NASA agency investigating the EmDrive, informally known as Eagleworks, is specifically devoted to investigation of fringe or far-future ideas such as the Alcubierre Drive, a futuristic warp drive that is both (marginally) technically possible and completely unfeasible due to bonkers energy demands. So just because you hear that NASA is intrigued by an idea, don't assume that it's going to work tomorrow. (5/2)

Spaceport: Exploring New Frontiers (Source: Albuquerque Journal)
Spaceport America’s spectacular 12,000-foot runway in the middle of the desert is quiet most of the time. New Mexico has tacked its hopes onto the idea that one day it will be busy: that aspiring “spaceline” Virgin Galactic will transform the runway into a “spaceway,” rocketing well-heeled passengers to space and back.

But after a fatal accident during a test flight last fall, the company’s timeline for takeoff is again pushed back indefinitely, forcing the state to come up with a new business plan. Virgin Galactic says its new SpaceShipTwo is about 75 percent complete. Testing will resume when the spaceship is ready to fly, but the company has previously said that is not anticipated until next year.

Christine Anderson, executive director of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority, is scheduled to present the updated business plan next month for the $218.5 million, taxpayer-funded facility – one that further expands potential revenue sources beyond Virgin Galactic. Anderson previewed the plan for the Journal, saying Spaceport will target new tenants, including emerging companies in the “new space” industry; commercials like the recent Land Rover spot shot on site; tourism; special events; and merchandising. (5/3)

Launching From Spaceport America (Source: Albuquerque Journal)
Virgin Galactic and SpaceX may not be flying yet in New Mexico, but other companies are rocketing to space from Spaceport America. Albuquerque’s UP Aerospace has been sending suborbital rockets to space from Spaceport since 2006. The rockets have carried student experiments, and NASA and Department of Defense payloads.

UP Aerospace, which has partnered with Lockheed Martin and MOOG, has launched 13 times – including seven missions that reached space. Armadillo Aerospace of Texas has been testing developmental rockets at Spaceport since 2011, has launched eight times and has reached space twice. Altogether, the spaceport has hosted 21 commercial launches since 2006. Click here. (5/3)

The Great Space Twins Study Begins (Source: TIME)
When serendipity hands scientists the perfect experiment, they don’t hesitate to jump on it. That’s surely the case with NASA’s improbable study of Scott Kelly, who has just completed the first month of a one-year stay aboard the International Space Station, and his identical twin brother Mark, who will spend the same year on Earth. Click here. (5/3)

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