June 4, 2015

United Launch Alliance Disputes $30 Million in Property Taxes (Source: Santa Barbara Independent)
In what is likely the largest bundle of tax appeals Santa Barbara County has ever seen, United Launch Alliance (ULA) is disputing a series of escaped assessments (meaning corrections to a property’s assessed value) issued by the county from 2007 to 2014. The difference amounts to $3.27 billion and translates to about $30 million in property taxes.

ULA — a Boeing/Lockheed Martin joint venture formed in 2006 — leases three space launch facilities at Vandenberg Air Force Base. When the company formed in 2006, it was audited by the county. In 2008, Santa Barbara issued an escaped assessment to ULA after discovering property that had not been reported, according to Keith Taylor of the County Assessor’s Office.

In 2012, ULA submitted a series of assessment appeals for 2008, 2011, and 2012. The reasons for the escaped assessments vary. Some, for instance, have to do with items that weren’t previously reported to the assessor’s office, according to Taylor. Others had to do with improvements made to the launch pads. (6/4)

Mars Needs This Woman (Source: NewsReview)
There’s a rock on Dawn Sumner’s desk: glossy, shimmering with swarms of floating black specks and strands. Just a few inches in diameter, it makes a pretty paperweight, albeit one that holds down just a fraction of the reports and notes cluttering the scientist’s desk.

“This rock is 2.5 billion years old, and all the black is little teeny bits of organic carbon that are encased in the rock,” Sumner says, holding the piece up to the light. “This was once a slimy mess at the bottom of the ocean, and it got captured and fossilized in the minerals.”

Sumner, a geology professor at UC Davis, plucked the rock from a ridge formation in South Africa in 1992. But its epic history may hold clues to lake beds near the South Pole and even some approximately 600 light-years away. The living microorganisms contained in this fossil and others like it, she says, are useful in helping to find evidence of life on Mars. (6/4)

These New SpaceX Satellites Could Let You Surf the Web (Source: Fortune)
SpaceX recently filed an application to the FCC for satellites that would beam down Internet access. Elon Musk’s SpaceX is planning a new network of satellites, and they’ll come with an interesting function: an Internet connection. According to an application filed with the FCC last week, SpaceX wants to launch a network of satellites that will beam down Internet access to regions with little or no connection to the web.

The application describes two satellites, the first of up to eight trial satellites that are each expected to last up to 12 months. The satellites will likely be built using the $1 billion that SpaceX raised mostly from Google earlier this year. For these first tests, the launch location will likely be Vandenberg Air Force Base on the California coast, rather than Cape Canaveral in Florida, according to the orbital parameters in the application. (6/4)

Russia's Space Program in Crisis? (Source: CNN)
Ever since the Cold War-era space race with the United States, Russia has taken immense national pride in its cosmic exploits. It was a Soviet satellite -- Sputnik 1 -- that was the first, in 1957, to break out of Earth's gravitational grip.

1960 witnessed the first living creatures make it into orbit and back again. Soviet space dogs, Belka and Strelka, are still widely celebrated for their achievement -- although the memory of the grey rabbit, 42 mice, two rats, and numerous flies that accompanied them on their extraterrestrial journey has faded.

The following year, in 1961, a Soviet cosmonaut pipped the Americans into space. Yuri Gagarin became a household name and a potent symbol of what the Kremlin would have seen as Communist superiority over the West. But in recent years that confidence has been challenged by a catalogue of embarrassing setbacks. Click here. (6/4)

Longest U.S. Space Simulation Study Coming to an End in Hawaii (Source: UofH)
After eight months of isolation, the faux astronauts on the longest space analog study ever conducted on U.S. soil will wrap up their research mission on June 13. The Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS), led by researchers at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa, includes six crew members who gave up their normal lives to serve as simulated astronauts for the past eight months.

The NASA-funded research is gaining insights into the human factors that contribute to astronaut crew function and performance over time—including the psychological, social, and biological challenges of isolation and confinement. (6/3)

U.S. Ex-Im Bank Critics Go On Attack Over Australian Satellite Deal (Source: Reuters)
Ramping up a campaign to shut down the U.S. Export-Import Bank, Republican lawmakers on Wednesday accused the federal export financing bank of exposing U.S. taxpayers to losses over the foundering of an Australian satellite project. Ex-Im in 2012 authorized a $280 million loan for Australian firm NewSat's purchase of a satellite from U.S.-based aerospace group Lockheed Martin. NewSat earlier this year was placed in administration.

Critics of Ex-Im, who want the bank to close when its current mandate expires on June 30, pounced on the deal to hammer home charges of taxpayer risk and accuse Ex-Im Chairman Fred Hochberg of lax management. "You've lost $100 million and you've given a several-hundred-million-dollar windfall to Lockheed Martin at the expense of the taxpayer," Republican Representative Mick Mulvaney said at a congressional committee hearing. (6/3)

Why the U.S. Should Be a Leader in Space Arms Control (Source: Space News)
A SpaceNews opinion article by a graduate student at George Washington University argued that the United States should “lead the charge in space weaponization.” The article asserts that if the nation doesn’t deploy space weapons now, it risks falling behind in an impending space arms race against China and Russia. One can almost hear big military contractors cheering to the beat of the space war drum.

Further, the op-ed “U.S. Space Supremacy Now Critical” published a week later argued that the United States “must seek to totally outgun [potential adversaries] by obtaining a radical technological advantage” through space supremacy. Perhaps more troubling than suggesting that the United States lead the world into a space arms race is the lack of mention of a regime to keep these weapons holstered. Where is the push for a space arms control agreement? (6/3)

Aerojet Faces High-Risk Decision on Bid for Military Rocket Contract (Source: Sacramento Business News)
Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings Inc. is contemplating whether to enter a fast-paced competition to build rockets for military satellite launches. Winning the initial bid would open the door to gaining future sales of many launch engines. But companies that make it to the first step will be expected to cover one-third of the cost of development in a public-private partnership with no guarantee of winning the final contract.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Air Force launched a competition seeking domestic development of new prototype launch system to replace the Russian engines currently used for U.S. launches. “We are pleased to see that the government is moving forward on this very critical issue,” said Glenn Mahone, spokesman with Aerojet Rockedyne. The company is “in the process of evaluating and updating our bid assessment,” he said.

Editor's Note: Don't forget that Aerojet has been considering a takeover of the Atlas launch vehicle program after ULA develops its Vulcan rocket... unless this bit of chutzpah is being abandoned with the sudden retirement of the company's CEO. (6/3)

U.S. Forces Need Unified Satcom, not Status Quo (Source: Space News)
With mobile devices so ubiquitous these days — even taken for granted — it is difficult to envision going without one for talking, texting, paying bills, navigating, scheduling appointments and accessing the Internet. We live in the age of integrated innovation. By assessing a wide range of needs and matching them to developing technological capabilities in a holistic manner, we attain an optimal state of efficiency and functionality — while saving both time and money.

I would advocate that we take a similar approach with satellite communications for the military community. Imagine the enhanced capability that would be provided for the full spectrum of government operations, from humanitarian relief to full-scale military operation, if the U.S. government developed and executed an integrated satcom architecture and reformed how it acquires satcom. (6/3)

Social Media Flashmob to Promote Space Research (Source: SEN)
Three PhD students at the University of Leuven, Belgium, are hoping to break the record for a social media "flashmob" on Thursday June 4 with the aim of promoting space research and their innovative SpaceBillboard mission. The students, Maarten Decat, Tjorven Delabie and Jeroen Vandewalle, are the founders of SpaceBillboard, which hopes to fund a CubeSat, designed to measure radiation from the Sun, by selling advertising space on the satellite. (6/4)

When Space Could Still Awe (Source: Bloomberg)
I can still remember the Life magazine cover. Fifty years ago today, on June 3, 1965, Edward White walked in space. Two weeks later -- time ran differently back then -- the brightly colored image of the U.S. astronaut bobbing above a sea-blue earth was in every living room.

True, a Soviet cosmonaut, Alexei Leonov, had accomplished the same feat two and a half months earlier. But the celebration of White’s achievement involved more than jingoism. The photographs of the American dangling in space left us breathless with wonder. Before considering why that awe was important, let's take a moment and consider what the era was like. Click here. (6/3)

U.S. House Gives Funding Boost to SLS Rocket (Source: Huntsville Times)
The Space Launch System, NASA's deep-space rocket under development at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, got a funding boost Wednesday from the U.S. House of Representatives. U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, announced the increase of $150 million in funding over 2015 for the rocket.

The increase in funding came as the House approved the spending bill known as the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for fiscal year 2016. The bill now goes to the Senate for approval. (6/3)

Dish May Merge With T-Mobile (Source: Space News)
Satellite TV company Dish Network is discussing a possible merger with T-Mobile. The two companies are in "close agreement" about the structure of the merged company, with Dish's Charlie Ergen as chairman and T-Mobile's John Legere at CEO.

There is less agreement, though, about the merger's financial details. Dish, the second largest direct-to-home satellite TV company in the US, has long shown an interest in terrestrial wireless services, acquiring spectrum and making an unsuccessful bid for Sprint. DirecTV, Dish's larger rival, announced plans last year to merge with AT&T, a deal that has yet to close. (6/3)

Japan Considers Commercial Launch Legislation (Source: Space News)
The Japanese government is developing legislation to allow for commercial launch activities. The bill, to be introduced next year, would cover licensing and other government oversight of private companies that plan to perform launches or reentries of spacecraft, as well as operations of those spacecraft in orbit. The Japanese space agency JAXA, meanwhile, is planning to introduce its new H-3 launch vehicle by 2019, the same year it plans to launch a lunar lander. (6/3)

Mars One Reveals True Number of Applicants (Source: Medium)
Mars One — the Dutch non-profit attempting, despite mountains of contrary evidence, to mount a one-way mission to Mars — has quietly updated its website to clarify the real number of applications the project received. On a new page on its site, The Science of Screening Astronauts, Mars One writes, “The total number of completed and submitted applications was 4,227.” (6/2)

Space Access Society: Urgent Action Needed on Commercial Crew Funding (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The House CJS Subcommittee’s version of next year’s CJS Appropriations bill cuts NASA’s 2016 Commercial Crew request from $1.244 billion to a billion even.  NASA is on record that such a reduction will both push back Commercial Crew initial flights from late 2017, and also require NASA to renegotiate their current contracts with SpaceX and Boeing.  Our analysis supports this position.

It’s not at all clear what an extra half-billion for SLS will accomplish – NASA is on record that increasing funding at this point won’t help get it to first flight any sooner.  Taking a quarter-billion from Commercial crew, on the other hand, will almost certainly cost NASA a half-billion in 2018 for another year’s worth of Soyuz rides to Station. If you agree with us that cutting Commercial Crew funding is a bad idea, you can do something about it: Let your Representative in Congress know. (6/2)

Musk: 'If I Cared About Subsidies, I Would Have Entered the Oil and Gas Industry' (Source: LA Times)
Elon Musk says his companies don't need the estimated $4.9 billion they enjoy in government support, but the money will help them move faster to transform the dirty business of energy. "If I cared about subsidies, I would have entered the oil and gas industry," said Musk, the chief executive of Tesla Motors and SpaceX and the chairman of SolarCity. (6/3)

Broadband From Space: The Battle for Satellite Internet (Source: Alphr)
Satellite internet already exists, but Musk’s proposed system is different: it would use thousands of micro-satellites, around ten times as many satellites as Iridium’s network – currently the largest in the world. Each of Musk’s satellites weighs around 113kg, less than half the mass of standard satellites, which orbit at a 35,000km height. The new satellites will be launched into low Earth orbit, which is only 750km from the surface of the earth.

At the start of 2015, Richard Branson announced that Virgin was working with Qualcomm and OneWeb to build such a network, using its own Virgin Galactic launcher program. “We have the biggest order ever for putting satellites into space,” Branson said. Key to that system is OneWeb founder Greg Wyler, who many expected to work with Musk on his satellite internet plans – not least because the pair are close friends.

“Greg has the rights [to spectrum], and there isn’t space for another network — like, there physically isn’t enough space,” said Branson. “If Elon wants to get into this area, the logical thing for him to do would be to tie up with us, and if I were a betting man, I’d say the chances of us working together rather than separately would be much higher.” (6/3)

Congressman: White House Has ‘No Mission’ for Space Exploration (Source: PJ Media)
Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX) criticized the Obama administration for lacking a human space exploration mission and canceling the nation’s Constellation Program. The primary goal of the program was to return astronauts to the moon by 2020.

“My main point is we have to have some sort of mission coming from the White House or coming from the people – the real space exploration mission, which is exploring the heavens and that’s what I’m fighting for,” he said after the Citizens for Space Exploration reception on Capitol Hill. “Right now we just have no mission. My personal opinion is go back to the moon because it’s great training for Mars.” (6/2)

An Investor’s Guide to the Galaxy (Source: Lexology)
In a field that is regulated by public international law and a handful of treaties, it is doubtful that anyone ever truly contemplated that the colonization of Mars would be attempted by a private not-for-profit entity funded, in part, by Indiegogo crowd funding and a reality television series. Space travel costs billions of dollars for a single mission and it requires a wealth of knowledge, expertise and specialist equipment.

In the event that valuable resources are indeed discovered on Mars, there is little incentive for State parties who have invested in the venture to then abide by the treaty provisions and share the benefits of exploitation. Neither the Outer Space Treaty nor the Moon Agreement includes a mechanism of enforcement or penalties for breach and, as such, State parties face limited repercussions in the event of a breach of a treaty obligation.

A further issue is that the Outer Space Treaty and the Moon Agreement do not bind States who have not signed and ratified the treaties. It may be argued that, as the Outer Space Treaty and the Moon Agreement were unopposed and are so widely accepted, many of their articles may be deemed international customary law. Even so, this would only result in an empiric victory as their remains no sufficient mechanism of enforcing the treaty provisions. (6/3)

Orlando Creative Group to Develop New KSC Visitor Complex Attraction (Source: FCG)
Falcon's Creative Group is excited to announce our most recent collaboration with Delaware North and NASA, which involves the creation of a brand new attraction at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. "We are beyond thrilled to further collaborate with Delaware North and NASA at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in developing this inspiring new experience," says President and Chief Creative Officer, Cecil D. Magpuri.

Heroes and Legends, featuring the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, will bring guests to the center stage for a unique experience in which they will be immersed in the enthralling stories of NASA's legendary astronauts. Heroes and Legends will be an homage to the service of the brave pioneers of our generation who forever changed the trajectory of the world. Falcon's scope of services for Heroes and Legends will include concept design, schematic design, design development, media production and executive production. Heroes and Legends is scheduled to be open in 2016. (6/2)

5 Ways the World's Most Controversial Telescope Could Revolutionize Astronomy (Source: Business Insider)
The Thirty Meter Telescope on the summit of a mountain in Hawaii will be the most powerful optical telescope on Earth. It will be a true game-changer for astronomy. Compared to the Hubble Space Telescope, "TMT will have 144 times the collecting area and more than a factor of 10 better spatial resolution at near-infrared and longer wavelengths," Click here. (6/3)

Data Breach Clouds USAF’s EELV Competition Start (Source: Aviation Week)
The U.S. Air Force is investigating a possible Procurement Integrity Act violation that occurred leading up to a forthcoming request for proposals (RFP) for the service’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program. The investigation, resulting from a data breach last month during the draft RFP phase of a solicitation to procure launch services for the first GPS III launch, was confirmed June 2. (6/3)

Kepler’s Shaw Prize Winner Once in NASA’s Dog House (Source: Space News)
What’s cooler than discovering thousands of exoplanets? Winning a prestigious $1 million astronomy prize for discovering thousands exoplanets. Cooler, still, considering that the prize winner, Kepler Science Principal Investigator William Borucki, was in NASA’s dog house two years before his planet-hunting telescope finally launched in 2009.

Borucki won the $1 million Shaw Prize in Astronomy on Monday (June 2) for his work discovering extrasolar planets and studying solar interiors. Dubbed the “Asian Nobel,” the $1 million prize is funded by Hong Kong businessman and philanthropist Run Run Shaw, who also awards prizes in the life sciences and mathematics. Kepler, a life-long labor of love for the 76-year-old Borucki, has discovered more than 4,000 exoplanets since launching in March 2009.

Six years later, the Ball Aerospace-built telescope is still doing science. And Borucki, a civil servant of 53 years, just netted $215 for each one of the 4,637 exoplanet notches on Kepler’s belt. Not bad for a mission that came close to being canceled. Even better for a devoted scientist who found himself demoted and in the dog house when his team needed more money to complete a telescope critics once said could never work. (6/3)

How to Build the Next Generation of Spacesuits (Source: Popular Mechanics)
Fifty years ago, on June 3, 1965, Ed White floated out of the hatch of his Gemini space capsule, and became the first American to walk in space. He trailed Russian Alexey Leonov, the first spacewalker, by two and a half months. Both spacewalkers remained tethered to their spacecraft with umbilicals carrying life-giving oxygen as well as vital communications links to their crewmates and the ground.

We've come a long way in 50 years. I was reminded of that by five-time spacewalker Mike Foreman during a broadcast marking the anniversary from NASA's Neutral Buoyancy Lab—the giant swimming pool where astronauts train for spacewalks. "The suits today are really like a one-person spaceship," he said. "It's got everything that you need to survive for a much longer spacewalk than Ed White was able to go on."

The spacesuits now in use at the International Space Station provide an astronaut everything he or she needs to survive in the vacuum of space for a full workday, as opposed to the tentative, less-than-30-minute jaunts of Leonov and White. But the 300-pound behemoths still have a lot of room for improvement, Foreman says. "The current spacesuit requires a guy of my stature to be almost triple jointed in the shoulders to get in and out of the suit." (6/3)

Inside America’s Secret Network Of Space Planes, Satellites (Source: WBUR)
It has been two weeks since the U.S. Air Force launched its secret X-37B space plane, carried by an Atlas V rocket into orbit for its forth mission. Most of the details about the flight were classified, but some astronomers have been making an effort to track the plane and are speculating on what it is doing.

That plane is not the only secret flying object the U.S. government is operating in space. There are hundreds of military satellites and vehicles orbiting in space, including some designed for spying on activities below, according to astrophysicist and astronomer Jonathan McDowell. Click here. (6/3)

House Approves $18.5 Billion for NASA (Source: USA Today)
The House voted Wednesday to give NASA the $18.5 billion it wanted for fiscal 2016, but with spending directives that conflict with the space agency's priorities. Lawmakers voted to spend more than NASA would like on planetary science programs and a deep-space mission to Mars, and less on Earth science and a partnership with private aerospace companies to develop a vehicle that will carry astronauts to the International Space Station.

The $18.5 billion was included in a $51 billion spending bill for federal science programs and the Commerce and Justice departments in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. The House passed the measure 242-183. It will have to be reconciled with a Senate version. (6/3)

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