June 7, 2015

LightSail Deploys in Orbit (Source: Planetary Society)
After 19 days on orbit, data indicate that The Planetary Society’s LightSail™ spacecraft deployed its Mylar® solar sail in space. More information will be downloaded, analyzed and publicized in days to come, including possible images. A post-deployment press conference will occur following an initial data analysis period. Today’s deployment marked a milestone for the mission to test LightSail’s critical functions in low-Earth orbit, a precursor to a second mission set for 2016. (6/7)

NASA Ready to Test LDSD 22 Miles Above Hawaii (Source: NASA)
NASA’s Low-Density Supersonic Decelerators (LDSD) team stands ready to attempt the second flight test of a rocket-powered, saucer-shaped test vehicle into near-space from the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, Hawaii. Depending on weather conditions and other factors, the test vehicle will begin its flight from a starting point of 120,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean — a little over 22 miles high, deep in Earth’s stratosphere.

There, its booster rocket will ignite, pushing it to supersonic speeds as it ascends to approximately 180,000 feet — a little over 34 miles high, penetrating the lower mesosphere. A series of precision steps will take place for the 6-meter supersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerator (SIAD) and the supersonic parachute to slow the vehicle as it descends through the atmosphere. This ascent, and its subsequent fall back into the ocean, will simulate the kind of supersonic entry and descent speeds a similar vehicle would face in the atmosphere above the planet Mars. (6/6)

NASA Directors, Astronaut Address the State of the Extraterrestrial Economy (Source: The Street)
NASA has been contracting out multiple functions of its missions in space to companies like Boeing and SpaceX to cut costs and increase efficiency. Blending the public and private sectors has benefited space exploration, said Sam Scimemi, acting director for the International Space Station (ISS) division at NASA, Phil McAlister, current director of Commercial Spaceflight at NASA headquarters, and astronaut Joe Acaba, who rang the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange on June 4.

They represented the Destination Station campaign by NASA's ISS division, which intends to grow national awareness and promote research and education opportunities about ISS. Destination Station also wants to showcase the advantages of ISS for taxpayers. With public and privately held companies now involved in an extraterrestrial economy once dominated by government funded agencies, funding for missions has fundamentally changed.

McAlister said that the involvement of the private sector has boosted quality and efficiency. He added that companies are more protective about spending their money. "Because it's their own investment, they are not willing to take as much risk in their missions as NASA is," he said. Scimemi said that companies are also implementing new technologies at a much faster rate than government agencies have been able to, thus lowering the risk of the missions even further. (6/6)

Startup Wants to Put 360-Degree Virtual-Reality Camera on Space Station (Source: Fast Company)
If a single image of the Earth rising in the dark of space can spawn a national environmental movement, imagine how inspiring a live, 360-degree, 3-D video stream of our planet and the International Space Station could be.

That’s the theory behind SpaceVR, a San Francisco startup that’s planning to have its virtual-reality camera, known as the Overview One, put into space and mounted on the space station as early as next year. Once it’s up and running, anyone will be able to watch the video online, and those with virtual-reality headsets such as the Oculus Rift, the Gear VR, and Google Cardboard will be able to immerse themselves in the view from space. (6/6)

Sauer Fails in Protest Bid for KSC Launch Pad Work (Source: Florida Today)
The U.S. Government Accountability Office this week denied a protest of a contract NASA awarded to Rockledge-based construction firm J.P. Donovan for work on Kennedy Space Center’s launch pad 39B. Sauer, Inc., of Jacksonville, filed the protest over work to refurbish the flame trench and install a flame deflector at the pad where NASA plans to launch its new Space Launch System human exploration rocket by late 2018.

Though J.P. Donovan proposed a slightly higher price of $19.7 million, GAO concluded NASA’s contact award was “rational and consistent with the terms of the solicitation.” (6/7)

Space Florida Plans Vote on SLF Transfer (Source: Florida Today)
Space Florida’s board of directors now plan to review a tentative deal to take over responsibility for Kennedy Space Center’s three-mile shuttle runway on June 15. A planned May 27 vote on the deal was pulled from the board’s meeting agenda, with Space Florida citing uncertainty about next year’s state budget ahead of the Legislature’s special session, which began this week.

Space Florida CEO Frank DiBello said then he thought a vote might be possible within a week to 10 days. The actual delay will be just over two weeks. DiBello will be the featured speaker at Tuesday’s gathering of the National Space Club Florida Committee in Cape Canaveral, delivering a presentation titled, “Developing Florida’s Spaceport: Facing a changing marketplace.” For more information visit http://www.nscfl.org/. (6/7)

Space Companies Making Progress in Move to Midland (Source: Midland Reporter-Telegram)
A mock-up of XCOR Aerospace’s Lynx spacecraft built by Orbital Outfitters now sits in the lobby of the Midland International Air & Space Port, another reminder of the progress being made at the other end of the  runway. XCOR’s director of media and public relations, Brian Campen, said that XCOR’s hangar at the south end of the runway will be complete in the next few months.

He said at least 10 XCOR employees have already moved to the area, and many more will come in the next few months at what will become the company’s R&D and corporate headquarters. “The center of gravity will be and is Midland ,Texas,” he said. “From the conversations that we’re having it is most definitely the focus of a lot of our attention in terms of where folks are now moving and where our corporate headquarters and R&D operations are going to be.”

Editor's Note: In 2012 XCOR announced plans to also establish a Florida-based "operational base" and "manufacturing and assembly center" for their Lynx Mark II, after they established their R&D base in Midland Texas. According to an August 2012 news release, "plans call for XCOR to commence initial operations from a Florida location in 2014 when they plan on bringing the Lynx Mark I prototype for demonstration and pathfinder flights." (6/7)

Congress Fiddles with Monster Rockets While Human Spaceflight Burns (Source: PJ Media)
Russia's most recent failures should be the last straw in demonstrating the immediate need to free the nation’s civil space policy from dependence on the dysfunctional Russian space industry. But Congress continues to misprioritize the budget and the direction to NASA necessary to do so. Commercial Crew is intended to end such dependence, by once again flying American astronauts to space on American rockets from American soil.

Congress has in fact consistently failed to fully fund NASA’s budget request for Commercial Crew, instead perennially increasing funding for the Saturn-class Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion capsule. Even with the budget increase, those vehicles are not expected to fly before late 2018 (most expect first flight to slip further), and are not cost-effective replacements for the Soyuz.

Despite the desperate need and warning from the administrator, just before the most recent Russian failures, in a vote on June 3rd, the House once again cut the NASA 2016 request for Commercial Crew by about 20%, from $1.243B to an even billion dollars, while once again increasing the SLS budget by almost half a billion. (6/6)

Astronomer Royal: If We Find Aliens, They Will be Machines (Source: The Telegraph)
Alien contact is likely to come from machines living on other worlds outside of the solar system, the astronomer royal Martin Rees has said. Prof Lord Rees, 72, told the Cheltenham Science Festival ‘I’m not holding my breath’ for signs of extraterrestrial life, but said if a signal was picked up it would not be from organic life, like humans. He said that most space exploration would be carried out by machines, which would not constrained by the physical difficulties of existing in space or on other planets. (6/6)

Pakistan Gives Cold Response to India's Regional Satellite Project (Source: Deccan Herald)
Pakistan's 'cold response' to India's ambitious SAARC satellite project has prompted India to go ahead with consultations with other member states of the regional grouping without Islamabad's participation. "All SAARC countries have responded positively to the proposal, but Pakistan. Everyone else has responded. It (Pakistan) said that their internal consultation process was still on."

After initial responses have been received, ISRO and representatives from SAARC countries will sit together later this month to discuss the nitty-gritty of the project, sources said. ISRO officials said the endeavour would be to have a communication satellite which the member countries can use for different purposes like disaster management, tele-medicine and education. (6/7)

Crop Scientists Experimenting to See if Food Can Grow on Mars (Source: Toronto Star)
Ecologist Wieger Wamelink has been getting his hands dirty addressing the practical demands of the $6-billion Mars One project. Experiments with 14 crops grown in simulated soil — modelled on that of Mars and the moon, based on the volcanic soil of Hawaii, and provided by NASA — have seen all of them germinate.

Wamelink’s experiments involved 840 pots, a huge amount. Species included rye, quinoa, peas, leek, spinach, tomato and chive. His team has harvested garden cress, radishes and garden rocket that “smells really good,” Wamelink said. “But I didn’t dare to taste it. I have to test it first. There are heavy metals in those soils. It can be poisonous.” (6/6)

United Launch Alliance Faces Increased Competition on Launches (Source: Denver Business Post)
In the past decade, United Launch Alliance has enjoyed little to no challenge to its reign as America's pre-eminent ride to space. That's rapidly changing. The Air Force on May 28 certified the Falcon 9 launch system from Space Exploration Technologies Inc., or SpaceX , for national security space missions, establishing it as a direct competitor to ULA.

"This is definitely going to force ULA to make some strides to become more competitive," said IBISWorld defense analyst Maksim Soshkin. "In a sense, they could have done this a long time ago, but I don't think anyone really expected SpaceX to become a competitive force so fast." (6/7)

NASA's RoboSimian Competes in DARPA Robotics Challenge (Source: Space.com)
RoboSimian – an apelike NASA robot that can map its environment in 3D – is facing off against a field of other robots this week to see which automaton has the right stuff for the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals. The gangly-armed RoboSimian was built by engineers at NASA JPL to cross tough terrain and use hand-like manipulators. It is one of 25 teams that qualified for the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals for disaster-response. (6/5)

South Koreans Win DARPA Robotics Challenge (Source: BBC)
A South Korean robotics team has won the Darpa Robotics Challenge. The contest is a battle of robots on an obstacle course meant to simulate conditions similar to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant disaster. Team Kaist's DRC-Hubo humanoid robot defeated 22 others to win the top $2m prize from the US Department of Defense's Darpa research unit. The robots had an hour to complete a series of tasks, such as a driving a car and walking up steps. (6/7)

Pensacola's IHMC Takes Second in DARPA Robotics Challenge (Source: Pensacola News Journal)
Three years of almost non-stop work paid off Saturday when the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition placed second in a $3.5 million global robotics competition in Pomona, Calif. IHMC will bring home $1 million in prize money. Team IHMC's semi-autonomous robot, nicknamed "Running Man," bested 21 other teams from around the world by driving a car, walking over debris, cutting a hole in a wall, turning a valve for a fire hose and performing other tasks.

The course simulated a disaster area in which humans could not safely operate. Unlike some of the other robots, which moved on wheels or four legs, IHMC's machine and the other Atlas robots had to balance and walk on two legs. After it fell twice Friday in its first run through the obstacle course, IHMC's 23-member team worked through the night to resolve the problems and replace part of an arm and a leg. Here's the team. (6/7)

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