July 24, 2015

Boeing and Founding Family Donate $30M to Seattle Museum of Flight (Source: Star Tribune)
Seattle's Museum of Flight will receive $30 million from Boeing and the Boeing family to advance educational programs. The gift will enable the museum to double student participation in its science, technology, engineering and math program. (7/23)

NASA Funds Research into Windbots for Exploration of Gas Giants (Source: Tech Times)
NASA is looking to windbots to possibly explore Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, all gas planets that can't be explored with a rover like those prowling Mars. NASA has put $100,000 toward research into windbots, which would catch a ride on the chaotic gases and gather information that way. "One could imagine a network of windbots existing for quite a long time on Jupiter or Saturn, sending information about ever-changing weather patterns," said Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Adrian Stoica, chief windbot investigator. (7/23)

NASA, CASIS and Nanoracks will Refly Student Experiments Lost on Dragon (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
Eight students from Chatfield High School  located in Littleton, CO, along with hundreds of other spectators who attended the ill-fated June 28 Commercial Resupply Services 7 (CRS-7) launch, got a reminder of just how challenging it is to send payloads to orbit. They, and students from dozens of other schools across the country, had experiments aboard the Dragon capsule that was lost on June 28.

According to Joel Bertelsen, Chatfield High’s physics and engineering instructor, they bounced back quickly and are planning to rebuild their experiments for a future flight that reportedly will be offered by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS ), NASA, and NanoRacks. (7/24)

Rocket Scientist Designs Stronger, Lighter Surfboard (Source: WIRED)
If you surf, odds are you’re surfing on a board made of polyurethane and fiberglass. The design, a sandwich of foam and the fiberglass, was born in the late 1940s using methods and materials developed during World War II.

Two lifelong surfers, one of them a rocket scientist who did a stint at SpaceX, think surfboards are due for an update. They’ve designed a more advanced model by engineering a foam core structure they call Varial foam. It’s a finely tuned lattice of polymers more akin to the lightweight material found in helicopter blades than anything you’d ride a wave with. As the inventors tell it, this new foam makes for stronger, lighter, and more flexible boards.

The problem is, “boards are either flexible and not strong, or strong and not flexible.” The Varial guys wanted both. Conner happens to be especially equipped for this type of challenge—he’s a composites engineer. In fact, it’s what he did at SpaceX while getting Varial going. He helped develop “high strength, plastic-like materials” for rockets. In the lab, Conner developed a foam with a meticulous, web-like structure. (7/24)

Rothblatt Elected to Space Frontier Foundation Board (Source: SFF)
Gabriel Rothblatt was elected to the Board of Directors of the Space Frontier Foundation during the 2015 NewSpace Conference in San Jose, California. He was also among those pinned as an Advocate of the organization which advances settlement as the purpose for space exploration.

Gabriel Rothblatt ran for US Congress in 2014 from the 8th Congressional District of Florida, which includes Kennedy Space Center and the 'Space Coast' of Florida. Rothblatt lost that election, but has continued his advocacy for commercial space as the President of the Florida Space Development Council. (7/17)

Virgin Galactic Girds Customers for NTSB Findings (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The following communication was sent from Virgin Galactic to its ticket holders today. Nothing really earth shattering here; a basic heads up to the customers and some instruction about how to deal with press inquiries. In the first paragraph, they put the responsibility for the fatal flight on Scaled Composites. That might be legally true since the spaceship was still in Scaled’s possession. By contrast, Scaled had turned over WhiteKnightTwo to Virgin Galactic by that time.

But, I can’t imagine that’s going to go over real well here in Mojave. Previous flights that didn’t crash and kill the co-pilot were always promoted as joint Virgin/Scaled achievements in Virgin’s press releases. Virgin started calling it Scaled’s test flight immediately after the ship broke up. Click here. (7/23)

What SpaceX's Launch Failure Means for the Private Space Industry (Source: Fortune)
Whatever problems SpaceX faces in the months ahead, they pale in comparison to what other companies —including one of SpaceX’s key competitors—in the commercial space industry are dealing with. While SpaceX engineers work on fixing company design flaws, others in the industry—particularly Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture United Launch Alliance—are racing to overcome problems within their own companies.

Their inability to do so quickly has put something of a squeeze on the entire commercial space industry as satellite operators are forced to choose from a limited number of launch providers and launch vehicles. And, while the grounding of SpaceX’s rockets might seem like a rare opportunity for the company’s competitors to steal a bit of its market share—if not its thunder—no other company in the industry is well-positioned to do so. (7/23)

Making Space Technology Cutting Edge AND Affordable (Source: Space Daily)
The current budgetary climate has forced a change in how the DoD handles space acquisition. As highlighted in this recent National Defense magazine article, programs in the past were often plagued by billions in cost overruns and up to a decade delay in a system's full operational capability.

And the overruns were likely underestimated since the costs of operating ground systems were often not figured into the estimates. That's one reason why national security space programs are so expensive - there is no "central requirements clearinghouse" in the Air Force acquisition process for combining satellite ground operation requirements into a common ground architecture. (7/22)

Embry-Riddle Expects Success with Research Park Despite Slow Process (Source: Daytona Beach News Journal)
As Embry-Riddle works to lock down partnerships and tenants for a park it hopes to open by 2017, Florida Tech is trying to reach some of the same companies for its already thriving facility. “One thing that (Florida Tech) has that ERAU doesn't have is that existing presence in aerospace,” said Edward Ellegood. “There are companies already there around that university. That's competition for Embry-Riddle.”

“It's a friendly competition,” said Winston Scott, senior vice president of Florida Tech's research park. “Competition is a good thing. But we don't focus on competing. We don't focus on what they are doing. We don't worry about that. ... If (companies) happen to go to Daytona, that's great. If they come here, that's great too. I think there are enough companies to go around.” With no companies signed on to its research park, that's a belief Embry-Riddle officials are eager to share. (7/11)

NASA’s Social Media Strategy Is Genius—And Kinda Maddening (Source: WIRED)
Last week’s coverage of the Pluto flyby was hair-raising, historic, and dominated by social media. That wasn’t just because NASA posted photos on Instagram. From putting the science team on Reddit for an AMA to pulling questions from Twitter during live press briefings, the New Horizons mission had the social savvy of a tech company’s product rollout.

And it’s not just New Horizons, either. NASA has a brand-wide social media strategy as ambitious and carefully planned as a Hollywood blockbuster. Except NASA’s a public agency. So NASA had to think carefully about the legality and ethics of using privately held social media. And the press has to ask how NASA’s increasing reliance on it affects independent coverage.

“Social media strategy for us as a whole has been focused since 2009,” says John Yembrick, the agency’s social media manager. “We have over 500 social media accounts across the agency.” You’ve probably followed them, from astronauts and rovers to entire laboratories. NASA’s follower count across all platforms reaches well into the millions. The agency has actually won awards for its social media. NASA is a #brand. Click here. (7/24)

Are There Any Habitable Exoplanets That Can Hear Us? (Source: WIRED)
Today, NASA announced Kepler has identified 500 more possible planets, bringing the total to 4,175. And one newly discovered exoplanet, Kepler 452b, may be the most Earth-like ever. That’s great and all, but still…kind of meaningless. We know of these planets now, but a more interesting question is: Could any of them really harbor life? And if they do, could any of them know of us?

Humankind, after all, has been inadvertently broadcasting electromagnetic waves since the invention of radio a century ago. Those early radio transmission were weak—too weak to even make it through Earth’s ionosphere, says Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the SETI Institute. With World War II came military radar and then television and FM radio. Those waves, which are all electromagnetic like light, would have since traveled about 70 light years away from Earth. The newly confirmed Kepler 452b, at 1,400 light years away, will not be seeing I Love Lucy for more than a millennium.

So how many planets are in this 70 light-year radius? Astronomers have found evidence of over 100. And how many are potentially habitable? Just thirteen. But potentially habitable doesn’t mean there’s life—intelligent or otherwise—and actually, potentially habitable doesn’t mean, uh, very much at all. (7/24)

If We Discover Extraterrestrial Life, What Happens Next? (Source: Guardian)
We are investing considerable attention and resources into the search, but little into thinking about the consequences of success. As Carl Sagan imagined, it is as if we expect to fail, which would be a relief. Even Milner says, “It’s quite likely that we won’t find anything.” But what if we do succeed? What then?

Let’s face it, talking about aliens can be seen as a little weird, even in academia, where we study all manner of weird things. A search of Google scholar for “extraterrestrial life” returns only 15,100 hits, the vast majority of which are about “search.” Assessing technologies and their implications for society is clearly important, but it seems that we have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to the possibility of success of projects like SETI. So, what should we be doing instead? Click here. (7/23)

Fuel for New Horizons space probe produced at SRS (Source: WAGT)
The fuel used to carry NASA’s New Horizons space probe on its historic flyby of Pluto was created right here in the CSRA. The Savannah River Site’s HB Line and H Canyon facilities produced the and processed the plutonium 238 oxide used to power the probe. SRS restarted its Pu-238 Oxide Line in 1991 to produce oxide for the Cassini space mission. The Radioisotope Thormoelectric Generators used to power New Horizons converts the heat generated by the radioactive decay of Pu-238 into electricity. (7/23)

1 in 5 Cubesats Violate International Orbit Disposal Guidelines (Source: Space News)
One of every five cubesats launched between 2003 and 2014 is in violation of international guidelines calling for satellites to deorbit – by force of nature or their on-board systems – within 25 years of retirement, NASA said. Depending on how the data is read, the United States is both the biggest single offender and a better-than-average participant in the cubesat business when measured by orbital debris-mitigation practices, NASA said.

Most cubesats have no on-board propulsion. Many cubesat owners are obliged to take such launch opportunities as are available to them, even though their spacecraft, as secondary payloads, must accept whatever orbit is required for the rocket’s main customer. This is why cubesat owners are often unable to tell regulators, or other satellite owners, exactly what their operating orbit will be when they announce their programs. (7/24)

Aerospace Corp. is Thinking Big on Small Satellites (Source: Space News)
The Aerospace Corp. did not set out to establish an organization focused on designing and building miniature satellites. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, engineers who began building spacecraft weighing a few kilograms or even less worked in multiple departments. That changed in 2007 when the company established its Mechanics Research Department.

“At the time, the Mechanics Research Department seemed like a good home for microsatellite activity,” said Richard Welle, who led the department and now serves as Microsatellite Systems Department director. “Then the microsatellite activity just outpaced everything else in that department.”

The Microsatellite Systems Department, established in May 2014, has only 12 full-time employees and a few summer interns. However, Aerospace is a matrix organization, which means project leaders form teams by bringing in experts from the company’s Engineering and Technology Group. (7/23)

7th Satellite in Air Force’s WGS Series Launched at Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
A U.S. military satellite that will fortify the “anytime, anywhere” communications infrastructure used by soldiers, ships, aircraft and drones was launched into orbit Thursday to improve the global connectivity that encompasses the planet.

The $566 million Wideband Global SATCOM spacecraft No. 7 was hauled aloft by a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport at 8:07 p.m. EDT. An RS-68A main engine, flying for the first time on a single-core Delta 4-Medium+ vehicle, and a quad-arrangement of strap-on solid boosters powered the 217-foot-tall rocket off the pad just before sunset. (7/24)

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