July 5, 2015

After Virgin Galactic's Tragic Setback, Spaceport America Goes to Plan B (Source: NBC)
When Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo rocket plane broke up in the skies over California's Mojave Desert eight months ago, killing one pilot and injuring the other, the shock wave was felt more than 600 miles away in New Mexico. The schedule for SpaceShipTwo's future space tourism flights from Spaceport America, an 18,000-acre facility that was built in the New Mexico desert with $219 million in state and local tax money, fell apart as well.

"It was October 31st, and it was etched in our brains," Christine Anderson, Spaceport America's CEO, told NBC News last week. "You know, we had high hopes that Virgin Galactic would be here by now, flying passengers. And that didn't happen."

If everything had proceeded according to plan, Spaceport America would be receiving millions of dollars in lease payments from Virgin Galactic. Instead, Virgin Galactic is having to start from scratch with a second SpaceShipTwo that's still under construction in California. There's no firm timetable for commercial spaceflights from New Mexico. And Anderson is now working on Plan B for Spaceport America. Click here. (7/3)

Brazil Aims To Relaunch Space Program With US Boost (Source: WorldCrunch)
The Brazilian space program was born in 1961 thanks to American support. It never recovered from its demise during the following decade, and it's clearer now than ever that a successful space program can only happen with renewed cooperation with Washington. Which is why Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's visit to NASA this past week was fortuitous.

In the 1960s, NASA indeed trained engineers, sold equipment and transferred propulsion technology and fuel for rockets, on top of providing assistance in the meteorological tests area. But it all fell apart starting in 1977, when Brazil launched its own rocket construction program, which the Pentagon believed could be diverted to assemble missiles. (7/4)

India to Launch Five British Satellites on July 10 (Source: Business Standard)
An Indian rocket is readying for its heaviest mission on July 10 to put into orbit five British satellites alltogether weighing around 1,440 kg from the space port in Sriharikota. India's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) is scheduled to carry aloft the five foreign satellites on July 10. Of the five, three are identical DMC3 optical earth observation satellites weighing 447 kg. These will be put into a 647 km sun-synchronous orbit. (7/4)

North Korean Space Scientist to U.S. People: 'Trust Us' (Source: CNN)
In December 2012, North Korea's fledgling space program at last had something to celebrate. After an embarrassing failure earlier that year — a previous rocket had blown up just after takeoff in April — they claimed to have placed Kwangmyongsong 3-2, an earth observation satellite, in orbit. The secretive state had claimed two previous satellite successes in 1998 and 2009, though no one outside of the country was ever able to detect them.

This time, however, international experts generally agreed that KMS 3-2 was in space, but most were skeptical that it was operational. While North Korea claims its space program is completely peaceful, many international governments think its real nature is military — the same rocket technology to put a satellite in orbit can be used to deliver nuclear warheads to any part of the planet. The launch triggered further U.N. sanctions against the DPRK. (7/4)

'Space Pearl Harbor' Debate Rages (Source: Defense Systems)
A debate is raging among U.S. policy wonks over how best to prevent a "space Pearl Harbor." Those concerns have grown in recent years with light-saber-rattling between the U.S. and China over a debris-generating Chinese anti-satellite (ASAT) test in 2007, along with growing tensions between Moscow and Washington. Some even worry that increased "counterspace testing" in the form of kinetic ASAT tests, jamming and the use of lasers to blind satellite optics could eventually leave low Earth orbit unusable.

The debate over space deterrence is playing out in space policy journals in which analysts have argued back and forth over whether the current U.S military space strategy requires an overhaul. Meanwhile, experts are fearful that U.S. space assets like military communications satellites are especially vulnerable to asymmetric warfare. Indeed, the U.S. military is far more reliant on space systems than Russia or China, a reality some policy makers assert China is attempting to exploit. Click here. (7/2)

Orbital ATK Chosen To Launch U.S. Air Force’s ORS-5 Satellite (Source: Space News)
Orbital ATK has won a $23.6 million contract to launch a small space surveillance satellite for the U.S. Air Force’s Operationally Responsive Space Office in 2017. The announcement did not say which rocket Orbital would use to launch the ORS-5 satellite or where the launch would take place. The Air Force, in an April 2014 posting, detailed ORS-5 launch requirements that fit the performance of Orbital’s Pegasus XL or the Minotaur rockets. (7/3)

Businesses Fear Mauna Kea Summit Closure will Force Layoffs (Source: KITV)
Tour operators fear they will have to start laying employees off as University of Hawaii officials offer no timeline for reopening the Mauna Kea summit road and visitor center. opponents of the Thirty Meter Telescope blocked the summit road with stones last week, prompting its closure. University officials are still trying to determine if it is safe to reopen the road.

Mauna Kea Summit Adventures General Manager Mike Sessions says the road closure is costing him major money. The company, one of eight operators licensed to bring visitors to the summit, takes 28 people to the mountain each day, charging $212 a head. Protesters say they did not intend to block tourist and other public access to the road. (7/2)

Epic Video Takes Pluto-Mania Viral (Source: NSS)
This extended version of a viral video detailing NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto, entitled "New Horizons [Extended Version]" was released today to the public via YouTube. A shorter version of the video had gone viral just two weeks prior, amassing over a million views in less than a week. The video, commissioned by the non-profit National Space Society, highlights the historical significance of the New Horizons mission. Click here. (6/30)

Musk’s Best Bet is to Come Back Down to Earth (Source: The Independent)
Although SpaceX’s $60m per-flight price tag is cheap by industry standards, it’s not the sort of thing you can just brush off, so no wonder business is on hold. The company expects flights to resume “within a year”, leaving potential customers looking for other, more expensive, space-delivery alternatives.

All of which leaves me skeptical, again, over the long-term future of commercial space transport, and even more so over the potential for affordable space tourism. For the former to be a solid, profitable business, and for the latter to exist in any recognizable shape, SpaceX needs 1,800 flights without incident, not 18. (7/4)

Space Station Finally Gets Supplies (Source: Daily Beast)
After two straight failures on previous supply missions, the U.S.-Russian crew manning the International Space Station will finally have much needed supplies. An unmanned Russian cargo ship successfully docked Sunday at the station, and brought 2.5 metric tons of fuel, oxygen, water, food, and other supplies. The most recent mission, by SpaceX in the U.S., failed after the rocket broke up after liftoff. (7/4)

Boston is in Space Station's Orbit (Source: Boston Herald)
Some of the country’s brightest minds in space exploration will be in Boston this week, shining a light on research opportunities on the International Space Station. “It’s an outreach effort to those who might find a use for the space station for development,” said James Kirkpatrick, executive director of the American Astronautical Society. “This conference serves to raise that awareness and gets a lot of people beating on the door saying I want to do this.”

The International Space Station Research and Development Conference kicks off Tuesday, featuring a keynote address from SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk. NASA astronauts Cady Coleman, Karen Nyberg and Sunita Williams also are scheduled speakers. The U.S. portion of the International Space Station, along with astronauts who take jaw-dropping pictures, is home to a national research laboratory for biology, health and other experiments. Recent experiments include plant growth in microgravity and research into bone density and muscle loss, which occur quicker in space. (7/5)

SpaceX, STARGATE Partnership Expected to Endure (Source: Morning Valley Star)
In the wake of SpaceX’s loss of its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft a week ago today, the aerospace firm’s collaboration in the STARGATE program is not expected to be impacted. STARGATE is a spacecraft tracking and astronomical research program designated as the first research Center for Excellence at the new University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. “This event will have little, if any, effect on the STARGATE timeline,” program Director Fredrick A. Jenet said. (7/4)

Houston's Ellington Field Now a Spaceport - Why That's No Big Deal (Source: Houston Press)
It all sounded so done and final, with Space City now well on its way to getting a new toehold into the commercialized space industry. A drawing of a re-imagined Ellington field revamps the old World War I training base and the airport will have a sharp new look, complete with futuristic new terminals and hangars built up around the runways where the spacecraft will land.

Officials from the city and private aviation companies were on hand to clap as the FAA handed over the license to make it all happen. And now it was happening, according to the officials. But it seems worth pointing out that getting a license to become the nation's tenth designated spaceport is not the same as actually doing space travel things, and it's going to be years before we get close to seeing any actual space flights landing at Ellington.

The city council signed off on plans to turn Ellington into a spaceport two years ago, but hasn't actually invested much money in the project, which will cost between $48-122 million to get the place ready to actually handle spacecraft landings. So far airport officials have spent less than $750,000 studying the project — including a couple of feasibility studies — and no real funds have been put into actually building the thing. There won't be any money invested until the city actually manages to lure private companies into taking the bait and constructing it. (7/4)

Embry-Riddle Working with NASA on Satellite Project (Source: Daytona Beach News Journal)
Free Wi-Fi, anyone? Well, maybe not completely free, but if a project NASA and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University are working on is successful, Internet access could certainly be more affordable and more readily available because the satellite providing the service would be a lot closer to Earth.

But first researchers have to figure out a way to put something permanently in the sky, high above big cities like Orlando. The challenge is getting the atmospheric satellite, as it’s called, to stay in one fixed location like a tack stuck into a bulletin board. That’s where an engineering team at Embry-Riddle comes in. The school received a $100,000 grant to develop a concept using unmanned aircraft to utilize wind and solar power 60,000 feet above the Earth — about 30,000 feet higher than commercial airplanes fly.

“They are looking for innovative ideas,” said William Engblom, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering. Engblom’s idea certainly fits that description. He wants to connect two gliders using ultra-strong thin cable. It’s like a kite or a sailboat, with one aircraft acting as the sail, and the other as the board. If successful, it would move in a figure-8 pattern and remain within 150 miles of Orlando for a sustained period of time. (7/4)

Introducing the Astronaut Clothing of the Future (Source: Newsweek)
A crew member aboard the International Space Station (ISS) is performing routine maintenance. Needing her hands free to complete the job, she verbally commands her procedures device, which looks a bit like a backward headlamp and acts a bit like Siri, to read the instructions aloud. Per its directives, she removes a wall panel to examine a valve for bacterial growth.

Midway through the inspection, a sensor embedded in her warning device, a harness worn beneath the uniform, detects a dangerous buildup of CO2 caused by the crew member exhaling in the closed, unventilated space behind the panel. The warning device sends that information to the procedures device, which cautions her about the danger. She speeds up and completes the job in time to avoid any harm.

Then she moves on to manage one of the ISS mission’s current experiments, checking the most recent data readings on her monitoring device, a kind of iPad Mini mounted to an upper thigh. Throughout all of this, sensors embedded in her uniform have also been collecting biomedical information, which will automatically be transmitted to researchers at Mission Control. Click here. (7/5)

Glitch Halts New Horizons Operations as It Nears Pluto (Source: Discovery)
Nine days away from an unprecedented flyby of the mysterious mini-planet Pluto, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is recovering from a computer glitch that has temporarily idled science operations. Ground control teams lost radio contact with New Horizons for about 80 minutes on Saturday when the spacecraft put itself in an automated safe mode after it switched over from its primary to its backup computer.

What triggered the computer switch is under investigation. With New Horizons about 3 billion miles from Earth, radio signals traveling at the speed of light take about 4.5 hours to arrive and another 4.5 hours to get the spacecraft’s return messages. (7/5)

2014 Incident May Provide Clue to Cause of Falcon-9 Failure (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
After last week's Falcon-9 failure, Elon Musk, tweeted that “[t]here was an overpressure event in the upper stage liquid oxygen tank. Data suggests counterintuitive cause.” According to NASASpaceflight.com, this was "a potential pointer towards the helium pressurization system’s bottles in the Second Stage... Composite Overwrapped Pressure Vessels (COPVs)... have been a topic of engineering discussion for SpaceX in the past, with 'bad trends' in a number of helium bottles causing a manifest debate relating to the CRS-6/SpX-6 and TurkmenistanSat missions.”

On August 21, 2014, Cimarron Composites, a Huntsville company “which develops and produces high performance composite tanks and pressure vessels” and lists SpaceX as a client, suffered a failure of what appeared to be a pressure vessel similar to those used by SpaceX. Cimarron had “developed a 300 liter type 3 pressure vessel that contains 5,000 psi helium for the Space-X rockets.”

It’s understood that SpaceX has now moved COPV production “in-house.” However, it does appear that Cimarron has relatively recently produced, for SpaceX, COPVs similar to those flown on CRS-7, and a failure similar to the one that apparently took place last year in Huntsville could certainly produce damage sufficient to take down a launch vehicle. (7/5)

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