August 2, 2015

Experts: FAA Review Process for SpaceShipTwo Flawed, Subject to Political Pressure (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The FAA issued an experimental permit to Scaled Composites to begin flight tests of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo in 2012 despite serious deficiencies in the company’s application relating to safety analysis and risk mitigation, according to NTSB documents. When renewing the annual permit in 2013 and 2014, the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) issued waivers that exempted Scaled Composites from explaining how it evaluated and planned to mitigate against human and software errors that could cause a fatal accident.

The office renewed the permit and issued the waivers over the objections of some of its own safety experts, who wanted the deficiencies corrected and complained about political pressure to approve applications. The waivers were issued without Scaled Composites requesting them. FAA AST Lead Technical System Safety Engineer Tom Martin, who was among those who fought to correct the problems in Scaled’s application, said he was not involved in drafting or reviewing the 2013 waiver.

The decision to exclude him left the experienced safety expert, who had helped to investigate the crash of the space shuttle Columbia, incredulous. And Terry Hardy, a nationally known safety expert who evaluated Scaled’s permit application and sought to correct its deficiencies, was so frustrated with the process that he ended his consulting work with FAA AST following the SpaceShipTwo crash last Oct. 31. “He said after 3.5 years he did not feel his recommendations or the work he did was improving the safety process.” Click here. (8/2)

Editorial: NTSB Report Should Spell End to AST Oversight Restrictions (Source: SPACErePORT)
Congress, often at the urging of industry, has placed significant barriers before the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST), hampering its ability to provide safety oversight for commercial human spaceflight. Last week's NTSB report mentioned the Congressionally mandated 120-day limit on license applications and technical evaluations, which has led to a rushed, politically pressurized process for completing them. Then there's the ongoing moratorium (the industry prefers "learning period") during which AST is not allowed issue new regulations for the industry.

Also, a chronic underfunding of AST has led to staffing shortages (and probably also an overburdening and low morale situation among existing staff). AST underfunding also has caused a lack of R&D to support the agency's oversight role, including paltry research funding for an AST-focused multi-university Center of Excellence. Back in 2011, President Obama proposed an FAA Commercial Spaceflight Transportation Center to be located at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, in facilities initially provided  by NASA KSC.

This center, similar in scope to (but much smaller than) the FAA's Hughes Technical Center in Atlantic City, was to be kicked off with a $5 million appropriation, but Congress killed it. AST chief George Nield described the proposed center as: "a team of folks that [would] have the right kind of spaceflight hardware and operations expertise to perform research, make intelligent decisions on waiver requests and work with industry to streamline range operations for commercial launches.” I hope this idea can be revived. (8/2)

Globalstar Location-Tracking Network Vulnerable to Hacking (Source: Reuters)
Location-tracking devices that communicate with a major satellite network operated by Globalstar Inc can have their transmissions intercepted or mimicked with false data, a U.S. security researcher said. Globalstar has sold hundreds of thousands or millions of the devices, which are widely used for tracking valuable shipments and assets. The problem is that unlike Globalstar's satellite phone services, data from the devices is not encrypted in transit, said Colby Moore. (7/30)

Could Human Beings Ever Reach 'Earth 2.0'? (Source: NBC News)
Kepler-452b is the most Earth-like planet ever discovered, a place with just enough sunlight to possibly support the crops and house plants of life forms like ourselves. But don't pack your bags just yet. While the planet might seem like a tantalizing target for NASA's next mission, it's extremely unlikely that human beings will ever set foot on Kepler-452b, thanks to the 1,400 light-years they would have to travel to get there.

The separate discovery of the closest confirmed rocky exoplanet to Earth, HD 219134b, was announced by NASA on Thursday — that one's only 21 light-years away. How far away is 1,400 light-years? Even in science fiction, that is not a quick journey. If Captain Jean-Luc Picard wanted to travel from Earth to Kepler-452b, it would take the USS Enterprise more than 16 months traveling at warp 8 to reach its destination.

That is for a ship that can go faster than the speed of light — which, as far as we know, is impossible. Sticking to existing technology, a trip to Kepler-452b might take so long human beings could evolve into a different species before the spacecraft completed its mission. (8/1)

Are We Too Late? Astronomers Look for Ruins of Ancient Space Civilizations (Source: Sputnik)
British astronomers have given an answer as to why humanity has been unable to find traces of other, extraterrestrial, civilizations: what if they simply self-annihilated long before we started looking for them? Fortunately, even given such a scenario, traces of their destruction could still be observable.

Current SETI searches rely on detecting intentional or unintentional signals at a variety of wavelengths. These searches generally set upper limits on the population and broadcast strength of communicating civilizations, but with only one civilization in our sample (humanity), predicting which proposed solution to Fermi’s Paradox holds true is extremely difficult.British astronomers have recently offered a new solution to the paradox. What if the extraterrestrial civilizations annihilated themselves long before we actually started attempting to find them? (8/2)

Russia Reveals Long-Term Plans for Angara Rocket (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
The Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center, a Moscow-based rocket manufacturer, has revealed its long-term plans for the newest Russian Angara launch vehicle. According to the company’s announcement, the rocket’s busy launch manifest includes 10 test launches in the next few years and a possible participation in the Sea Launch project. The plan also envisions developing reusable stages for the Angara around 2025.

Khrunichev plans to complete test launches of the Angara heavy carrier rocket from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome by 2020 when the serial production of the booster commences. “The first Angara launch from the Vostochny Cosmodrome is set for 2021. In general, around ten test launches of Angara heavy rockets and four test launches of [Angara] light rockets are planned,” said Alexander Medvedev, the chief designer of the Khrunichev Space Center. (9/2)

Veteran Astronaut Mike Foreman Leaves NASA (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
For the third time in less than a month, one of NASA’s experienced space flyers has opted to leave the space agency. This week, astronaut Mike Foreman, follows Stephen Frick and Tony Antonelli in leaving NASA. All three of the astronauts have flown into space twice and all three are retired U.S. Navy captains. Foreman’s last day with NASA was Friday, July 31. (9/1)

Vatican Skeptical About Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Source: Space Daily)
While Pope Francis's telescope scans the starlit skies, the Vatican is sceptical of ever meeting Mr. Spock. On a leafy hilltop near the papal summer home of Castel Gandolfo sits the Vatican's Observatory, one of the oldest astronomical research institutions in the world, where planetary scientists mix the study of meteorites and the Big Bang theory with theology.

Director Jose Funes, who has a degree in theology and doctorate in astronomy, would not be drawn on whether the Vatican would send out space missionaries to convert alien life-forms to Christianity if extra-terrestrial life was found elsewhere. What is clear, he says, is that while God may have created aliens and planets similar to Earth, there can be no second Jesus.

"The discovery of intelligent life does not mean there's another Jesus," he insisted, because "the incarnation of the son of God is a unique event in the history of humanity, of the Universe". Neat in his black cassock and surrounded by the latest astrological publications, Funes, 52, says science and religion co-exist perfectly together, insisting "if there was intelligent life (on another planet), I don't see that as a contradiction with the Christian faith." (8/2)

What Intelsat Expects To Gain from its $25 Million OneWeb Investment (Source: Space News)
Satellite fleet operator Intelsat on July 30 said its investment in start-up OneWeb’s low-orbiting constellation of 700 Internet-delivery and cellular-backhaul satellites came in return for exclusive rights to a wide swath of OneWeb’s future markets.

In a presentation to investors, Intelsat said its partnership with OneWeb will extend Intelsat’s reach to the polar regions — not normally a driving ambition for satellite fleet operators — as well as opening a host of new collaborative possibilities “through the combined scale and interoperability of the two networks.” (7/31)

California, Texas and Florida Lead U.S. Commercial Drone Approvals (Source: Aviation Week)
California, Texas, Florida, Illinois and Arizona lead U.S. states in FAA-approved drone use applications, according to a report by the Association for Unmanned Vehicles Systems International. Real estate is the leading commercial drone application in the U.S. currently, accounting for 31% of approvals. (7/31)

At Least 20 Arrested in Attempt to Block Work on Inouye Solar Telescope on Maui (Source: Hawaii News Now)
At least 20 people were arrested overnight in an attempt to block a convoy of large equipment from heading to the summit of Haleakala for the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope. Despite their efforts, three trucks with large parts for the telescope left the Central Maui Baseyard shortly before 1 a.m.

Some 200 demonstrators gathered for a loud but peaceful protest at a baseyard gate that opened onto Mokulele Highway. That's where the trucks were parked and ready to leave for the summit. (8/1)

International Astronomy Conference Comes to Hawaii Amid Telescope Tensions (Source: Global News)
Thousands of astronomers from around the world are meeting in Honolulu at a time when telescope construction is a sensitive issue in the state. Protests are happening at telescopes atop two mountains held sacred by many Native Hawaiians, and some participants were arrested Friday.  The International Astronomical Union’s general assembly starts Monday, and organizers and police are bracing for demonstrations. (8/1)

Space Industry Needs More Time to Develop, General Says (Source: Air Force Times)
The U.S. will likely not have a competitive space launch industry by the industry-set goal of 2019, according to  Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, commander of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center. “In our research, we assessed that industry timelines predicting complete rocket propulsion systems by 2019 are aggressive,” Greaves said Friday morning at a breakfast held by the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.

“History has consistently shown that developing, testing, and maturing an engine takes six or seven years, with another year or two beyond that to be able to integrate into the launch vehicle,” the general said. But he noted that both the military and companies are “moving very fast on this,” and that he expects the nation’s private space capabilities to be fully deployed by the 2020s and 2030s. (8/1)

How NASA Plans to Replace Astronaut Ice Cream with Sustainable Food (Source: Inverse)
NASA’s Advanced Food Technology Project is focused on developing a food system that can be utilized in space and on other planets and moons. The goal is to minimize waste, volume, and energy costs in growing and delivering those foods while maintaining high levels of nutrition.

There are very specific hurdles between scientists and that goal: Most food currently eaten on the ISS, for example, is freeze-dried and shrink-wrapped, keeping it preserved at the expense of nutrition. In addition, storing all of that food takes up precious space and energy that ought to be conserved and allocated to more important things. NASA thinks a crew flying to Mars would need about 7,000 pounds of food onboard. Yikes. Click here. (8/1)

Company That Supplies ULA Coming to Decatur (Source: WAFF)
A company that supplies United Launch Alliance in Decatur is setting up shop at ULA. Switzerland-based RUAG Aerospace, Inc. will eventually hire 150 workers at an average salary of $100,000 They will rent space from ULA. UAG makes carbon fiber parts for ULA's Atlas and new Vulcan Rockets. Decatur City Council President Gary Hammon said bringing a well paid workforce will benefit other local businesses. (7/31)

Is Space About To Experience A Design Renaissance? (Source: Fast Company)
Getting human beings off the planet is the hardest design challenge mankind has ever undertaken. Yet it's also a solved problem: we've been sending people into space since 1961. 50 years later and space feels both closer (NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto!) and farther away (last month's loss of a SpaceX rocket) than ever before. Is space about to experience a design renaissance, thanks to privatized New Space companies fronted by international billionaires and Silicon Valley geniuses? Click here. (7/31)

Northrop Grumman Space Camp Scholarships Promote Space Exploration, STEM (Source: Nasdaq)
Northrop Grumman Foundation has sponsored scholarships for middle school students and teachers from across the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia attending Space Camp July 26-31 at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville. This is the seventh year that the Northrop Grumman Foundation has funded Space Camp scholarships. (7/31)

Meet the World's First Porn Star Turned Astronaut (Source: Daily Beast)
Yes, CoCo Brown will be the first porn star to be sent to space, training to travel on a suborbital flight in 2016. She opens up to The Daily Beast’s Aurora Snow about her journey. The closest porn has come to space was 20 seconds of zero gravity in the 1999 movie The Uranus Experiment: Part 2. Filmed on an airplane flying at an altitude of 11,000 feet, the momentary weightlessness was created when the plane went into a steep dive. Now, thanks to the emerging space tourism industry, porn may be able to achieve more than a 20-second illusion. (7/31)

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