October 21, 2015

SpaceX Forced Workers To Shave Time, Suit Alleges (Source: Law360)
SpaceX is facing another employment class action, this time on behalf of its California employees who say the company shaved time off their reported work hours to avoid paying them overtime or their full compensation, according to a suit filed Monday. Stan Saporito, a former employee who worked for the company from June 2013 to February of this year, said SpaceX doesn’t provide enough labor hours to its workers for everything that needs to get done, then requires them to work off the clock. (10/21)

Fund Pre-Emptive Self-Defense in Space (Source: Defense News)
In a recent article, I argued that the US needs the right of pre-emptive self-defense in space, which is exercised before an actual space attack has taken place. With an increasing budget, now is the time to invest in developing such a capability that could help deter a space war. Click here. (10/20)

What Happens When the Space Industry Collides with a Tiny Town? (Source: Popular Science)
Outside Riggs’s window, the tarmac soaks up the sun. A man walks by wearing a hoodie that says, “OCCUPY MARS.” Then a jet rolls past—the sleek kind of jet private passengers aren’t allowed to occupy. Beyond the runways, the long plain on which they’re built butts up to the Tehachapi Mountains. Click here. (10/20)

With Revenue Looking Up, Arianespace Seeks To Bring Ariane 5 Costs Down (Source: Space News)
Arianespace is likely to finish the year with revenue of 1.4 billion euros ($1.56 billion), slightly ahead of 2014, having conducted a record 12 launches. Arianespace has booked nearly 2 billion euros in new orders this year, bringing its backlog to more than 5 billion euros and maintaining its market share at 50 percent.

The backlog is composed of launch contracts for 21 Ariane 5 heavy-lift rocket missions, 21 medium-lift Soyuz launches — for startup OneWeb’s Internet constellation — and 10 orders for Vega light-lift rockets, including a commercial order from Google’s Skybox for its Earth imaging satellite constellation.

To keep competitive with SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, Arianespace has reduced prices for lighter satellites occupying the lower berth on an Ariane 5. Heavier satellites, where Arianespace has faced less competition in recent years, are placed into the upper berth. A corresponding reduction in Ariane 5 costs — rocket production, launch activities and ground network — is necessary to avoid having Arianespace’s financial accounts plunge again into the red. The goal: a 5-6 percent cost reduction in total Ariane 5 costs by 2017. (10/21)

Alabama Governor Hints at More ULA Growth (Source: Huntsville Times)
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley hinted at more jobs for Decatur Monday as he toured the giant United Launch Alliance rocket-building plant on the Tennessee River. "I know there are other companies that are going to come and be a part of what they do here," Bentley told reporters. "I don't know if those announcements have taken place yet, but I know that they will be taking place." (10/21)

Martians are Safe From Us (Source: USA Today)
Due to risk aversion and the implied policy against sending humans beyond Earth orbit because of the “safety is the highest priority” mantra, NASA does not have to fear stranding an astronaut on another planet, because it will never send one.

Fortunately, others, such as Elon Musk, are more willing to accept risk, and are more likely to go than NASA and Congress. There is a beatitude that the meek will inherit the Earth. The rejoinder in the space community is that the bold will go to the stars. But there is nothing bold about today’s government space program, and until that changes, NASA will remain stuck in low Earth orbit. (10/21)

NASA Supervisors Charged in Chinese Spy Case (Source: Daily Caller)
Two NASA supervisors were criminally indicted Tuesday under U.S. espionage laws for “willfully violating” national security regulations while allowing a visiting Chinese foreign national to gain “complete and unrestricted access” to the space agency’s Langley Research Center, according to the U.S. Attorneys office for the Eastern District of Virginia.

The indictments of NASA Langley supervisors Glenn Woodell and Daniel Jobson cap a federal investigation into the two supervisor’s decision to permit Bo Jiang unrestricted access for two years at Langley. Bo Jiang was deported back to China in 2013. FBI agents arrested Bo at Dulles International Airport who tried to flee the country to Beijing in 2013. The case was considered at the time as a prime example of lax national security awareness throughout the space agency.

Editor's Note: Jiang was released when no evidence was found that he possessed sensitive, secret or classified material. His lawyer accused Congress (Rep. Frank Wolf) of making Jiang a "scapegoat" as part of a 'witch hunt' for Chinese spies. Jiang was ultimately exonerated in federal court of the only felony charge, lying to federal investigators. (10/21)

NASA Mission Launched 'Back to the Future' Car into Space (Source: CollectSpace)
A DeLorean model, along with "Back to the Future" cast photos, flew on the EFT-1 mission as part of the "ancillary payloads" that were arranged by Lockheed Martin, NASA's prime contractor for the Orion capsule. Wells' memorabilia launched together with other science fiction collectibles, a dinosaur fossil bone from the Denver Museum of Natural Science, Muppets props from "Sesame Street," poems by Maya Angelou and a spacesuit oxygen hose loaned by the Smithsonian. (10/21)

Journey to MArs: Past, Present and Future (Source: Huffington Post)
But NASA engineers are not stupid. They have known for decades that the best way to get anywhere is by using some form of ion or nuclear-thermal engine technology. Ion engines use kilowatts of power to accelerate heavy ions like xenon out the back of the rocket at speeds of tens to hundreds of km/sec for specific impulses of SI=2000 to 10,000 seconds.

Fusion-based engines pass hydrogen gas through a fission reactor that heats the gas to 5,000 C or more, for exhaust speeds of hundreds to thousands of km per sec, and efficiencies much higher than SI=10,000 seconds. The bottom line is that the higher your efficiency, the less exhaust mass you need to take with you to push your ship to higher speeds. It also means the faster you can get to your destination. Click here. (10/20)

Hottest, Heaviest Touching Double Star (Source: EarthSky)
We know that many stars in our galaxy are in double or multiple systems, but here are two stars so close they touch. An international team of astronomers said this week (October 21, 2015) that this system – known to them as VFTS 352 – is the hottest and most massive touching double star system observed so far. What’s more, they said, the two stars might be heading for a catastrophe. The two stars will likely either merge to create a single giant star or form a double black hole.

They used the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Very Large Telescope to make their observations. VFTS 352 is located about 160,000 light-years from Earth in the Tarantula Nebula, which itself is in the Large Magellanic Cloud visible from Earth’s Southern Hemisphere. (10/21)

New Details Emerge About China's Military Space Program (Source: Space Daily)
New details about China's space-weapons program have been released ahead of a congressional annual report outlining Beijing's plans to destroy or jam US satellites and limit American combat operations. The final report by the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission examining China's programs, dubbed counterspace arms, is due to be published next month.

"China is pursuing a broad and robust array of counterspace capabilities, which includes direct-ascent anti-satellite missiles, co-orbital anti-satellite systems, computer network operations, ground-based satellite jammers and directed energy weapons. China's nuclear arsenal also provides an inherent anti-satellite capability."

The Chinese are currently developing two direct-ascent missiles capable of hitting satellites in both lower and higher orbits. Anti-satellite missile tests were carried out as recently as last year. For space-based weapons, China reportedly is developing co-orbital anti-satellite weapons, which move close to satellite targets and then deploy weapons to disable or destroy them. (10/21)

Scientists Publish Case Study for Growing Food on Mars (Source: WSU)
Scientists at Washington State University and the University of Idaho are helping students figure out how to farm on Mars. Their five-page study guide was published online at the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science.

In some 30 trial runs with students and teachers, “no two people have ever gotten the same answer,” said Allen, a senior instructor of physics and astronomy and director of the WSU Planetarium. One particular challenge is that scientists have little idea of what Martian soil is actually like, he said. Probes have detected little carbon, the central element to life as we know it, or nitrogen, which is needed to make protein. Water is also likely to react with peroxides in the soil, bubbling off as gas. (10/20)

Thumbsat Microsatellites Will Open Door to Consumer Space Exploration (Source: Digital Trends)
Space research has long been the domain of NASA and other big aerospace entities, simply because the average citizen doesn’t have the ability to send satellites and other research aircraft into space. But now, thanks to Aerospace engineer Shaun Whitehead and his new ThumbSat project, the ability to explore space might soon be in the hands of the masses.

Whitehead’s “ThumbSats” are basically small, balloon-like structures that can carry a science experiment into space. They are equipped with a microcontroller, a transmitter for communication, a camera, and a GPS unit for tracking. Because they’re small enough to fit into the extra spaces on an existing rocket, they can “hitchhike” on rockets that have already been built and scheduled for launch — making them drastically more affordable to send into orbit. (10/19)

U.S. Air Force Assigns Two Block Buy Launches to ULA (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Air Force assigned two more missions — launches of a missile warning satellite and a classified payload for the National Reconnaissance Office — to its $11 billion block buy contract with United Launch Alliance, according to an Oct. 15 announcement from the service.

The missions, scheduled to launch in 2018, are the fourth satellite in the Space Based Infrared System, known as GEO-4, and the classified NROL-47. SBIRS GEO-4 will launch on an Atlas 5 rocket with four solid-fuel strap-on motors, according Air Force documents. NROL-47 will launch on a Delta 4 Medium core flanked by twin solid-rocket boosters and topped with a 5-meter fairing. (10/19)

Only 8% of the Universe’s Habitable Worlds Have Formed So Far (Source: Science)
There are likely hundreds of millions of Earth-like planets in the Milky Way today, but that’s a small fraction of the number that may form throughout the universe in the future, a new study suggests. Using data from the Hubble Space Telescope, researchers estimated the rates of past star and planet formation in the universe, which is now about 13.8 billion years old.

They then combined that information with data from previous surveys that estimated the amounts of hydrogen and helium left over from the big bang that still haven’t collapsed to form stars. At the time our solar system formed about 4.6 billion years ago, only about 39% of the hydrogen and helium in our galaxy had collapsed into clouds that then evolved into stars, they say. That means that the remaining 61% is available to form future solar systems that may include Earth-like planets in their habitable zones. (10/20)

Earth Bloomed Early: A Fermi Paradox Solution? (Source: Discovery)
Our place in the universe is a conundrum — life on Earth evolved to create a technologically-savvy race that is now looking for other technologically-savvy intelligences populating our galaxy. But there’s a problem; it looks like humanity is the only “intelligent” species in our little corner of the universe — what gives? This question forms the basis of the Fermi Paradox: given the age of the universe and the apparent high probability of life evolving on other planets orbiting other stars, where are all the smart aliens?

According to a new study based on data collected by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, it might be that Earth (and all life on it) is an early bloomer. By extension, the logical progression from this new study is that we’re not hearing from advanced alien civilizations because, in short, the universe hasn’t had the time to spawn many more habitable worlds. (10/20)

What's Likelihood Another Planet will Host Intelligent Life? 92 Percent. (Source: CSM)
For the better part of the universe's 13.8-billion-year history, it has churned out vast numbers of planets, a natural outcome of star formation. But that was just a warmup.Even after giving birth to 100 million trillion Earth-mass planets in the habitable zones of their host stars, the cosmos has the raw material to produce more than 10 times that number, according to a new estimate of past and future planet-formation. (10/20)

Lockheed Beats 3Q Forecasts (Source: AP)
Lockheed Martin reported third-quarter earnings of $865 million. The results beat Wall Street expectations. The aerospace and defense company posted revenue of $11.46 billion in the period. Four analysts surveyed by Zacks expected $11.04 billion. (10/20)

Airbus Names Outsider to Lead Defence and Space Business (Source: Flight Global)
Airbus has named Siemens executive Dirk Hoke to succeed Bernhard Gerwert as chief executive of Airbus Defence and Space next year, reaching outside the company to succeed a 36-year veteran of the company. Hoke will join Airbus Group on 1 January and serve as Gerwert’s deputy for three months, then become CEO starting on 1 April. (10/20)

Intelsat Chief Financial Officer Resigns (Source: Space News)
Satellite fleet operator Intelsat on Oct. 19 said its chief financial officer, Michael McDonnell, had tendered his resignation, effective mid-December, and that the company had begun an external search for a successor. (10/20)

Eutelsat Taps a Fresh New Face for CEO (Source: Space News)
Satellite fleet operator Eutelsat on Oct. 19 said Chief Executive Michel de Rosen will retire March 1 and be replaced by Rudolph Belmer (above), who until July was chief executive of Groupe Canal, a large French media network. Belmer, 46, left Groupe Canal as part of a broader shakeup of the company under a new owner. Before that, he was chief executive of Canal Plus, a pay-television network that is the showcase asset of Groupe Canal. (10/20)

B612 Presses Ahead with Asteroid Mission Despite Setbacks (Source: Space News)
A nonprofit organization says it is continuing efforts to develop a space telescope to search for near-Earth asteroids despite fundraising challenges and a recent NASA decision to terminate a cooperative agreement. The California-based B612 Foundation announced plans in 2012 to develop Sentinel, a space telescope with an estimated cost of $450 million, to look for asteroids that could pose an impact risk to the Earth.

The foundation planned to raise the money privately, seeking donations in an approach it likened to raising money for a museum or university building. When B612 announced its plans for Sentinel, it had a Space Act Agreement with NASA to support the project. The agreement, signed by NASA in May 2012, gave B612 access to NASA’s Deep Space Network to communicate with Sentinel after launch, and included the agency in planning of Sentinel observations and data analysis.

However, NASA recently terminated that agreement. NASA spokesman David Steitz said Oct. 16 that NASA sent a formal notice terminating the agreement to the foundation on Aug. 13 after six months of discussions. “NASA terminated our Space Act Agreement with B612 because the foundation failed to meet agreement milestones,” he said. (10/20)

White House Hosts Second Astronomy Night (Source: Sky & Telescope)
on October 19th, President Obama hosted his second star party on the South Lawn of the White House. The event, as announced two months ago, brought together "scientists, engineers, and visionaries from astronomy and the space industry to share their experiences with students and teachers as they spend an evening stargazing." (10/20)

From Russia, Unofficial Assurance about Intent of Lurking Luch Satellite (Source: Space News)
A mysterious Russian satellite that squeezed next to two Intelsat satellites and alarmed company executives has an “extremely small” chance of a collision, a Russian space expert said. Ivan Moiseyev, the head of Russia’s Space Policy Institute, said  “the possibility of a collision or some kind of interference is extremely small.”

The Russian satellite, alternatively known as Luch or Olymp, launched in September 2014 and seven months later moved to a position directly between the Intelsat 7 and Intelsat 901 satellites, which are located within half a degree of one another in geostationary orbit 36,000 kilometers above the equator.

Moiseyev said the Luch “is simply a relay satellite, sending signals from spacecraft to Earth, for example from the International Space Station — we have communications problems there — and from one satellite to another.” ... “In no way can it be an ‘aggressor,’” he said. “Any satellite can make some clumsy maneuvers, but collisions are extremely rare.” (10/20)

Museum of Science Fiction Partners with Universities for CubeSat Competition (Source: Cornell)
The Museum of Science Fiction, the world’s first comprehensive science fiction museum, in partnership with NASA and Cornell University, is excited to announce a global CubeSat competition for high school students with the winning proposals to be built and put on orbit by a future NASA mission. Students will have until January 31, 2016 to submit their proposals. (10/20)

ASU to Help High Schoolers Build Satellites in National CubeSat Competition (Source: ASU)
Today the White House announced the creation of a nationwide “CubeSat competition” that partners high school students with leading universities for the development and operation of small space satellites. The announcement was part of the festivities surrounding White House Astronomy Night on Oct. 19.

The CubeSat competition is being organized by Cornell University and the Museum of Science Fiction in Washington, D.C. Seven universities, including Arizona State University, will be participating partners. ASU’s participation will be led and organized by Jim Bell, director of the ASU Space Technology and Science (“NewSpace”) Initiative, and Ed Finn, director of ASU’s Center for Science and the Imagination. (10/20)

Jerusalem Violence Dampens Spaceflight Optimism (Source: Aviation Week)
Jerusalem is “a tough neighborhood,” in the words of Nir Barkat, its mayor. He underscored that statement a few hours after welcoming participants in the 66th International Astronautical Congress (IAC) to his city, when he repeated calls for Israelis to go armed in public as a precaution against the wave of violent attacks sweeping the country.  The escalating conflict between Israelis and Palestinians reduced attendance at the annual gathering. (10/21)

NASA Studying 2015 El Nino Event As Never Before (Source: Space Daily)
Every two to seven years, an unusually warm pool of water - sometimes two to three degrees Celsius higher than normal - develops across the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean to create a natural short-term climate change event. This warm condition, known as El Nino, affects the local aquatic environment, but also spurs extreme weather patterns around the world, from flooding in California to droughts in Australia. This winter, the 2015-16 El Nino event will be better observed from space than any previous El Nino.

This year's El Nino is already strong and appears likely to equal the event of 1997-98, the strongest El Nino on record, according to the World Meteorological Organization. All 19 of NASA's current orbiting Earth-observing missions were launched after 1997. In the past two decades, NASA has made tremendous progress in gathering and analyzing data that help researchers understand more about the mechanics and global impacts of El Nino. (10/20)

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