December 8, 2015

Mission Creep at Virgin Galactic (Source: SPACErePORT)
Mission Creep (noun): the tendency for a task to become unintentionally wider in scope than its initial objectives. After years of delay for Virgin Galactic's space tourism venture, the company has widened its scope to include satellite launches. This was initially viewed as a completely complementary project; a neat new way to deploy the twin-fuselage WhiteKnight Two carrier aircraft between tourism missions.

But the satellite launching idea represented a significant departure from Virgin Galactic's core business, with less commonality than might have first been envisioned. Virgin's home base at Spaceport America cannot be used for their satellite launches, and an entirely new facility was opened in Los Angeles to house the new operation. Now it turns out that WhiteKnight Two can't carry a rocket big enough to serve the company's target market for small satellites.

By bringing a 747 into the picture, the company has abandoned all commonality with their tourism venture. They are now seemingly duplicating the business model of Orbital ATK's Pegasus program (which some would argue is not a major success story). If they were starting from scratch with this satellite-launch idea, it might make more sense to build a bigger land-launch rocket than to depend on questionable cost and operational improvements from an air-launch system. (12/8)

New US Space Mining Law to Spark Interplanetary Gold Rush (Source:
Flashing some interplanetary gold bling and sipping "space water" might sound far-fetched, but both could soon be reality, thanks to a new US law that legalizes cosmic mining. In a first, President Barack Obama signed legislation at the end of November that allows commercial extraction of minerals and other materials, including water, from asteroids and the moon.

That could kick off an extraterrestrial gold rush, backed by a private aeronautics industry that is growing quickly and cutting the price of commercial space flight. The US move conjured visions of the great opening of the United States' Western frontier in the 19th century, which led to the California Gold Rush of 1849.

The two main space mining companies estimate that the new space gold rush could need around $3 trillion dollars over the next 10-15 years. For that, they need global support for their operations, and need to begin pressing other governments to adopt laws similar to the US Space Act that will recognize a company's rights to any space mineral riches it can harvest. (12/8)

FAA Spaceport Camden Public Meeting Held (Source: First Coast News)
The public was invited to attend the Federal Aviation Administration's public scoping meeting for the creation of a spaceport in Camden County near Woodbine, officials said. The meeting was held Monday between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. with over 400 in attendance in Kingsland, Ga. There was an open house workshop period for the first hour where residents could submit written comments. Click here for the FAA's website on the Camden EIS. (12/8)

Japan Commits to ISS Through 2024, Plans to Host Other Asian Nations (Source: Japan Times)
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced Tuesday that Japan will remain part of the U.S.-led International Space Station project when it is extended until 2024, strengthening its alliance with the United States as China advances into space.

The four-year extension was proposed by the United States. Of the 15 countries participating in the ISS, Russia and Canada have already expressed their intent to remain in the project, while European members have yet to decide.

As the sole Asian member of the ISS project, Japan plans to stick with the extended project on the condition that other Asian countries are given a chance to use the Japanese laboratory unit Kibo, which is currently shared with the United States. (12/8)

Florida Space Day Set for Feb. 3 in Tallahassee (Source: FSD)
What is Florida Space Day? Florida Space Day is a milestone event that presents an opportunity to educate and bring awareness to Florida legislators on the significance of the aerospace industry and its impact on Florida’s economy. The aerospace industry represents billions of dollars in annual economic impact and employs thousands of residents in the state’s 67 counties.

Florida’s space industry representatives will visit Tallahassee to participate in Florida Space Day. Private companies, local, state and federal agencies, and academic institutions will participate in this unique, annual event, meant to educate our state leaders on the challenges and opportunities Florida has during this dynamic time in the space program. (12/8)

Aerojet Working Behind the Scenes Toward RD-180 Replacement (Source: Reuters)
Aerojet Rocketdyne is reportedly in discussions with the Air Force regarding a contract to fund work on the company's AR1 engine. The discussions, according to sources, started two weeks ago and could take months to finalize, and neither the company nor the Pentagon would comment on them. Aerojet has stated that without government funding, it would not have its AR1 engine ready by 2019 to serve as a potential replacement for the Russian-built RD-180. (12/7)

SpaceX Picking Up Its Trash (Source: BBC)
SpaceX is picking up its trash. Company representatives have traveled to the Isles of Scilly, off the English coast, to claim a piece of a Falcon 9 rocket found late last month by fishermen. "We are just trying to clean up after ourselves," a company spokesman said, adding that SpaceX will likely take the debris back to the U.S. Local officials had hoped to keep the debris, placing it in a collection of figureheads from shipwrecks in the islands, and the UK's National Space Centre also sought to keep the debris. (12/7)

Russian Satellite Falls to Earth After Failed Launch (Source: Tass)
A Russian satellite that failed to separate from its upper stage has reentered. The Russian Ministry of Defense said that the Kanopus-ST satellite, still attached to its upper stage, reentered early Tuesday over the Atlantic Ocean. The satellite was launched on a Soyuz rocket Saturday from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome, but the failure of one of four locks kept it attached to the upper stage. (12/8)

NASA Releases Heat Map of Warming Earth (Source: MyToba)
NASA has released a visualization showing our planet’s warming temperature since 1880. The map starts out mostly blue, changes towards yellow in the 1930’s, and cools a bit in the 50’s and 60’s. As the 1970’s move into the 80’s, the map quickly changes yellow, then spikes towards dark orange hues up to today. Researchers say it will become harder to feed humans as the temperature climbs. Click here. (11/30)

Space Debris - A Growth Industry? (Source: Space Daily)
A spherical shell of space bound by a lower limit of about 700 km altitude and an outer limit of about 1200 km that contains millions of pieces of debris, expired satellites, old rocket bodies and active satellites is no longer "BIG." Imagine trying to fly and navigate in this volume with millions of objects all traveling at speeds of over 7 km/sec in all directions. The chances of avoiding any collisions with debris pieces over the lifetime of a satellite are extremely small.

Unfortunately, doing nothing is not acceptable. If this situation continues unabated space will reach gridlock. In other words, there will be no satellites that can survive above about 700 km. Most of the important space-based applications will cease to exist. This could mean no more GPS, weather satellites, satellite based TV broadcasts, communications and many national security activities. Much of the modern world as we know it may revert back to the 1970s. (12/8)

Watch for These Things From SpaceX in 2016 (Source: DCInno)
SpaceX has had a very busy 2015, and 2016 is already starting to look crowded. A sometimes tumultuous year has set the stakes for Elon Musk and his company even higher than they have been. Take a look at some of the expectations, and challenges, that SpaceX will be faced with in the coming year: human spaceflight, military contracts, and Internet satellites. Editor's Note: What about reusable rockets? Click here. (12/8)

Commercial Launch Sector Gets What It Needs (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Space Launch Competitiveness Act, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama Nov. 25, is a victory for one industry sector that only recently returned to U.S. territory and another, fledgling sector that finally appears on the verge of becoming a reality. Perhaps most importantly, the measure extends by nine years the government indemnification regime that has traditionally protected U.S. launch companies against ruinous lawsuits filed by uninvolved third parties.

The indemnification regime, in which the government agrees to cover third-party damages in excess of the insured amount, was slated to expire at the end of 2016. Its extension was absolutely necessary to maintain the viability of an industry that effectively went overseas for other reasons a decade or so ago but has returned in recent years thanks largely to SpaceX. Click here. (12/7)

Bezos Wants to Send Donald Trump to Space (Source: GeekWire)
Jeff Bezos is still new to Twitter, but he’s figuring out the snarky social media stuff pretty quickly. The CEO of and private space exploration company Blue Origin found himself on the receiving end of one of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s recent Twitter rants.

Trump called the Washington Post, which Bezos acquired in 2013, a “scam” designed to help him avoid taxes for Amazon. Trump’s accusations were a little light on the details, so it’s still unclear how exactly that would work. Bezos was quiet for a few hours after Trump’s Tweet storm, but returned fire on Monday afternoon, brilliantly creating a new hashtag: #sendDonaldtospace. (12/8)

Twin Civilizations? How Life on an Exoplanet Could Spread to its Neighbor (Source: The Conversation)
Imagine two nearby exoplanets orbiting the same sun, each with its own indigenous civilisation. They’re going through history either as companionable neighbours or deadly rivals. This is a familiar situation in science fiction, but could it ever happen? Click here. (12/8)

Embry-Riddle Seeks Crowdfunding Support for Space Habitat Research Project (Source: ERAU)
The Mobile Extreme Environment Research Station (MEERS) at the Daytona Beach Campus is a student-run project to design and build a mobile laboratory and space habitat simulator out of a 31-foot 1976 Airstream trailer for the purpose of testing and advancing space technologies. It will allow for the study of human behaviors and performance in extreme environments, such as Mars.

MEERS will offer a unique opportunity for students and faculty to conduct experiments, collect data, evaluate technologies related to space operations, and study behavioral factors in isolation and confinement. Because MEERS is mobile, the facility can be transported to any location in the United States to support research and do outreach. Click here. (12/8)

Moon Express Launch Contract Verified by XPRIZE Organization (Source: XPRIZE)
Moon Express, Inc. has received official verification today of their launch contract from XPRIZE as part of the $30M Google Lunar XPRIZE, a global competition for privately funded teams to land an unmanned spacecraft on the surface of the moon by December 31, 2017. Moon Express will use a Rocket Lab Electron rocket combined with the company’s  “MX-1E” micro-lander as part of a 2017 mission.

Moon Express is one of two Google Lunar XPRIZE teams with verified launch contracts for 2017. The remaining 14 teams have until December 31, 2016 for their launch arrangements to be verified by XPRIZE in order to proceed in the competition. (12/8)

There's Space for More Engineering High Flyers in Scotland (Source: Herald Scotland)
Being a rocket scientist may seem a far off career destination when you’re still at school. Yet last week I was reminded, through two events at each end of that journey, that aiming for the stars is much more than a flight of fancy.

For a man charged with working towards the next frontier, making low-cost space travel for the public a reality, Mark Thomas’s conversation paradoxically seems anchored to terra firma. Providing me with the first of those occasions to ponder careers in science that make a difference, our paths crossed as a result of another journalistic assignment before our question and answer exchanges turned to jobs.

Education was at the root of that topic, in particular the need to avoid an economy-restricting ceiling on the available pool of qualified labour. A Scottish flavour to this tale offers a first-class incubator blueprint in context. (12/4)

What Kubrick Did with the Man from NASA (Source: The Telegraph)
The making of 2001, which cost $10.5 million and took four years to bring to the screen, would probably terrify a studio too much today even to contemplate. The director’s idea, at the outset, was vague – it was essentially to make the first adult, state-of-the-art science fiction film set in space. The working title “Journey Beyond the Stars” – disliked by the writer Arthur C Clarke on whose fiction the film was based – was eventually changed because it sounded like a Fifties comic-book adventure.

Yet Kubrick was firm on one point: the film would be technically unimpeachable as a hypothetical account of humankind’s future conquest of space. Form would follow function: the director didn’t want beautifully designed space probes just because they looked nice. He caught a break when Clarke introduced him to the German-born designer Harry Lange, who was new to cinema but had been recruited by NASA as a head of its “future projects” section, to work on spacecraft designs alongside the rocket scientist Wernher von Braun. Click here. (12/7)

Plum Brook: To Infinity and Beyond (Source: Sandusky Register)
Where can you find galaxy bow ties, GQ models and out-of-this-world technology? Give up yet? It’s at the NASA Plum Brook Station, and nothing can top the surreal feeling you get when you walk into this place. It is arguably the world’s most unique test facility and serves a vital role to exploring deep space.

It is also right there in Sandusky. By no means can I fully understand the complex and intricate work that is happening there right now, but I do know what it means: We are going further than no man has ever gone before. Click here. (12/7)

NASA Official Warns Private Sector: We’re Moving On From Low-Earth Orbit (Source: Ars Technica)
NASA has flown the International Space Station for the last 15 years, and during that time it has offered private industry a pretty sweet deal. The space agency pays transportation costs to and from the station for experiments and provides astronaut time to tend to that research. And when NASA needed new spacecraft to get its astronauts on board the station, it paid private companies to develop their own vehicles for that purpose. NASA, in some sense, has become the Chamber of Commerce for outer space.

But all good things must come to an end, so the free ride in low Earth orbit for private industry may stop as soon as a decade from now. “We’re going to get out of ISS as quickly as we can,” said William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s chief of human spaceflight, last week. “Whether it gets filled in by the private sector or not, NASA’s vision is we’re trying to move out.” (12/7)

Lawmakers Spar Over RD-180 Ban, Air Force Launch Procurement (Source: Space News)
A Colorado lawmaker says the U.S. Air Force’s first competitive launch procurement in a decade was “prejudiced” against incumbent United Launch Alliance, which has effectively ceded the work to archrival SpaceX.

In a Nov. 25 news release, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), asked the Air Force to review and explain its bidding requirements for the 2018 launch of a GPS 3 navigation satellite. The announcement is the latest salvo in jockeying among lawmakers over the Defense Department’s newly competitive satellite launching program. (12/7)

Sun Could Unleash Devastating 'Superflare' (Source:
The sun is capable of firing off an incredibly powerful superflare that could wreak havoc on Earth's technology-dependent society, a new study suggests. The same basic processes drive the "normal" flares of high-energy radiation emitted by the sun and superflares blasted out by faraway stars, which can be thousands of times more powerful, researchers found. (12/7)

Progress Toward Space Station Launches from Virginia (Source: NASA)
NASA, Orbital ATK and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) will conduct a tour at 10:30 a.m. EST, on Thursday, Dec. 17, for media to view the completed work and preparations to resume next year commercial cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station from the agency’s Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Virginia.

Wallops Director Bill Wrobel will talk with media at Pad-0A about progress made and next steps. Dale Nash, executive director of the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, which owns and operates MARS, will provide a tour of the pad, and Mike Pinkston, Orbital ATK general manager and vice president of the Antares program, will lead a tour of the company’s Horizontal Integration Facility.

A commercial resupply capability is vital to continued research and habitation aboard the International Space Station. Restoring a medium-class launch capability from Wallops is critical to furthering NASA’s and the nation’s goals in space, maintaining the space station as a springboard to the agency’s next giant leap in exploration -- including future missions to an asteroid and Mars. (12/7)

First Russian Meteorite Expedition Bound for Antarctica (Source: Tass)
Russia's first meteorite expedition leaves for Antarctica next week to search for traces of meteorite substances. "The expedition of the Urals Federal University will set off on December 14. We will change flights in Moscow, Dubai and Cape Town," Ruslan Kolunin said, adding that the group’s equipment was sent to the South African city in October. (12/7)

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