January 15, 2016

DynCorp's Corporate Espionage Suit Tossed Again (Source: Law360)
A Florida federal judge on Thursday dismissed allegations that an AAR Corp. unit stole secrets from DynCorp to improve its chances of winning a multibillion-dollar State Department contract, saying DynCorp had not supplied any specific allegation its rival misused the information.

DynCorp International LLC’s amended complaint — claiming AAR Airlift Group Inc. stole a profit margin analysis containing confidential information on DynCorp’s management of the aviation aspect of a U.S. Department of State counter-narcotics program — did not actually state AAR misused the information. Editor's Note: This State Department program is operated largely from facilities on Florida's Space Coast. (1/15)

Payload Concerns, High Costs, and Competition Cloud Future of NASA Rocket (Source: Ars Technica)
Almost from the inception of NASA’s large and costly rocket program, the Space Launch System, aerospace engineers have questioned the viability of a rocket that will fly infrequently, perhaps as little as once every two to four years. The most influential body to review the rocket, the National Research Council, concluded in 2014 that such low flight rates “will not be sustainable over the course of an exploration pathway that spans decades.”

NASA has steadfastly maintained that it will be able to fly the SLS rocket on an annual basis. However, on Tuesday, the website NASA Spaceflight.com reported on an “all hands” meeting at Kennedy Space Center in Florida where Robert Lightfoot, the agency’s top civil servant, addressed employees. According to the report, NASA officials explained during the meeting that the SLS lacks “booked missions at this time due to tight funding.” Click here. (1/13)

Orbital ATK Plans Large Rocket to Compete with ULA, SpaceX (Source: Space News)
Orbital ATK is developing a new intermediate to heavy-class rocket that could eventually compete with SpaceX and ULA to launch national security satellites. The recently merged rocketmaker won a $46 million Air Force contract as part of the service’s efforts to help wean itself from the Russian rocket engine used in launching most military satellites. Some of Orbital ATK’s new work will be used in ULA’s next-generation Vulcan rocket.

But the Air Force said in a Jan. 13 announcement that the technologies, including a Common Booster Segment solid rocket motor, “are intended for use on an Orbital ATK next generation launch vehicle.” Orbital ATK officials confirmed the company was studying a medium- to heavy-class rocket that would compete in the Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program.

The new rocket, which does not have a name, would primarily be powered by solid motors. Blue Origin’s BE-3 engine is the leading candidate to become the rocket’s upper stage engine. Editor's Note: ATK had proposed their "Liberty" launch vehicle, based on Shuttle/SLS solid rocket boosters (with a European upper stage), to be launched at LC-39B in a shared-use arrangement with NASA's SLS rocket. I would not be surprised if this new Orbital ATK rocket looks a lot like Liberty. (1/15)

Republicans Split on Attacking Climate Science (Source: The Hill)
The Republican Party is divided over whether to attack the science of climate change when opposing liberal policies. Many of the most vocal Republicans say they have significant problems with the scientific consensus that the Earth is warming and that greenhouse gas emissions from human activity is the main cause.

The skeptics include presidential hopefuls Ben Carson and Sen. Ted Cruz (TX) and Sen. James Inhofe (OK) and Rep. Lamar Smith (TX), both chairmen of committees overseeing environmental issues.

But others in the GOP aren’t interested in litigating the science. They say it’s more important — and far easier — to show that Democratic climate proposals would be disastrous to the economy and kill jobs. The split comes as more and more voters, particularly young people and minorities, say in opinion polls that they believe climate change is real and want action to fight it. (12/27)

With Eutelsat Win, SpaceX has Business with All 5 Top Satellite Fleet Owners (Source: Space News)
Satellite fleet operator Eutelsat has selected SpaceX to launch the Eutelsat Quantum or another Eutelsat telecommunications satellite, a contract that gives SpaceX business with all of the world’s top five commercial fleet owners, industry officials said.

Eutelsat declined to comment on whether it had sealed an order with SpaceX, as did SpaceX. But industry officials said that Eutelsat booked a firm order in the latter half of 2015. SpaceX received two satellite-launch orders from Canada’s Telesat in 2015. The Eutelsat contract means SpaceX has in its backlog — for the Falcon 9 Full Thrust or the future Falcon Heavy version — orders from SES of Luxembourg; Intelsat of Luxembourg and McLean, Virginia; Eutelsat; Telesat and Inmarsat of London. (1/14)

China Planning 2018 Moon Probe (Source: Reuters)
China is planning to land a spacecraft on the far side of the moon in 2018. Chinese officials said Thursday the Chang'e-4 spacecraft would land on the far side of the moon, not visible from Earth, in 2018. Officials previously said they planned to fly the mission by 2020. China would also launch a relay satellite to provide a communications link between the lander and Earth. Chang'e-4, based on the Chang'e-3 spacecraft that landed on the moon in 2013, would be the first spacecraft by any nation to land on the lunar far side. (1/15)

Blue Origin Seeks Washington State Incentives for Rocket Motor Manufacturing (Source: Seattle Times)
Blue Origin is seeking incentives from the state of Washington to set up a rocket engine manufacturing facility there. Company president Rob Meyerson said it would make sense to build the BE-4 engine near the company's headquarters in the Seattle suburbs, but said economic factors will also play a role in the company's decision. He said he was disappointed two tax credits that applied to Blue Origin expired last year, and called on state legislators to extend aerospace industry incentives that currently apply to aircraft manufacturers to space companies. (1/15)

Arizona County Offering $14.5M Incentive for Space Tourism Company (Source: Arizona Daily Star)
Arizona officials are considering economic incentives for a Tucson space tourism company. The Pima County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote next week on an incentive package for World View Enteprises to support that company's plans to build a new headquarters and manufacturing facility near Tucson International Airport. World View is developing high altitude balloons and passenger cabins designed to take people to altitudes of about 30 kilometers. (1/15)

Europe is a Key Partner in Russia's Moon/Mars Plans (Source: Tass)
Russia will abandon planned robotic missions to the moon and Mars if it cannot cooperate with Europe. Russian officials said proposed sample return missions to moon and the Martian moon Phobos in the 2020s will not go forward unless ESA agrees to participate. Russia's new ten-year space plan also calls for fewer satellites, particular for science and remote sensing missions. (1/15)

Is Florida's Innovation Engine Sputtering? (Source: Miami Herald)
It seems as if every state and metro area is striving to be an “innovation economy” these days — indeed, President Barack Obama talked about it in his State of the Union address and it was a theme throughout the Greater Miami Chamber’s economic summit this week. Yet, according to some recent analyses, Florida may be falling behind.

In a Bloomberg analysis released this month, Florida ranks 35th among the 50 states on its state innovation index. The index is based on six measures: research and development intensity; productivity; high tech density; concentration in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) employment; science- and engineering-degree holders; and patent activity.

Florida scored relatively well in high-tech density (13th among states) and down the middle in patent activity (22nd), according to the analysis. But the Sunshine State ranked 32nd for the number of degree-holders in science and engineering, 36th in R&D intensity, 41st in STEM concentration and 44th in productivity. (1/15)

Striking Views of Our Solar System (Source: BBC)
Fog on Mars, storms on Jupiter and fiery flares on the Sun - stunning close up images of our nearest planetary neighbours are going on show at London's Natural History Museum. What would you see if you travelled to the surface of Mars? Or were able to drift in and out of Saturn's rings? A new exhibition - Otherworlds - focuses on the creative work of US-based artist Michael Benson. He mixes art with science - to make crisp, colorful and seamless digital images from data sent back to Earth by Nasa and ESA spacecraft. Click here. (1/14)

Russian Scientists to Cooperate with NASA on Asteroid Protection Plan (Source: Tass)
Russian scientists are planning to cooperate with the NASA newly-established Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO), the head of the Astronomy Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), Boris Shustov, told TASS. "Russian scientists participate in the International Asteroid Warning Network that detects near-Earth objects and with the Space Mission Planning Advisory Group (SMPAG)," he said. (1/13)

Zero Gravity Solutions Signs Agreement with NASA Ames Research Center (Source: ZGSI)
Zero Gravity Solutions, based in Boca Raton, Florida, is an agricultural biotechnology public company commercializing its technology derived from and designed for Space with significant applications on Earth. ZGSI has signed a Reimbursable Space Act Agreement with NASA Ames Research Center (ARC) to evaluate ZGSI’s nutrient delivery system for commercial agriculture. Click here. (1/14)

Water Ice Found on the Surface of Comet 67P (Source: Phys.org)
For the first time, scientists have spotted large patches of water ice on the surface of a comet, thanks to instruments aboard the European Space Agency's Rosetta orbiter. The finding solves a long-standing mystery about water ice in comets. Scientists already knew that the coma - the expansive cloud of gas surrounding the comet's nucleus - is dominated by water molecules. They also knew that water ice is one of the main components of the nucleus. But until now, traces of water ice on the surface of the comet had been difficult to detect. (1/14)

100 Wonders: The Secret City of the Cosmonauts (Source: Atlas Obscura)
From the 1940s to the 1990s, the secretive USSR created a massive constellation of ghost geography. Hundreds of cities. Over a million people living off the map. Not "off the grid"—towns were literally left off of Soviet maps, kept from prying eyes. If you lived there, your city had no public name and as a citizen you were a non-person.

In one of these secret cities, established in 1960 and known as "Military Unit 26266 in closed townlet number one," young Russians were trained to be launched into the skies and beyond. Star City, located just east of Moscow, became the home of the Cosmonauts. Click here. (1/14)

A Behind-the-Scenes Look at a Spaceport America Launch (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
UP Aerospace conducted mission SL-10 on Nov. 6, the 10th launch of its SpaceLoft XL series of vehicles. To a casual observer, the launch must have looked easy. It occurred just one minute into the allotted two-and-a-half-hour launch window. The rocket lifted-off flawlessly from the launch pad, the solid fuel motor burned 12 seconds as planned and the rocket reached an altitude of 74.2 miles.

The White Sands Missile Range recovery helicopter departed shortly after radar confirmed that the vehicle was back on the ground to retrieve and return the payloads. Appearances, however, belie the detailed planning, attention to detail, and amount of effort required to successfully execute the mission. Click here. (1/13)

Spaceport America and Ted Turner Expeditions Partner for Immersion Excursion (Source: Spaceport America)
Spaceport America, the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport and Ted Turner Expeditions, provider of individually crafted eco-conscious journeys to Ted Turner-owned properties, have partnered to offer the new Spaceport America Immersion Excursion. Ted Turner Expeditions in New Mexico offers unique adventure experiences at four locales. The close proximity of Spaceport America to Turner's Sierra Grande Lodge & Spa and the Armendaris and Ladder ranches present a serendipitous opportunity for this exclusive partnership.

The Spaceport America Immersion Excursion is a behind-the-scenes look at the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport. For a one-of-a-kind experience, guests can opt to land their private aircraft at 9NM9 spaceway 16-34, Spaceport America’s two-mile-long spaceway designed to accommodate all types of space and air vehicles known to humankind. Alternatively, expert TTX adventure guides can arrange for helicopter transport or drive guests to the Spaceport America destination.

Once on site, Spaceport America crewmembers welcome guests providing them with exclusive access to the inner workings of a commercial spaceport. Guests have the opportunity to interact with Spaceport America aerospace and site operations crewmembers as they tour the futuristic horizontal launch area within the 18,000-acre campus. (1/14)

Time Might Flow Backwards As Well As Forwards From the Big Bang (Source: New Scientist)
Don't pity those in the past – in their own way, they might have a lot to look forward to. From our perspective, events in some universes may seem to unfold backwards. That implies there could be alternate worlds whose future is actually even further in our distant past.

This trippy idea has been suggested before, often with very specific caveats. In 2004, Sean Carroll, now at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, showed it could apply, but only if complex and unlikely physics was involved. Now Carroll and cosmologist Alan Guth of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have shown how time itself can arise organically from simpler principles, then flow in opposite directions in adjacent universes. Click here. (1/13)

NASA Wraps Up Orion Parachute Tests (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
NASA engineers have completed the testing program of the Orion spacecraft’s parachute system with the seventh, and final development test. Plummeting out of the Arizona skies from a C-17 aircraft, the test article descended out of the cargo bay – to the deserts around the Yuma Proving Ground some 30,000 feet below.

The test article was not like the Orion spacecraft itself, rather it was a “dart-shaped” test article with a very specific purpose. That being, to test the parachutes under faster-than-normal descent conditions. More went into the test than just a cleverly-designed test vehicle however. A new, lighter-weight suspension line material was selected for the parachutes. (1/14)

JAXA ‘Surprised’ by Response to Stress Test Trial (Source: Japan Times)
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said it was surprised at the number of people who submitted applications to take part in a two-week trial to test stress levels in a closed environment that will simulate conditions on the International Space Station. JAXA showed the test facility in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, to media on Wednesday.

Officials with the agency said that about 4,400 people — from students to businessmen — applied for the eight spots reserved for “men-only” from Dec. 24, when it started taking applications, until Tuesday’s deadline. "We didn’t expect this huge reaction,” one official said. “People’s interest in outer space might be growing. We want to carry out a successful test.” (1/14)

'This is Going To Be a Mission That's One of the Best that NASA Has Ever Done' (Source: Business Insider)
NASA has unveiled the beautiful faces of far-off worlds like Mars, Jupiter, and Pluto, but there's one face it has yet to see: the surface of Jupiter's moon Europa, which is one of the most likely candidate worlds for alien life in our solar system.

Now, after years of studies to determine which spacecraft is best for the job, NASA is taking steps toward a $2 billion Europa mission — called the Europa Multi-Flyby Mission — that could launch some time in the 2020s and finally settle the debate over whether alien Europans exist. Click here. (1/8)

Brightest-Ever Supernova Still Baffles Astronomers (Source: Nature)
Seven months after it was first spotted, a puzzle still hangs over the origin of the brightest supernova ever seen. The exploding star, which was found in June 2015 and blazed brighter than 570 billion Suns at its peak, is one of a class of 'superluminous' supernovae.

More than 100 times brighter and 1000 times rarer than ordinary supernovae, they have been spotted thanks to a growing number of automated telescope surveys devoted to spotting ephemeral stellar events over wide patches of sky. “It challenges all our previous theories of explosion mechanisms and power sources of superluminous supernovae,” says Subo Dong, whose team discovered the event. (1/14)

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