March 12, 2016

Alabama Senate Passes Bill to Consider Spaceport Construction (Source: Anniston Star)
The Alabama Senate passed a bill Thursday that would pursue a grant to study the possibility of building a spaceport in the state. Senate Bill 64, which would create the Alabama Space Authority within the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, now moves to the House. Under the bill, the authority would submit a federal grant application to conduct a study to see if the state could feasibly have a spaceport and where it could be.

If the state were able to build a spaceport, the local community around the facility could expect economic benefit. “First of all, building the spaceport would create construction jobs. Then you have the employees of the spaceport spending money within the city,” said Allen Wilhite, professor of economics at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

Dial said if the study determined that Alabama could have a spaceport, state money would not be used to build it; instead, the private sector would pay for the construction. He said the cost of construction would depend on several variables such as the number of hangars, terminals and the size of the launch pad. If approved, the authority could borrow money, sell and issue bonds, acquire property, lease authority property and collect rentals under such leases. (3/11)

Affordable Space Tourism 'in 10 Years', Predicts NASA Astronaut (Source: Telegraph)
Former NASA astronaut Don Thomas flew four missions on the Space Shuttle during the Nineties. He spent 44 days in space, orbiting the planet 700 times. He explains why we may see man on Mars as soon as 2041, how seeing Earth from above changes you forever and why space tourism will one day be as affordable as a trip to Antarctica.

"I would think that, in a decade or so, you will see [tourism] flights to space for $10,000 to $15,000. Space travel will be more in line with an exotic trip to Antarctica. Well, it will still be a lot of money. But it will be within reach. It won't just be for millionaires and billionaires. (3/11)

Never Mind SpaceX’s Falcon 9, Where’s my Millennium Falcon? (Source: The Conversation)
Last week, SpaceX held another successful launch of its Falcon 9 rocket. Unfortunately, its landing was not quite as successful as the one in December (it crashed into the ocean). SpaceX isn’t alone in trying to develop reusable launch vehicles. Other private companies such as Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are also in the race to achieve the dream of consistently landing a rocket after hurtling it into the heavens. Each success – and failure – gets us a little closer.

But how significant is the creation of reusable rockets? And where will we go from here? Are we finally close to the future once promised by the Jetson’s FX-Atmos “flying car” or Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon: a world of personal, space-bound transports that can leave your garage, reach orbit and beyond, and return home in time for dinner? What else stands in the way? Click here. (3/11)

Bezos on Space 'Vitamins,' Terraforming Mars, the Great Inversion (Source: Huntsville Times)
Jeff Bezos' people knew there would be questions when he invited America's space press to Kent, Wash., this week. It was the first ever tour of Blue Origin, the rocket company he's building with his Amazon billions, so they knew. But they really didn't know. Reporters threw hundreds of questions at an affable Bezos during a tour and roundtable. Here's a "greatest hits version" of a four-hour conversation. Click here. (3/11)

Here’s What NASA Needs If We’re Really Going to Mars (Source: Time)
There's a big to-do list before a mission to the Red Planet will ever get launched. For the better part of thirty years, official Washington has been promising that a crewed mission to Mars was firmly, definitely, absolutely on the way—some day. The first President Bush called for bootprints in the Martian soil by 2019. The second President Bush promised a return to the moon by 2015 and a trip to Mars at an undefined date after. President Obama points to 2030—or, more vaguely, to sometime in the 2030s—as his target date.

On this one issue at least, three very different presidents have been in remarkable agreement: yep, we’re going to Mars—on the next guy’s watch. It’s easy to overstate the commitment and institutional resolve it took in the 1960s to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade, but this is one of the rare historical instances in which the closer you look at the record, the better it gets. Click here. (3/11)

One Poster Contains the History of Space Exploration (Source: The Verge)
It used to be that you'd buy an atlas of the world to hang on your wall, but now you're better off with a map of space exploration. This poster from Pop Chart Lab follows the rough path of every "orbiter, lander, rover, flyby, and impactor to ever slip the surly bonds of Earth’s orbit." Although it should be noted that it contains only successful missions. In space, there's no such thing as second place.

We've seen charts like this before, most notably National Geographic's fantastic Fifty Years of Exploration graphic (click here for a full size image produced by 5W Infographics). Pop Chart Lab's take is a little more cartoonish and uncluttered, and also contains a neat spotters' guide to probes and rovers, if you ever happen to find yourself on a sight-seeing tour of our solar system. Click here. (3/11)

Air Force Swaps Final WGS Satellite Into ULA’s Block-Buy Contract (Source: Space News)
ULA will launch the Air Force’s final Wideband Global Satcom satellite aboard a Delta 4 rocket in 2018, according to a Pentagon contract modification. ULA received a $41.8 million contract modification to launch the Boeing-built WGS-10 as part of its $11 billion block buy contract with the Air Force. That deal calls for the production of 36 new Atlas 5 and Delta 4 rocket cores and launch services for vehicles purchased as long ago as 1998.

The modification is part of what the Defense Department described as a mission swap. The Air Force originally included the second GPS 3 satellite in the block buy. But last year the Air Force officials decided to make the launch of that satellite the first competitive Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle contract in a decade. Air Force officials opted to put the WGS-10 satellite in its place on the manifest. (3/11)

How You Can Help Find Ripples in Spacetime (Source: CSM)
Gravitational wave researchers are looking for citizen scientists to volunteer their idle computers to help unravel one of the greatest scientific mysteries of the universe. Last month, scientists announced the first detection of the cosmic phenomenon that astrophysicists proclaim will revolutionize our understanding of the universe. First proposed 100 years ago by Albert Einstein, gravitational waves are ripples through spacetime caused by far-off, violent collisions. (3/11)

Florida Legislature Approves $82.3 Billion Budget with Millions for Aerospace (Source: SPACErePORT)
Florida's annual legislative session came to a close last week with mixed results for the state's aerospace industry. Governor Rick Scott had requested $250 million for an "enterprise fund” for economic development incentives, but this was rejected. Meanwhile, various other aerospace items survived the budget process, including:

$3M for Embry-Riddle's Aerospace Academy program; $1.6M for Space, Defense & Rural Infrastructure grants; $18M for grant and tax refund programs (including space); $1M for Space Florida's Florida/Israel grant program; $1.5M for space tourism marketing; $10M for Space Florida operations; $2.5M for Space Florida operation of the Shuttle Landing Facility; $4.5M for Space Florida project financing; $600K for the US Space Walk of Fame Museum in Titusville; and $2.739M for the Institute for Human & Machine Cognition. These appropriation items are subject to veto by Governor Scott. (3/12)

In Search of Martian Methane (Source: Guardian)
The European Space Agency is set to launch its next mission to Mars on 14 March. The Trace Gas Orbiter is the first in a pair of missions that will look for past or present life on the planet. A joint mission with the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, the Trace Gas Orbiter is scheduled to blast off from the Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakstan this week. After a seven-month cruise, it will enter orbit around the Red Planet. (3/10)

Senate Decries NASA Budget Gimmicks (Source: Space News)
Senate appropriators spoke out Thursday against funding "gimmicks" in NASA's 2017 budget request. Senators said they opposed the use of so-called mandatory funds to help pay for part of NASA's $19 billion budget, part of a broader effort by the Obama administration to get around discretionary spending caps.

The overall budget hearing, though, was far less contentious than in some previous years, with only mild criticism about spending levels for programs like SLS and Orion. The hearing also honored Sen. Barbara Mikulski, the committee's ranking member and major NASA patron, who is retiring after this year. (3/10)

GAO: Air Force Did Not Coordinate with NOAA on Looming Weather Gaps (Source: Space News)
The Air Force failed to effectively coordinate with NOAA how to collect the weather satellite data that is crucial to U.S. Central Command and used for long-range strike operations and battlespace awareness, the Government Accountability Office said March 10. As a result, the Air Force “did not fully evaluate potential solutions” and now faces a looming gap for that information, the report said.

In 2014, an Air Force study, known as an analysis of alternatives, examined potential gaps in space-based weather data. That study ranked cloud characterization, used for long-range strike operations, and theater weather imagery, used in forecasting and battlespace awareness, as the Pentagon’s top priorities.

The Air Force had planned to obtain that data from the European weather satellite agency, Eumetsat, and its Meteosat 7 satellite over the Indian Ocean. But that satellite is expected to reach its end of life in 2017 and the agency maintains that for years it said it did not plan to put another satellite in its place. (3/10)

South Carolina Blacksmith Won NASA's Spacesuit Testing Contest (Source: Inverse)
NASA wants to get people to Mars, and the organization needs all the help it can get, which is why the agency enlists the help of the public through design contests. This week, John Holler, a Batesburg-Leesville-based blacksmith with a private forge, won $5,000 for devising a new testing protocol for spacesuit materials.

The idea was to develop a way to assure astronauts their Mars suits would make the trip in one piece. In order to do that, Holler created a machine that supplies intense abrasion while simultaneously evaluating tensile performance. Although he’s a self-described builder and problem-solver, Holler went in not knowing much about aeronautics or space or textiles for that matter. He just likes solving problems. Click here. (3/10)

Lockheed Martin, ORBCOMM to Explore Better Connected Machines (Source: LM)
Lockheed Martin will expand its reach in the Internet of Things through a memorandum of understanding with ORBCOMM. As the world becomes increasingly connected and automated, Lockheed Martin plans to leverage ORBCOMM's Machine-to-Machine (M2M) portfolio and expertise to explore opportunities for customers and across the corporation.

Space-enabled solutions in particular provide satellite connectivity and services for IoT applications that require wide-area coverage and integration with multiple tiers of information technology. Examples include improved asset visibility and tracking for global supply chains or during natural disaster response. (3/10)

Pentagon Lacking Key Data On Satellite Launches, GAO Says (Source: Law 360)
The U.S. Department of Defense lacks crucial data about its efforts to date to introduce competition for satellite launch contracts, suggesting the Pentagon is moving forward with its launch contracting overhaul without a complete understanding of the new strategy’s impact, according to the Government Accountability Office.

In addition to the apparent gaps in data collection, the DOD’s efforts to improve the efficiency of its acquisitions processes are also being hampered by a fragmented leadership structure for contracting, said GAO's Cristina T. Chaplain. (3/10)

Air Force, NASA Team to Prepare for America’s Return to Human Spaceflight (Source: USAF)
Air Force pararescue teams and astronauts practiced aspects of safe rescue operations recently when they completed rehearsals at NASA's Neutral Buoyancy Lab in Houston, Texas, and at Langley Research Center, Virginia.

Days after their January 14 Exercise Tern Migration at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., the 45th Operations Group Detachment 3, NASA's Commercial Crew Program and Air Force pararescuemen, Combat Rescue Officers and survival, evasion, resistance and escape specialists from the 920th Rescue Wing participated in similar exercises at NASA facilities. (3/10)

Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin Highlight Small Steps Toward Giant Space Leaps (Source: Geek Wire)
In the past few weeks, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic space venture and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture have both had a lot to talk about. Today, both companies delved more deeply into the nitty-gritty of getting rockets ready for flight.

Three weeks after Virgin Galactic unveiled its second SpaceShipTwo rocket plane, known as VSS Unity, the company said it was putting the craft through integrated vehicle ground testing at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. These tests involves operating the plane’s systems under ground conditions that mimic space conditions as much as possible. Click here. (3/10)

Phantom Life in Space - How to Figure Out if We're Being Tricked (Source: Cosmos)
The search for life on other planets is as vigorous now as it has ever been, and a new study aims to cut the fact from the fiction. Scientists are increasingly looking to the atmospheres of potentially inhabitable planets to measure their levels of oxygen. But could that send them down the wrong path? Click here. (3/10)

Insight Mars Lander Saved From Termination, Reset to 2018 Blastoff (Source: Universe Today)
The Insight Mars lander has been saved from mission termination and will live to launch another day two years from now, NASA managers just announced following a thorough three month investigation into the causes of the last moment snafu involving the failure of its French-built seismometer science instrument that last December forced the agency to cancel its planned liftoff this month. (3/10)

Domestic Satellites Providing 80 Percent of China's Satellite Data (Source: Xinhua)
Chinese satellites are now providing more than 80 percent of the satellite data used in the country, according to a senior official with responsibility for defense procurement policy. Xu Dazhe made the claim at a press conference on Thursday held to launch a new national satellite data database, developed as China has been building its own satellite constellation as an alternative to U.S.-operated GPS. (3/10)

Satellite Constellation Tailored for African Continent now Operational (Source: SpaceRef)
Africa can now rely on the services of a satellite constellation tailored for the continent to provide reliable data over a wide range of essential human activities and for the protection of the environment.

The constellation which combines the services of ten satellites with the capability of covering any part of the continent at least once a day was introduced at an African Satellite Remote Sensing Conference in Pretoria yesterday by Africa's leading private space company the Space Commercial Services Aerospace Group (SCS AG). (3/11)

Why Did Blue Origin Leave So Many Female Reporters Out of its Big Reveal? (Source: The Verge)
On Tuesday, Blue Origin invited a select group of space reporters to the company's headquarters in Kent, Washington. It was the first time the normally secretive company — helmed by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos — opened its doors to journalists.

About 10 or 11 reporters walked the floor of the facility with Bezos himself, getting exclusive access to Blue Origin's rocket-building operations and information about the company's future, according to today's reports. Nearly all of those reporters were men. Tuesday was also International Women's Day. I celebrated by being left out of an important aerospace reporting event I should have been covering. And I wasn't the only female space journalist who was excluded, either.

Space journalism has long been a male-dominated field, so it’s not unusual that events like Blue Origin’s have more men than women in attendance. At Virgin Galactic's spaceplane unveiling in February, I was one of only a handful of women in the press room. That’s changing, though — more women are writing about space. It appears only two women were at Blue Origin’s event: Irene Klotz from Reuters and Donna Gordon Blankinship from the Associated Press. (3/11)

Astronaut Scott Kelly to Retire from NASA in April (Source: NASA)
NASA astronaut and one-year crew member Scott Kelly will retire from the agency, effective April 1. Kelly joined the astronaut corps in 1996 and currently holds the American record for most time spent in space.
After retiring, Kelly will continue to participate in the ongoing research related to his one-year mission. He will provide periodic medical samples and support other testing in much the same way that his twin brother, former astronaut Mark Kelly, made himself available for NASA’s Twins Study during his brother’s mission. (3/11)

Swedish Blåkläder Announces Partnership with XCOR (Source: XCOR)
Swedish work clothing producer Blåkläder announced a partnership with XCOR Aerospace, with plans to take Blåkläder’s garments into orbit – and beyond. Blåkläder, widely respected as one of the world’s best producers of quality work clothes, is accustomed to finding its customers at high altitudes and in hazardous work conditions.

“Our engineers often work in challenging conditions," said XCOR's Michiel Mol. "The extreme heat of a booster rocket test firing, the extreme cold of a liquid nitrogen installation, and of course the specific conditions at our Mojave facility in the middle of the desert. We want our people to be safe and agile. And because our people always make our company look good, we of course wanted to reciprocate. Blåkläder does a great job, ensuring that we are not just the best protected rocket scientists, but also the best looking ones ever!” (3/10)

'Where's Your Space Policy?' Journalist Asks 2016 Candidates (Source: Wisconsin Public Radio)
As the 2016 presidential race continues, candidates are starting to delve into the specifics of their policy ideas on topics like immigration, defense, and the economy. One topic that candidates aren't featuring in their stump speeches, however, is space.

Journalist Tyler Rogoway wrote last week that the lack of space policy seen on the campaign trail "is a sad symptom of just how far space exploration has plummeted off the list of national priorities." According to him, without the national recognition of space policy from our presidential candidates, the country is losing out on more than just an interest in a program. Click here. (3/10)

How Astronauts Could Tackle Walking on Asteroids (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
In the next decade NASA plans to catch and redirect an asteroid. The question is, how will astronauts lasso and move around on a space rock? One option is using a space anchor, according to a Missouri University of Science & Technology design.

Missouri S&T students are working to design an anchoring device that will allow astronauts to clip in and move around on a wrangled asteroid. The device could be used during a human mission as part of NASA's Asteroid Redirect Mission or ARM. The ARM objective is to visit a large near-Earth asteroid, collect a sample and redirect it into orbit around the moon. The same techniques could be used for Martian missions in the 2030s, according to NASA. (3/11)

New Russian Suborbital Tourism Plan Looks Oddly Familiar (Source: Parabolic Arc)
A new Russian company called CosmoCourse is planning to launch suborbital space tourism in four years using a plan that looks a lot like what Blue Origin’s New Shepard system. Click here. (3/11)

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