September 11, 2016

Commercial Spaceflight Federation Gets New Chair, New Projects (Source: GeekWire)
The Commercial Spaceflight Federation set the stage for new leadership as well as new initiatives during its meeting in Seattle this week. CSF President Eric Stallmer said Seattle’s investment base, plus the talent base fostered by such companies as Boeing, Microsoft and Amazon, added to the region’s natural appeal.

During this week’s meeting, planetary scientist Alan Stern was chosen to take the helm as chairman. Stern is a researcher at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., as well as principal investigator for NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. Stern will take over the chairmanship from Frank DiBello, president and CEO of Space Florida.

Stallmer mentioned two new CSF initiatives: One is a plan to pay tribute to Patti Grace Smith. The CSF plans to establish a scholarship program in her name, to fund education and travel for students interested in the commercial space industry. Another initiative involves coordination between commercial air traffic and the rising number of commercial space launches. As more spaceports ramp up for business, some air carriers have expressed concern about the potential for route changes and flight delays. (9/9)

Startups to Vie for Thousands in Cash Prizes at Tech Showcase (Source: South Florida Business Journal)
A major obstacle for most entrepreneurs — particularly first-timers — is scoring funding. That’s where venture fund Florida Venture Forum and Space Florida, the state agency for aerospace economic development, come in. Until Oct. 14, Florida-based growth-stage companies are invited to apply online for the organizations' Venture Tech Showcase, a half-day capital-acceleration competition and business-networking event in Tampa.

The showcase will take place Nov. 1 in at the Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation in downtown Tampa. Selected companies will be given the opportunity to vie for cash prizes up to $150,000 — $100,000 for the winner and $50,000 for the first runner-up. (9/9)

Yes, We Can Build Industry in Space—And We Should Start Now (Source: Fortune)
A former NASA scientist says we have everything we need to mine and manufacture in the stars. In a lengthy proposal released last week, former NASA researcher and current University of Central Florida professor Dr. Phil Metzger argues that the development of a mining and manufacturing supply chain in space is both plausible and beneficial. Metzger, whose work at NASA included developing Lunar and Martian architecture, writes that offworld manufacturing would benefit the economy, the environment, and science.

“The main challenge for this concept,” he writes, “is neither technology nor cost but simply convincing people it is realistic.” Metzger describes a three-stage path to what he calls a Self-sufficient Replicating Space Industry, or SRSI, in which largely robotic mining operations would extract resources that would be transformed into useful goods in offworld robotic manufacturing facilities. The Moon and nearby asteroids contain hydrogen, carbon, silicon, metals, and other materials necessary for industry. Click here. (9/11)

Branson, Bezos Getting Closer to Tourism Flights to Space (Source: Washington Post)
Virgin Galactic, the company founded by Richard Branson to ferry tourists to space, returned to flight this week nearly two years after its spacecraft came apart during a test flight, killing one of the pilots. Another space company founded by Jeff Bezos is also developing rockets designed to fly tourists into space. The company, Blue Origin, said this week that it plans to perform a key test next month that would bring those flights closer to reality. Click here. (9/9)

Privatization of the Moon is Coming (Source: Progress)
Almost 90 years ago aviator Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic is his plane the Spirit of St Louis alone and changed history. Something like that just happened—without the fanfare. In late July the plane called Solar Impulse 2 touched down in Abu Dhabi to complete its around the world trip after 16 months and 17 different legs of the journey.

Here’s the significance. At no stage did the plane burn fuel. 17,000 solar cells on the wings—which are as large as a Boeing 747—powered four electric motors, according to the Los Angeles Times. Lithium batteries let the plane fly at night. Now, admittedly it’s early days yet for solar flight. The plane can only hold two people at a time. But consider the implications as this technology develops.

The first is the considerable environmental damage of air travel can come down. The second is the possibility of slashing fuel costs across the industry. The gains could be enormous. You’ve heard about electric cars… but planes may be even more significant in time. How can you not be positive about the future after such a feat? Look at how air travel developed from the Wright Brother wobbling their way into the sky then into humans traveling into space well within a hundred years. Click here. (9/9)

Opportunities and Challenges in Commercializing Space Privately (Source: Tech Crunch)
The dawn of the space age was, in many ways, a direct response to heightened competitive political and military rhetoric from major global superpowers in the latter part of the previous century. The pressure to conquer space stemmed from the threat of progress by foreign nations, and, consequently, an ideology. But when government involvement in space increased in such countries as the United States in the 1980s, so too did the unexpected accidents and disasters.

The need for diversification as a means to mitigate technology-related risk ultimately served as an important catalyst to slowly open up the world of space to private enterprise. As an example, the Challenger accident in 1986 forced the Department of Defense to look for alternatives to the Space Shuttle. It was deemed too risky to have just one launch vehicle for missions.

Relatively young companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin are ushering in the next era of space exploration as part of a new free market. Their progress to date has generated a significant amount of enthusiasm among the masses for a fresh set of safe and sustainable methods of transportation to the cosmos. And wherever there’s enthusiasm, there’s also interest from sources of private investment capital. As reported by CB Insights, VCs are paying more attention to technology startups that are accelerating the commercialization of space. Click here. (9/9)

Man Mansplains Space to Astronaut - Then Does the Right Thing and Deletes His Account (Source: Independent)
Trying to explain science to an actual NASA astronaut probably isn’t a great idea. That didn’t stop one man from doing just that to Jessica Meir, astronaut and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School with a PhD in marine biology. While Meir was in space, she decided to tweet a video of herself watching water spontaneously boiling, which is arguably pretty exciting.

That's when one man decided to try to correct her on Twitter. Unsurprisingly, that didn’t go down too well with the general Twitter population. The tweet has since been shared almost 9,000 times and it may just be a coincidence, but the man in question has since deleted his account. Click here. (9/9)

Proxima B May Have a Cozy Atmosphere — and We Could Find Out in Just 2 Years (Source: Business Insider)
The funny thing about the discovery of Proxima b — the closest planet to our solar system, which is also rocky, Earth-size, and potentially habitable — is that nobody has actually seen it. Astronomers know it exists because they've seen its gravity tug on and "wiggle" Proxima Centauri, the red dwarf star that it orbits. But no telescopes in space or on the ground, nor any in serious stages of planning, can directly photograph Proxima b.

It's very distant at 4.2 light-years away from us. Also, its "year" lasts only 11.2 days — an orbit too tight to pick out a planet from the blinding glare of a star. However, a photograph isn't necessary to ask the most important question about Proxima b, a world that Scientific American has (optimistically) deemed "the Earth next door": Does it have an atmosphere, or is it an airless, barren wasteland like the Moon?

And it just so happens that NASA's James Webb Space Telescope is specially designed to observe infrared light. So instead of trying to photograph a tiny planet in a flood of visible light, JWST may only need to hunt for specific wavelengths of infrared light in the glare. (9/9)

How to Insure Something that Blows Up Once Every Twenty Times You Use It (Source: Quartz)
Usually, an insurance business is built on high volume, low value, and predictability. Life insurance, for example, relies on large numbers of people paying small sums over time and dying within a fairly standard age range. “Space is the exact opposite. You have twenty commercially-insured launches a year, that’s it. Worldwide, it’s basically a catastrophe business,” said insurer Mark Quinn.

“You’re looking at one loss that can give you a hit of $400 million, and annual market premium is $750 million. One loss that burns more than 50% of the annual income for the entire market.” Indeed, in 2013, the market hit the red after $775 million in premiums were outstripped by more than $800 million in claims, according to industry data.

That year, among other failures, a Russian Proton rocket carrying three navigation satellites exploded when its guidance sensors were installed upside down, and a youthful rocket company called Sea Launch put an Intelsat communications satellite right into the Pacific. But where there are risks, there are great rewards: From 2008 to 2012, space insurance premiums easily overtopped losses; in 2008, industry revenue hit a net of $600 million after payouts. (9/10)

You Could Own This Freaky NASA Robot From the 1960s (Source: Popular Science)
In the 1960s, NASA had a bunch of dummies working to bring humans to space. Well, it was just two dummies, really. Each ‘Power Driven Articulated Dummy’ was a 230-pound robot that NASA engineers designed to test space suits. One of the dummies now resides at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, and the other is being auctioned off later this month.

Popular Science wrote about the dummies back in 1967. Controlled by an operator and driven by a circulatory system of oil inside tubes, each android could mimic 35 human movements, from arm and hand flexing to twisting at the waist. The android was meant to measure the difficulty of working in a pressurized space suit, but it turned out the hydraulic system couldn't move the robot's limbs under pressure without leaking. The operators did, however, get it to dance like Elvis Presley, so it wasn't a total loss. Click here. (9/8)

SecAF Visits Space Coast (Source: USAF 45SW)
“It has been an incredible and busy seven days for you all at the 45th Space Wing,” said Secretary of the Air Force the Honorable Deborah Lee James during an all call held Sept. 9 at Patrick Air Force Base. That statement was made in reference to the wing’s ability to transition from an emergency response effort after a static fire anomaly last Thursday at Launch Complex 40 to directly supporting NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission, which launched from Space Launch Complex 41 seven days later.

“You transitioned from incident management to ensuring that range operations were fully operational for last night’s launch and I am really impressed ... you did it all flawlessly,” she said. This was her second visit to the 45th Space Wing in less than two years and although this two-day trip had been planned for several months, the timing gave James an opportunity to witness her first launch, get an in-depth look at several installation facilities at Patrick AFB and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. (9/9)

Silicon Valley Tech Boosting NASA’s Asteroid Mission (Source: NBC)
It has everything, except Ben Affleck: A trip to an asteroid, an $800 million budget, five million miles of travel, and Silicon Valley tech along for the ride. NASA successfully launched a rocket that, if all goes as planned, will end up on an asteroid called Bennu. The goal is to scoop up a little of Bennu’s surface, which is said to possibly contain some of the same building blocks as the Earth. Milpitas-based Viavi is providing an optical filter, to help NASA analyze what’s on Bennu’s surface. (9/9)

NASA's Other Asteroid Mission: Grab A Chunk And Put It In Orbit Around The Moon (Source: NPR)
NASA sent a robotic spacecraft from Florida out to an asteroid Thursday, but that's not the only asteroid mission the space agency has in the works. Officials also want to study a different asteroid with the help of astronauts. And it looks like the next president, plus Congress, will have to decide whether this human mission to a flying rock should ever get off the ground.

The idea of visiting an asteroid goes back to 2010, when President Obama went to Kennedy Space Center in Florida to lay out his new plan for space exploration. He said he wanted astronauts to eventually land on Mars, and that the first steps would be to send astronauts out beyond the moon. "We'll start by sending astronauts to an asteroid, for the first time in history," he told the NASA workers. "By the mid-2030s, I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth. And a landing on Mars will follow."

The trouble is, flying people to an asteroid turned out to be really hard. The trip would take months. So NASA settled on a slightly different plan, called the Asteroid Redirect Mission. The agency would send a robot out to retrieve an asteroid and bring it close to the moon. That way, the astronauts could study it in lunar orbit. (9/9)

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