September 17, 2016

Senators Introduce NASA Authorization Bill (Source: Space News)
A bipartisan NASA authorization bill introduced by several senators Sept. 15 would require NASA to evaluate alternatives to its Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) and develop a plan to transition activities currently performed on the International Space Station to commercial platforms.

The NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2016, sponsored by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee’s space subcommittee, is intended to address policy issues and give the agency some degree of certainty as a new administration takes office in January. The bill has several co-sponsors, including Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL), ranking member of the Commerce Committee, and Marco Rubio (R-FL). Click here.

Editor's Note: I hear the bill would reauthorize the 21st Century Launch Site funding line, allowing continued investment in upgraded spaceport infrastructure... but not only in Florida and Virginia like before. Political wrangling might open this round of funding to spaceports in Texas and elsewhere. (9/16)

How a Champion Powerlifter Became an Astronaut Guinea Pig (Source: WIRED)
Jonna Ocampo didn't know she wanted to be an astronaut until she moved from Jersey City to Texas. In New Jersey, she didn’t see many stars. Not so in the Lone Star state, which seemed like a misnomer. The skies were full—and below them, in the heart of the space industry, she started meeting people who worked in spaceflight. Flying to space is a thing actual people do, she realized. And maybe she could be one of them.

Since then, Ocampo has trod a tortuous path toward that dream. Right now, she is at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, training for the agency’s 12th Human Exploration Research Analog crew. Starting this Monday, she and three others will spend 30 days inside a three-story habitat meant to mimic one that could someday sit on the surface of Mars.

She started out as a small-town kid and became a dancer and singer, then a world-class powerlifter rightly called one of the strongest women on this planet. She’s done high-altitude training, underwater training, and devised her own medical experiment for a parabolic flight. The diversity of her experiences could suit her not just on this earthbound mission but also far off Earth’s surface. Click here. (9/16)

Jeff Bezos’ Simple Two-Step Plan (Source: Air & Space)
We knew Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was a space geek. Why else would the world’s third richest person spend years beating his head against the very hard problem of creating a reusable rocket that can take off and land vertically? But we didn’t know just how deep the 52-year-old billionaire’s geekery ran until hearing his and others’ remarks the other night at the National Air and Space Museum.

Bezos was a science fiction fan as a kid—no surprise there. As a Princeton student in the early 1980s, he also was one of the original chapter leaders of the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS), a grass-roots organization dedicated to opening the space frontier. SEDS co-founder Peter Diamandis, who later went on to create the XPrize, told the reception audience how, having first met Bezos in the early 1980s, he met him again in Seattle 15 years later, and heard how the young entrepreneur intended to create an internet-based book business, then use the profits to invest in opening up space. “A simple, two-step plan,” joked Bezos.

The bookseller-turned-rocket designer said his motivation, then and now, was simple: “I love space.” He hopes that his Blue Origin rockets will be carrying tourists on suborbital trips by 2018, but couldn’t say when tickets will go on sale, or how much they’ll cost. Will he go himself? “Of course.” Bezos said that he’s received offers to fly into space on other vehicles, notably from the Russians, and has turned them down. “I want to go,” he said, “but I want to go on a Blue Origin vehicle.” Click here. (9/16)

New Zealand Government Signs Contract with Rocket Lab (Source: Scoop)
The government has authorized the first commercial space rocket launches from New Zealand. Rocket Lab, which operates a private satellite launch site on the Mahia Peninsula between Napier and Gisborne, intends to start launch operations later this year, Minister for Economic Development Steven Joyce said in a statement. The contract is an interim measure, preceding the Outer Space and High Altitude Activities Bill which will be introduced to Parliament this month to provide a regulatory regime for space launches from New Zealand. (9/16)

Norwegian Spaceflight Startup Plans Ocean Launches (Source: Inverse)
Their plan calls for reusable cargo rockets to be built in shipyards, transported to open ocean, and launched from the sea, without so much as a floating launch pad to get in the way of the rocket’s journey from ocean to space.

Now Innovation Norway, the Norwegian government’s official funding source for new startups, has reportedly awarded Ripple Aerospace a grant of unknown size to support the company’s launch system development. The company’s plans call for a test launch sometime next year of a rocket big enough to carry a small dog into space — which we can only hope is mentioned for the sake of size comparison. Click here. (9/16)

Shenzhen Company Entering a Turtle in Tourism’s Space Race (Source: South China Morning Post)
While Jeff Bezos’ space travel company Blue Origin – with two turtles on its coat of arms – unveiled new rockets last week, a Chinese company in Shenzhen is preparing to launch an actual turtle into near-space possibly as early as this month. The reptile astronaut of Shenzhen-based Kuang-Chi Science, who is called Taigong Gui, or “Space Turtle”, is currently awaiting permission to board the Traveller II Beta that is expected to be launched this month from a remote location in Inner Mongolia.

While the founder likes turtles in his company’s insignia because “slow is smooth and smooth is fast”, Hong Kong-listed Kuang-Chi Science said it chose a turtle because it has stable vital signs and symbolises longevity and luck. And Kuang-Chi founder and chairman Liu Ruopeng will need plenty of luck in the space-tourism race as competition is mounting globally from companies such as Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX. (9/16)

Safety, Legal Issues Could Ground Georgia Spaceport Plans (Source: WABE)
“No U.S. facility allows vertical orbital launches to overfly a populated or environmentally sensitive land mass,” said Dick Parker, a Little Cumberland property owner. “The location of the proposed spaceport is in direct conflict with public safety issues and established private property rights.”

Parker said the frequency of launches from Spaceport Camden would require condemning the affected properties through the government power of eminent domain, assuming the owners would not be willing sellers. That would be a particularly problematic strategy in Georgia, however, because a state law enacted in 2006 prohibits the use of eminent domain for anything other than a public purpose, he said. (9/16)

Construction of Southern Road to Spaceport America Could Begin in April (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
Long anticipated construction of a southern road from the Upham exit off of Interstate 25 to Spaceport America could begin in April. A Memorandum of Agreement needs to be finalized between the Bureau of Land Management and New Mexico Spaceport Authority board of directors before work can begin on the 24-mile stretch of what is now dirt road.

However, the first step to get the I's dotted and T's crossed was accomplished Friday when the Spaceport Authority voted to allow board Chair Richard Holdridge to sign the agreement. The decision was made during the Spaceport Authority's board meeting at the Doña Ana County Government Center. Zach DeGregorio, chief financial officer for Spaceport America, said $14 million in severance tax bonds have been issued to pay for the road construction. (9/16)

American Officials are Negotiating with Turkey for Release of NASA Physicist (Source: Physics Today)
Officials from the US State Department are negotiating with the Turkish government for the release of Serkan Golge, the NASA physicist and US citizen who is detained in Turkey for alleged espionage. Ebby Abramson, a researcher and editor at Endangered Scholars Worldwide who is in contact with US consulates in Turkey and with members of Golge’s family, says he is increasingly confident that Golge will be released soon. (9/16)

Astronomers Round Up the Unusual Suspects for ‘Alien Megastructure’ Star (Source: GeekWire)
That mysterious “alien megastructure” star is still a mystery, but the most plausible explanations appear to be dense patches of interstellar gas or dust that just happened to pass in front of the star. That’s the upshot of analyses conducted by the astronomer who first raised the idea of an extraterrestrial construction project a year ago. Click here. (9/16)

NOAA Issues First Contracts for Private Weather Satellites (Source: Science)
The CubeSats are going federal. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) made its first foray into supporting commercial weather satellites on 15 September, awarding $1.065 million in pilot contracts to two California-based startups, GeoOptics and Spire Global, to evaluate their data for potential broader use.

The small deals—$695,000 to GeoOptics and $370,000 to Spire—come as part of NOAA's Commercial Weather Data Pilot. The deals will allow the agency to evaluate the quality of the firms' data for forecasts and warnings, and could be the first step in a broader embrace of commercial satellites. Until now, NOAA has gathered data by building and launching its own expensive weather satellites rather than buying data from private companies. (9/16)

Putting Humans in Stasis Is the Best Way of Getting Us to Mars (Source: IEEE Spectrum)
Humans are not designed for long-distance travel, which makes the roughly 55-million-kilometer trip to Mars a real hassle. It's hard enough keeping a few of us fleshy weaklings alive next door in low Earth orbit. Now think about a trip to Mars. It’s at best several months away, and once you head out, there's no stopping for groceries.

The job of the astronauts during the journey will be simple: eat, drink, and breathe the bare minimum necessary for survival, while trying not to die of boredom or kill any of their fellow travelers. After the first few months, it's going to be decidedly unpleasant.

Aerospace company SpaceWorks, with funding from NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts program, is exploring the idea of having voyagers to Mars do what all professional travelers do when confronted by uncomfortably long transit times: use whatever technologies or pharmaceuticals are available in order to make themselves totally unaware of as much of the experience as possible. (9/15)

Mowry leaving Arianespace for Blue Origin (Source: Space News)
Clay Mowry, the longtime president of Arianespace’s U.S. subsidiary, is stepping down from the European launch services provider to join Blue Origin. Wiener Kernisan  — vice president of sales and marketing for  Washington-based Arianespace Inc. — will succeed succeed Mowry as Arianespace Inc. president Sept. 26, according to an Arianespace press release. (9/16)

"Journey to Mars" is About Much More Than Actually Going to Mars (Source: Inverse)
When William Gerstenmaier discusses the agency’s “Journey to Mars,” he really stresses the “journey” part. It’s like a family vacation. Getting there is half the fun. “I wouldn’t focus on the destination,” NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations, said Thursday.

What Gerstenmaier means is that NASA’s mission to Mars is not exclusively focused on Mars. It’s about helping humans establish a permanent presence in deep space (like supply stations on asteroids). The comments came during the third-and-final day of the American Institute of Aeronautics And Astronautics’s annual Explore SPACE Forum in Long Beach, California.

Mars is merely one part of a broader vision to move us into exploring other worlds and moving habitable infrastructure into cislunar space — the space between Earth and the moon — Mars, and beyond. “Right now we’re not ready to leave the Earthbound system,” Gerstenmaier said. Click here. (9/15)

Abort! SpaceX, Boeing Taking Different Tacks in Launch Escape Tests (Source:
One of the difficult lessons learned from the space shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986 was the need for human-carrying spacecraft to come with emergency escape systems, a means of ejecting the crew vehicle from the rocket in an emergency. That's one requirement that NASA has placed on Boeing and SpaceX, the first two commercial companies in history to build vehicles that will carry humans to the International Space Station.

While both companies are required to include one of these escape systems in their vehicles, the approach to testing the systems differs slightly between the two companies. Representatives of SpaceX and Boeing, along with a representative from NASA, discussed the testing process in a session at a meeting of the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), held this week in Long Beach, California. Click here. (9/15)

China Launches First 'Cold' Atomic Clock Aboard Second Space Station (Source: CS Monitor)
China launched its second space station, Tiangong-2, from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwestern China's Gobi desert on Thursday with the world’s first “cold” atomic clock on board – representing a pivotal step in China’s plan to become a major player in the modern-day space race.

Two astronauts are set arrive at the station in October where they will spend one month completing experiments. Running the Cold Atomic Clock in Space, one of 14 different experiments planned for the station’s two-year orbital stint, aims to determine if escaping the effects of gravity increases the accuracy of the timepiece. (9/15)

Peru Signals Space Ambitions with Earth-Monitoring Satellite (Source: Nature)
PerúSAT-1 will give the South American country one of the sharpest space-based cameras available. Researchers are eager to use the Peru probe’s images to study forest health and monitor natural disasters, among other things. The satellite could help officials to discover illegal gold mines, roads used for logging and other incursions into Peru's forests.

PerúSAT-1 will collect visible light, and will deliver images in which the pixels are as small as 70 centimetres on one side — a bit larger than a standard chess board. “The resolution is definitely world-class,” Finer says. “It’s going to be a powerful tool for the government.”

Peru is a relative newcomer to space. Its National Commission for Aerospace Research and Development (CONIDA) has launched a CubeSat and a handful of other nanosatellites built by university researchers; the success of PerúSAT-1 would represent a major advance. (9/15)

The Director Who Tricked NASA Into Helping Make a Fake Moon-Landing Documentary (Source: Mashable)
After making a name for himself in the independent film world with The Dirties, Canadian director Matt Johnson is back with Operation Avalanche, a faux documentary about four CIA agents who go undercover inside NASA, where they make a startling discovery about the space agency's ability to put a man on the moon.

And the way they did it is some real tinfoil-hat stuff: Johnson and his cohorts told NASA they were student filmmakers looking to do a documentary on the Apollo program. NASA was all too happy to oblige, giving them access to NASA officials — conversations that were recorded and edited to fit the secret concept — and facilities.

Operation Avalanche debuted at Sundance earlier this year and has been making the rounds at film festivals. Lionsgate Premiere releases the low-budget thriller (the largely improvised film is presented in grainy 16mm to make it feel more authentic) on Friday, and it's worth a look, if only to see how Johnson and his collaborators talked their way inside the hallowed walls of NASA. (9/15)

In Georgia, Spaceport Questions Still Remain (Source: Golden Isles News)
As the process of possibily opening a commercial spaceport facility in Camden County edges forward, county leaders continue to cite the advantages — among them a site under contract for a projected aerospace industrial park and new revenue that could lead to additional business opportunities in the community.

Opponents of the project have no intention of budging from their objections, including concern over a 6 percent failure rate of unmanned rocket launches and complaints that a spaceport would not meet the potential revenue estimates as promised. Environmental concerns have been thrown into the mix as well. However, a consultant representing the county contends 99 percent of rocket launches are successful.

Editor's Note: Camden would host new rockets that couldn't possibly claim a 99 percent success rate, because they will only have flown a handful of times--and possibly none at all--from any spaceport before launching from the Georgia spaceport. (9/15)

An Important Step Toward Virgin Launches (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
The successful test flight last week for SpaceShipTwo was an important step for Virgin Galactic as it continues working toward the start of commercial suborbital launches from Spaceport America. Those launches would have likely started by now if not for the 2014 explosion during a test flight above Mojave, California, that claimed the life of the spaceship’s co-pilot and set back testing and development considerably. (9/15)

Bezos on Nuclear Reactors in Space, the Lack of Bacon on Mars and Humanity’s Destiny in the Solar System (Source: Washington Post)
It’s become increasingly clear that Jeffrey P. Bezos, who in the last several months has been talking much more openly about his once secretive space company, has some really big ambitions in space. As Blue Origin moves toward its goal of having “millions of people living and working in space,” the company has launched and landed the same rocket four times in a row, an unprecedented feat aimed at ultimately lowering the cost of space travel.

By 2018, it plans to soon fly tourists on short jaunts past the edge of space in capsules designed with large windows. And earlier this week, Bezos announced plans to fly a new massive rocket, capable of getting to orbit, by the end of the decade. Click here. (9/15)

SpaceX is 'Unlikely' to Start Launching Rockets Again as Quickly as it Has Said (Source: Business Insider)
Despite an ongoing internal investigation into the fireball, whose root cause remains elusive, SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said the company will only be "down for about 3 months" before resuming the launch of Falcon 9 rocket missions. "We're anticipating getting back to flight ... in November," Shotwell said. But some spaceflight experts are not convinced it's possible or advisable for SpaceX to resume Falcon 9 launches so quickly.

There are 70 planned; together they're worth about $10 billion. "It is hard to see how SpaceX could fly Falcon 9 by November, especially since they have [publicly] stated that they don't have a root cause established," said Wayne Hale, a rocket accident investigator. "The last failure investigation I worked on took 3 months to come to a preliminary conclusion as to root cause and several more months for the company to put corrective action in place as well as eliminate other potential causes," he said.

Tory Bruno, the chief executive of United Launch Alliance (a SpaceX competitor), has also previously told Reuters: "It typically takes nine to 12 months for people to return to flight. That's what the history is." Meanwhile, Hale noted it's possible SpaceX could resume launching rockets in a few months "if the root cause were definitely determined very soon and corrective action is easy and swift," he said, but "that is unlikely in my experience." (9/15)

What Could the James Webb Telescope See of the Closest Exoplanet? (Source: Ars Technica)
As of last month, we're pretty certain there's an Earth-mass planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, the closest star to Earth. This raises a rather obvious question: can it support life? The planet, Proxima Centauri b, orbits within its star’s habitable zone, the distance at which water might exist in liquid form. Click here. (9/15)

TechXpo Aerospace Session to Feature Space Florida Discussion (Source: SCTC)
The 2016 Florida TechXpo, planned for Oct. 7 in Melbourne, will feature exhibits by Space Coast technology companies and breakout sessions featuring discussions on Cybersecurity, Drones & Robotics, and Aerospace. The Aerospace session will allow Space Florida's Dale Ketcham to provide an update on the expanding number of users at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. Click here. (9/16)

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