February 4, 2017

Moon Express: The Ethical Dilemma of Private Companies Mining the Moon for its Resources (Source: IBT)
Earlier this week Moon Express co-founder Naveen Jain said the company plans to land on the Moon this year, with a view to mine it for its natural resources. The private company was granted permission to travel to space by the US government last year and it has now raised the funds needed to carry out its mission. Jain said the company is looking to acquire Helium 3 (He-3) and Platinum-grade material – a move he claims would be "for the benefit of humanity". But would it not also prop up the company's balance sheet?

The ethical implications of mining on the Moon are wide-ranging. Countries around the world are bound by a 1967 treaty with regards to governing activities on the Moon. The Outer Space Treaty sets out international space law. One rule, for example, says you cannot place weapons of mass destruction in orbit. Another, explicit section says no government can claim a celestial resource: "Outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means."

One way to get round this is through private companies, and in 2015 documents emerged that appear to show the US government encouraging firms to commercially develop the Moon. In a letter to Bigelow Aerospace, the FAA said it plans to "leverage the FAA's existing launch licensing authority to encourage private sector investments in space systems by ensuring that commercial activities can be conducted on a non-interference basis". In effect, it says any base set up on the Moon would have rights to that territory. (2/4)

Tycoon’s Ticket to Space May be Final Frontier in Divorce Battle from Glamorous Wife (Source: Telegraph)
A £160,000 ticket for the trip of a life time into space is at the centre of a stellar divorce battle. The glamorous wife of Ashish Thakkar, once described as Africa’s youngest billionaire, is taking her husband to the High Court next week to argue his precious ticket into space should be included in his assets as part of the divorce settlement. Mr Thakkar, 35, who was born in Leicester but grew up in east Africa, now faces having to sell on his cherished ticket to pay off his wife.

While Meera Manek, 33, a successful food writer and blogger, insists her soon-to-be ex-husband is a billionaire, he claims he has just £445,532 to his name. To add to the confusion, the Sunday Times Rich List estimated Mr Thakkar’s wealth at £500 million in 2015 but omitted him from the list last time around. The High Court will now decide over the course of a five-day hearing beginning on Monday just what Mr Thakkar owns. (2/4)

United Launch Alliance is Cutting Jobs Again (Source: Florida Today)
United Launch Alliance is again cutting jobs as it seeks to become more price-competitive with Elon Musk’s SpaceX and other rocket companies. The largest space launch contractor to the federal government is seeking voluntary departures to trim an unspecified number of positions. ULA said it isn’t specifying the number because it considers that competitively sensitive information.

The company shed 350 jobs last year through a combination of voluntary buyouts and layoffs and said last summer more cuts would be coming this year. It has started seeking voluntary departures now in the hope that the majority of the positions being eliminated won’t involve laying off employees involuntarily, ULA spokeswoman Jessica Rye said. ULA is trying to achieve cost savings to make its launch services cheaper while maintaining the reliability customers expect, she said.

ULA employed about 3,750 in 2015. Last year, ULA suggested it could dip to about 3,000 employees by the end of 2017. Taking last year’s workforce reductions into account, that would suggest the company may eliminate 400 positions this year. (2/3)

Judge Voids Arizona County's Incentive Deal with World View (Source: Miami Herald)
In what could be a blow to other Arizona economic development efforts, a judge has revoked a multi-million-dollar contract between Pima County and a balloon spaceflight company, saying Thursday the deal violated state law. According to the judge, Pima County was obligated to appraise the land and hold a public auction before agreeing to a $15 million incentives package for World View last year.

The Goldwater Institute filed the lawsuit in April, months after the Pima County Board of Supervisors approved an incentives package for World View Enterprise that included building a 120,000-square-foot headquarters facility, 15,000-square-foot mezzanine and a launch pad. World View would pay to lease the building and own it after 20 years of payments. The space exploration company develops high-altitude balloons for commercial, government and research purposes.

The Goldwater Institute said the deal put taxpayers at risk if World View leaves town without fully paying for the space. It also alleges that the county illegally awarded contracts to the designer and builder of the space by bypassing traditional public bidding. That portion of the lawsuit has not been resolved. (2/2)

Under Trump, Astronauts May Return to the Moon (Source: USA Today)
A return to the moon is gaining traction. A trip to an asteroid looks iffy. And Mars is still the ultimate destination. The space program did not get much attention in last year's presidential race. But President Trump's promise to "Make America Great Again" will likely include a refocus on — if not a return to — to the moon, which astronauts last visited in 1972. Expect also more partnering with private firms on space activities and missions and a reduction in NASA's role monitoring Earth's rising temperatures and sea levels. (2/2)

Boeing's Space Taxis to Use More than 600 3D-Printed Parts (Source: Reuters)
Boeing has hired a small company to make about 600 3D-printed parts for its Starliner space taxis, meaning key components in the U.S. manned space program are being built with additive manufacturing. The company, privately held Oxford Performance Materials, will announce a $10 million strategic investment from advanced materials company Hexcel Corp as early as Friday, adding to $15 million Hexcel invested in May and lifting Hexcel's equity stake to 16.1 percent, Oxford and Hexcel said.

Boeing's award of the parts for its flagship space program and Hexcel's funding are strategic bets that printed plastics can perform flawlessly even under the extreme stress of a rocket launch and sub-zero temperatures of space. They offer further evidence of a shift in 3D printing from making prototypes to commercial production of high-grade parts for space ships, aircraft engines and other critical equipment. (2/2)

Space Acquisition Needs a Clear Decision-Maker, Air Force Chief Says (Source: Space News)
Military space programs need greater acquisition agility, and a realignment that will allow decisions to be made faster, the top U.S. Air Force general said. “We have to have an honest discussion about acquisitions,” said Gen. David Goldfein, the Air Force chief of staff at a Capitol Hill breakfast hosted by the Air Force Association’s Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies. The general pointed to comments made by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) who noted that there are about 60 organizations involved in making acquisition decisions for space. (2/3)

Goldfein Bids To Make Air Force Lead For All DoD Space (Source: Breaking Defense)
It’s a refrain space warriors have heard before: the Air Force should head space training and operations, and we need to fix space acquisition. “In this light, we are eager to be named the lead service for space,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein told the packed audience at a Mitchell Institute breakfast this morning. “Lead service” would mean that the Air Force would train and equip all airmen, soldiers, sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen who handle space operations.

The last time something like that existed, it was called U.S. Space Command. Stood up in 1985, it was both a train and equip organization as well as an operational command. Donald Rumsfeld killed it in 2002. On his way out from the breakfast I asked Goldfein if he thought his push would lead to a Space Command. “Let’s not start the dialogue with an org chart,” he said smiling. (2/2)

Google Sells Satellite Unit to Planet Labs (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Alphabet Inc.’s Google is selling its satellite business to competitor Planet Labs Inc. for shares in the startup, in a move to simplify Google’s sprawling operations. Under the deal, Planet will acquire Google’s satellite-imagery Terra Bella unit and its seven satellites in orbit, the companies said. In exchange, Google gets a stake in Planet and agrees to purchase satellite images from the company for five years. (2/3)

The History of Dark Matter (Source: Ars Technica)
Across decades, the hunt for a dark matter particle has looked at many possible solutions—but so far, humanity hasn’t produced a clear answer. Is dark matter a neutrino? An axion? A figment of our imagination? Scientists don’t agree, though experiments from XENON to ADMX continue to strive towards giving us an answer. Click here. (2/3)

Before “Hidden Figures,” There Was a Rock Opera About NASA’s Human Computers (Source: Air & Space)
“Hidden Figures,” the story of three African-American women whose mathematical skill helped NASA launch astronauts into space and back in the early 1960s, has been both a critical and box office success. With more than $100 million in ticket sales and a stack of award nominations, the movie has inspired audiences with a true story made even more powerful by virtue of the fact that it was largely untold for 50 years. And still mostly unknown is the story of another NASA scientist who beat Hollywood to the punch by putting “human computer” Katherine Johnson’s saga on stage almost two years ago. (2/3)

Space Tourism: KSC Visitor Complex Plans Major New Attractions (Source: Florida Today)
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is planning a major expansion during the next five years that is designed to build on the success of the space shuttle Atlantis exhibit that opened in 2013 — but also have a focus on missions to Mars. Among the things in the work are a "Mars Rover," as well as an attraction that would allow visitors to experience brief periods of weightlessness or increased G forces similar to what astronauts experience during a launch.

The $100 million Atlantis exhibit helped Brevard County's most popular paid tourist attraction come out of a slump in the period of the recession and the end of the space shuttle program. During that slump, annual attendance fell by more than 29 percent from 1.59 million in 2009 to 1.12 million 2012, according to Therrin Protze, chief operating officer for the KSC Visitor Complex. The complex also experienced a 31 percent decline in annual revenue from 2008 to 2012, Protze said. (2/3)

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