June 30, 2017

At 18, He Strapped a Rocket Engine to His Bike. Now He’s Taking on SpaceX (Source: Bloomberg)
Peter Beck was more productive than most teenagers. He spent much of his youth tinkering in the family’s garage workshop in small-town New Zealand, amid welding and milling equipment. At 15 he built an aluminum bike from scratch. At 16 he bought a rusted-out Austin Mini for $300 and refurbished it end-to-end, rebuilding the engine and suspension and fixing all of the body panels. Beck’s parents, a museum director and a teacher, encouraged their son—within reason. “Mum would bring dinner down and set it on a bench for me, but it would just get cold,” Beck says. “Eventually she would yell out, ‘You have to stop angle grinding and get to bed.’ ”

In 1999, at 18, Beck did something most people would consider very stupid. After checking out books from the library to learn how to make his own fuel, he set up a laboratory in a backyard shed and set to work on a rocket engine. Lacking a hazmat suit, he wrapped himself in plastic bags and put on a welding helmet as he distilled peroxide and other chemicals. After successfully testing one of his engine designs, he decided it was time for a proper adventure. He strapped the engine to the back of a custom-built bicycle, dressed himself in a red jumpsuit and white helmet, and fired up a trial run in a local parking lot. Click here. (6/29)

ULA Wins Competitive Test Over SpaceX with Air Force Launch Contract (Source: Space News)
United Launch Alliance beat SpaceX for a launch contract for an Air Force mission. The Air Force announced Thursday it selected ULA for the June 2019 launch of the Space Test Program 3 mission. ULA will launch the mission on an Atlas 5 551 under a contract valued at $191.1 million. The award was the third EELV-class mission competed by the Air Force. SpaceX won the previous two competitions, both for GPS satellite launches. (6/29)

Senate Follows House Lead in Criticizing NASA Budget Cuts (Source: Space News)
House appropriators advanced a spending bill with funding increases for NASA, as Senate counterparts criticized cuts in the administration's budget proposal. The House CJS appropriations subcommittee approved a bill Thursday that would provide nearly $19.9 billion for NASA, about $780 million above the administration's request. Earlier in the day, Senate appropriators held a hearing on the NASA budget proposal, with senators opposing planned cuts in exploration, Earth science and education programs at the agency. (6/29)

SpaceX Deploys Robot to Steady Recovered Stage (Source: Florida Today)
The first stage from the previous Falcon 9 launch from Florida arrived in port, with a "robot" visible on the ship's deck. The drone ship arrived at Port Canaveral early Thursday with the stage from the Falcon 9 launch last Friday of the BulgariaSat-1 spacecraft. Observers noticed the presence of a robot previously seen in tests that the company said is designed to secure the stage after landing without having people on the ship. (6/29)

Vector Raises $21 Million for Small Launcher (Source: Space News)
Vector, a company developing a small launch vehicle, has raised $21 million. Three venture capital funds, led by Sequoia Capital, participated in the Series A round. Vector is working on the Vector-R small launch vehicle, which flew a low-altitude test flight in May from the Mojave Desert as part of an incremental test program. Vector says it will use the funds to accelerate that test program, which includes several additional launches. (6/29)

Sea Launch Sale to S7 Group On Track (Source: Tass)
The sale of Sea Launch to a Russian airline company is expected to be completed by the end of this year. Energia announced last September it was selling Sea Launch to the S7 Group, a Russian company whose holdings include an airline. Energia said in its annual report this week that it expects the deal to close this year, with launches resuming as soon as next year. (6/30)

Canada to Announce New Astronauts (Source: CSA)
Canada will announce the country's newest astronauts on Saturday. The Canadian Space Agency said Thursday the two new astronauts will be unveiled by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during Canada Day ceremonies Saturday that also mark the country's 150th anniversary. The agency selected the two from more than 3,330 applicants. (6/30)

KFC Chicken Sandwich Takes to the Stratosphere with World View (Source: Space.com)
KFC's chicken sandwich is floating in the stratosphere after a balloon launch Thursday. World View deployed the high-altitude balloon from Page, Arizona, Thursday morning on the company's first long-duration test flight of its "stratollite" platform. While World View is using the flight to test its technology for future commercial stratollite applications, KFC is using the flight to promote its "Zinger" chicken sandwich, which is flying on the balloon. (6/29)

Can Faster-Than-Light Particles Explain Dark mMatter, Dark Energy, and the Big Bang? (Source: Cosmos)
Here are six big questions about our universe that current physics can’t answer: What is dark energy, the mysterious energy that appears to be accelerating the expansion of the universe? What is dark matter, the invisible substance we can only detect by its gravitational effect on stars and galaxies? What caused inflation, the blindingly fast expansion of the universe immediately after the Big Bang? For that matter, what caused the Big Bang? Are there many possible Big Bangs or universes? Is there a telltale characteristic associated with the death of a universe? Click here. (6/30)

NASA Denies That It’s Running a Child Slave Colony on Mars (Source: Daily Beast)
A report on Alex Jones’ InfoWars claiming child sex slaves have been kidnapped and shipped to Mars is untrue, NASA told The Daily Beast on Thursday. “There are no humans on Mars. There are active rovers on Mars. There was a rumor going around last week that there weren’t. There are,” Guy Webster, a spokesperson for Mars exploration at NASA, told The Daily Beast. “But there are no humans.” On Thursday’s program, the InfoWars host welcomed guest Robert David Steele onto The Alex Jones Show, which airs on 118 radio stations nationwide, to talk about kidnapped children he said have been sent on a two-decade mission to space.

“We actually believe that there is a colony on Mars that is populated by children who were kidnapped and sent into space on a 20-year ride,” said Steele. “So that once they get to Mars they have no alternative but to be slaves on the Mars colony.” Jones echoed Steele, saying “clearly they don’t want us looking into what is happening” because “every time probes go over they turn them off.” (6/30)

Shelby Defends NASA Spending, says Commercial Companies Lagging (Source: Huntsville Times)
U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby said today the commercial space companies NASA is relying on for access to the International Space Station are behind schedule, possibly unsafe and wouldn't be in the astronaut business without NASA's investment. Shelby also signaled support for more money to NASA in 2018, including more for the science programs the Trump White House wants to cut. He commented in remarks prepared for today's NASA budget review by the Senate Appropriation Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies. Shelby chairs that subcommittee.

Shelby blasted the "growing sentiment that NASA should change the way it does business: that is should be a buyer of commercial transportation services. Were it not for billions in development funds from NASA acting as venture capital, there would be no companies attempting to one day take crews to the space station." Shelby represents Alabama, where NASA's Space Launch System is being developed, and he praised the new rocket as a "versatile platform" to deliver science missions and astronauts. (6/29)

NASA Faces Education Program Cuts (Source: Miami Herald)
President Donald Trump’s proposal to cut NASA’s 2018 budget means its education office, which creates programs for students from grade school through college would be eliminated. But Robert Lightfoot Jr., NASA’s acting administrator, assured senators the agency’s focus on education won’t change. NASA’s Space Grant program, founded in 1989 to expand science, technology, engineering and math education access, as well as the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research – or EPSCoR, designed to improve regional research infrastructure and R&D capabilities, would both end under the current proposal.

NASA funds Space Grant associations in all 50 states, plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. These groups connect schools and industry partners to promote STEM education and fund scholarships and fellowships. All 52 would end under the Trump administration’s budget proposal. “Honestly I don't think I will have the same network. But we have the ability to still use our missions…to get challenges out there for the students to engage in,” Lightfoot said.

Editor's Note: The Florida Space Grant Consortium, headquartered at UCF in Orlando, sponsors annual space research grants in collaboration with Space Florida. FSGC also is a key player in meeting the state's aerospace workforce challenges, sponsoring student involvement in research, along with fellowships and internships. (6/30)

An AI That Predicts a Neighborhood's Wealth From Space (Source: WIRED)
You might think putting a helipad on Trump Tower would give the president's Manhattan residence an added veneer of affluence. After all, nothing conveys wealth and power quite like arriving at your own skyscraper aboard Marine One, right? Nope. Not according to Penny, an artificial intelligence that uses satellite imagery to predict income levels in the Big Apple and how they change as you tinker with the urban landscape. When I called up the president's Manhattan residence via Penny's clean, intuitive interface, it saw nothing but wealth. Click here. (6/30)

Space for Humanity Seeks 10,000 Citizen Astronauts (Source: Space News)
To date, only 536 people have traveled to space and the vast majority have been men from a handful of nations. Dylan Taylor, a space industry angel investor and SpaceNews columnist, is eager to share the experience with 10,000 people through a nonprofit organization, Space for Humanity, that will pay for the trips.

“We are going to mint new astronauts from all communities,” Taylor said June 27 at the annual NewSpace conference here. “We want to influence public policy and opinion… by changing the mindset.” Space for Humanity is beginning to solicit nominations through its website for people from diverse backgrounds to travel to space or near space and return to Earth to serve as ambassadors who can share their experiences.

“We are not going to send multimillionaire white males who can afford to go,” Taylor said. “When those people come back and talk about their experience, someone who lives in New Delhi who makes $1 a day is not necessarily going to relate to that experience. We need to send someone from their community who can share their experience.” (6/29)

Congress Wants Air Force to Focus on First-Stage Engine Work (Source: Space News)
Language in a House defense authorization bill would restrict Air Force funding of new launch systems. The provision, included in the chairman's mark of the National Defense Authorization Act, would limit Air Force funding to first-stage engines and related items, and not full launch systems. The provision comes after a closed-door briefing last week about an independent assessment by NASA that reportedly concluded development of Blue Origin's BE-4 remained well ahead of Aerojet Rocketdyne's AR1 despite a BE-4 powerpack testing mishap in May. ULA has not yet made a decision on what engine to use on is Vulcan rocket, but has previously indicated its preferred choice is the BE-4. (6/27)

House Committee Sends Message with $696B Defense Authorization (Source: The Hill)
The House Armed Services Committee has approved a $696 billion defense authorization bill that adds $21 billion in requested funding from the Pentagon. "There are many moving pieces to the broader budget picture that will develop over this year, but for today and for our responsibilities as the Armed Services Committee, it is important for us to put down this marker for what we need for national defense," said Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas. (6/28)

Northrop Grumman to Develop Next-Gen GPS (Source: C4ISRnet)
Northrop Grumman has been awarded a $49 million Air Force contract to develop next-generation navigation technology. Under the contract, Northrop Grumman will provide "preliminary hardware and software architecture design for the Embedded Global Positioning System (GPS)/Inertial Navigation System (INS)-Modernization, or EGI-M, technology," according to a company news release. "The modernized system is expected to be available for platform integration starting in 2019." (6/28)

NASA Invites Public to Celebrate 100 Years of Aerospace Breakthroughs (Source: NASA)
NASA invites the public to three days of discussion and storytelling with notable aerospace experts to mark the 100th anniversary of the agency’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Portions of the event will air live on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

The Langley Centennial Symposium will be held July 12-14. Keynote speakers include Jean-Yves Le Gall, president of France’s space agency, former NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman, and representatives from NASA, related government organizations, industry and academia. (6/29)

Gubernatorial Candidate Kemp Throws Support to Georgia Spaceport (Source: Brunswick News)
Georgia Secretary of State and governor’s candidate Brian Kemp has announced his support for a proposed spaceport in Camden County. Kemp addressed the issue during a campaign meet-and-greet event Saturday at the St. Marys Eagles club. In an interview after his speech, Kemp explained more about his support for the proposed project.

“As governor, I will partner with local leaders to ensure that every part of our state has the opportunity to thrive,” he said. “Spaceport Camden will create jobs, strengthen the local community, and further highlight our state’s commitment to innovation and progress.” Kemp said he was impressed by Camden County’s efforts to attract a billion-dollar industry to the state. (6/28)

Systima Gets Piece of SLS Rocket Development (Source: GeekWire)
When NASA’s heavy-lift Space Launch System rocket starts carrying astronauts beyond Earth orbit in the 2020s, it’ll also be carrying a key component built by Kirkland, Wash.-based Systima Technologies. Systima will be responsible for providing a 27.6-foot-wide, ring-shaped joint assembly that separates the rocket’s universal stage adapter from its upper stage. The assembly will allow for the deployment of cargo and secondary payloads from the SLS once it rises into orbit. (6/29)

Shelby Complains About "Cost Increases" in NASA Fixed-Price Contracts (Source: Ars Technica)
As part of the annual US budget process, the NASA acting administrator met with the Senate's Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) chairs this committee, which writes the budget for NASA and therefore wields extraordinary power over the nation's civil space activities. During Thursday's hearing, Shelby renewed his longstanding concerns about the agency's commercial crew program. "What assurance can you give this committee that there will be no more cost increases or delays?" Shelby said, querying Lightfoot. "Can you do that?"

To his credit, Lightfoot, a former director of Marshall, gently corrected Shelby. "I think it's a fixed price contract; I don't expect any more cost increases," he said. "There may be delays, though, just with the sheer nature of what they're trying to do, and what we're trying to accomplish." The key phrase here is "fixed price" contract. Unless it changes the design requirements, NASA won't pay Boeing or SpaceX more for commercial crew, because the contracts are "fixed." The companies therefore have a strong incentive to deliver a finished product as soon as possible.

By contrast, NASA has a traditional cost-plus contract with Boeing to build the core stage of the Space Launch System rocket and with other heritage contractors for the engines and solid-rocket boosters. This means that if there are delays, NASA simply pays additional costs to the aerospace companies. And there have been delays. When Congress wrote the 2010 NASA Authorization Act, it called for an "operational" rocket by the end of 2016. Now, an uncrewed test flight launch of the SLS rocket has been delayed at least three years, to 2019. With a budget that now exceeds $2 billion annually, those delays have therefore cost NASA about $6 billion. (6/29)

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