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+ - Asterioid mining bill introduced in Congress to protect private property rights->

Submitted by MarkWhittington
MarkWhittington (1084047) writes "Rep. Bill Posey, R-Florida announced on Thursday that he was introducing a bill along with Rep, Derek Kilmer, D-WA called the American Space Technology for Exploring Resource Opportunities in Deep Space (ASTEROIDS) Act of 2014. The act is designed to protect the private property rights for entities mining asteroids and to otherwise encourage asteroid mining. The bill is in apparent reaction to efforts by companies like Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries to locate and mine Earth approaching asteroids for their resources.

The crucial part of the short piece of legislation states that the resources mined from an asteroid would be the property of the entity undertaking the operation. This language gets around the provision of the Outer Space Treaty that states that states are forbidden to establish national sovereignty over celestial bodies, which would be a perquisite to the United States allowing a private entity to own an asteroid. It rather grants mineral rights to the asteroid, something that the treaty does not mention. This is no enforcement mechanism in the event of a dispute with another country, however."

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+ - Buzz Aldrin wants President Obama to announce new space exploration initiative->

Submitted by MarkWhittington
MarkWhittington (1084047) writes "While he has initiated the social media campaign, #Apollo45, to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the first moon landing, Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin is also using the occasion to campaign for an expansion of American space exploration. According to a Tuesday story in the Washington Post, Aldrin has expressed the wish that President Obama make some sort of announcement along those lines this July 20. The idea has a certain aspect of déjà vu.

Aldrin believes that the American civil space program is adrift and that some new space exploration, he prefers to Mars, would be just the thing to set it back on course. There is only one problem, however. President Obama has already made the big space exploration announcement. Aldrin knows this because he was there.

President Obama flew to the Kennedy Space Center on April 15, 2010, with Aldrin accompanying as a photo op prop, and made the announcement that America would no longer be headed back to the moon, as was the plan under his predecessor George W. Bush. Instead American astronauts would visit an Earth approaching asteroid and then, decades hence, would land on Mars."

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+ - Robert Zubrin throws down the gauntlet to Franklin Chang-Diaz over VASIMR->

Submitted by MarkWhittington
MarkWhittington (1084047) writes "Thursday, Mars Society President Dr. Robert Zubrin issued a challenge to a debate to Dr. Franklin Chang-Diaz, former astronaut and president and CEO of Ad Astra to a debate. The debate is not whether or not astronauts will go to Mars. The debate will be about how they will go to Mars. "Resolved: Electric Propulsion in an Enabling Technology for Human Mars Exploration.” Chang-Diaz would make the affirmative argument. Zubrin will make the negative argument.

The argument boiled down to its essential is about a mode of propulsion. Chang-Diaz is working on a plasma rocket engine called VASIMR which he claims will make trip times to and from Mars far less than conventional chemical rockets. Zubrin not only disputes that this is possible, but even desirable.

Chang-Diaz asserts that the radiation hazards inherent in interplanetary flight makes a quicker population system a vital pre requisite for missions to Mars. He has touted his VASIMR engine, which he has been working on for a number of years, as a solution to that problem. Zubrin responded that these assertions are false."

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+ - 'In the Event of a Moon Disaster' movie imagines Apollo 11 ending in tragedy->

Submitted by MarkWhittington
MarkWhittington (1084047) writes "According to a Wednesday story on Coming Soon, a movie called “In the Event of a Moon Disaster” has been greenlit for production starting in early 2015. The movie is based on the premise that the Apollo 11 moon landing ended in a disaster that left Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to die on the lunar surface. That alternate ending was actually quite possible.

During the final descent of the lunar module, Armstrong and Aldrin found themselves being taken straight into a boulder strewn field on the lunar surface by the automatic landing system. Armstrong quickly took manual control of the lunar module and landed it in a relatively flat part of the moon that would become famous as Tranquility Base. But that and a pair of computer glitches that occurred around the same time could have resulted in tragedy rather than triumph.

The movie is based on a speech that writer William Safire had written for President Richard Nixon in the event of a moon disaster. The speech, perhaps the best Safire ever wrote, was a heartfelt salute to the fallen astronauts as well as a vow that men would follow in their footsteps. It ended with, “Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.”"

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+ - Draper Labs develops low cost probe to orbit, land on Europa for NASA->

Submitted by MarkWhittington
MarkWhittington (1084047) writes "Ever since the House passed a NASA spending bill that allocated $100 million for a probe to Jupiter’s moon Europa, the space agency has been attempting to find a way to do such a mission on the cheap. The trick is that the mission has to cost less than $1 billion, a tall order for anything headed to the Outer Planets. According to a Wednesday story in the Atlantic, some researchers at Draper Labs have come up with a cheap way to do a Europa orbiter and land instruments on its icy surface.

The first stage is to orbit a cubesat, a tiny, coffee can sized satellite that would contain two highly accurate accelerometers that would go into orbit around Europa and measure its gravity field. In this way the location of Europa’s subsurface oceans would be mapped. Indeed it is possible that the probe might find an opening through the ice crust to the ocean, warmed it is thought by tidal forces.

The second stage is to deploy even smaller probes called chipsats, tiny devices that contain sensors, a microchip, and an antenna. Hundreds of these probes, the size of human fingernails, would float down on Europa’s atmosphere to be scattered about its surface. While some might be lost, enough will land over a wide enough area to do an extensive chemical analysis of the surface of Europa, which would then be transmitted to the cubesat mothership and then beamed to Earth."

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+ - Elon Musk's Solar City makes manufacturing capacity play with Silevo acquisition->

Submitted by MarkWhittington
MarkWhittington (1084047) writes "Elon Musk is well known as a private space flight entrepreneur, thanks to his space launch company SpaceX. He is also a purveyor of high end electric cars manufactured by his other company, Tesla Motors. But many people do not know that Musk has a third business, Solar City, which is a manufacturer of solar panels. Tuesday that company announced a major play to increase the output of solar panels suitable for home solar units.

Solar City has acquired a company called Silevo, which is said to have a line of solar panels that have demonstrated high electricity output and low cost. Silevo claims that its panels have achieved a 22 percent efficiency and are well on their way to achieving 24 percent efficiency. It suggests that 10 cents per watt is saved for every point of efficiency gained.

Solar City, using the technology it has acquired from Silevo, intends to build a manufacturing plant in upstate New York with a one gigawatt per year capacity. This will only be the beginning as it intends to build future manufacturing plants with orders of magnitude capacity. The goal appears to be for the company to become the biggest manufacturer of solar panels in the world."

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+ - Russian RD-180 embargo could be shot in the arm for American rocket engine firm->

Submitted by MarkWhittington
MarkWhittington (1084047) writes "According to a Saturday story in the Los Angeles Times, the recent revival of tensions between the United States and Russia, not seen since the end of the Cold War, may provide a shot in the arm for the American rocket engine industry. Due in part in retaliation for economic sanctions that were enacted in response to Russian aggression in the Ukraine, Russia announced that it would no longer sell its own RD-180 rocket engines for American military launches. This has had American aerospace experts scrambling to find a replacement.

The stakes for weaning American rockets off of dependency on Russian engines could not be starker, according to Space News. If the United States actually loses the RD-180, the Atlas V would be temporarily grounded, as many as 31 missions could be delayed, costing the United States as much as $5 billion. However SpaceX, whose Falcon family of launch vehicles has a made in the USA rocket engine, could benefit tremendously if the U.S. military switches its business from ULA while it refurbishes its own launch vehicles with new American made engines."

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+ - Neil deGrasse Tyson refuses to debate Alan Stern on Pluto as a planet->

Submitted by MarkWhittington
MarkWhittington (1084047) writes "With the New Horizons probe just about a year away from its flyby encounter with Pluto, which was once considered the ninth planet in the Solar System, its principle investigator Dr. Alan Stern has challenged Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson to a debate over whether or not Pluto should be considered a planet. Tyson, a celebrity astrophysicist whose updated version of Cosmos has just finished its run, has thus far refused to do so, according to a Tuesday story on Space.com.

Tyson explained his refusal to debate Stern on his Facebook page. “As a general rule, I don't debate people. Done it once or twice before, but abandoned the effort. What's behind it is that I don't have opinions that I require other people to have. So debates don't interest me for this reason.” Tyson, aside from his Cosmos series, is a fixture on television and radio talk shows. He is generally treated with deference by interviewers such as Stephen Colbert and Bill Maher with his positions on a variety of subjects ranging from Pluto to climate change going unchallenged.

This elicited a sharp retort by Stern on his own Facebook page. “Tyson says he won't debate. All scientists engage in debate over competing ideas. If he persists in not supporting his position by engaging in debate, I'll consider it evidence he knows the position isn't supportable.” Stern has threatened to debate an empty chair if Tyson does not reconsider his position. Stern’s challenge and Tyson’s refusal has kicked up something of a social media firestorm."

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+ - Brownsville SpaceX space port faces more regulatory hurdles->

Submitted by MarkWhittington
MarkWhittington (1084047) writes "It turns out that the recent FAA environmental impact statement that seemed to give a stamp of approval for the proposed SpaceX space port in south Texas is not the end of the regulatory process, but the end of the beginning. A story in the Brownsville Herald reminds us that the report has kicked off a 30 day review period after which the FAA can allow SpaceX to apply for a launch license to start work on the Brownsville area launch facility. And that in turn kicks off a 180 day process during which the FAA makes the decision whether or not to grant the required licensing and permits.

But even that is not the end of the regulatory hurdles that SpaceX must face before the first Falcon rocket roars into the skies over the Gulf of Mexico. The Longview News-Journal reports that a number of state and federal agencies must give their approval for various aspects of the space port before it becomes operational. For instance, the Texas Department of Transportation must give approval for the movement of utility lines.

Environment Texas still opposes the space port since it is close to a wild life reserve and a state park. SpaceX has already agreed to enact measures to minimize the impact the space port would have on the environment, “such as containing waste materials from the construction and enforcing a speed limit in the control center area.” Environment Texas is not impressed, however. Whether it is disposed to make trouble in the courts is an open question."

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+ - What 'Edge of Tomorrow' Gets Wrong About a 21st Century D Day->

Submitted by MarkWhittington
MarkWhittington (1084047) writes ""The Edge of Tomorrow," the science fiction actioner starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, is enjoyable on many levels. On the other hand it gets the notion of reenacting the D Day invasion for the 21st Century all wrong.

The plot premise for the movie is that aliens have taken over much of Europe, much like the Nazis did decades ago. There is an Eastern Front where Russian and Chinese forces are battling the aliens and apparently an Italian and Scandinavian fronts as well. The key to victory seems to be an invasion of Europe with allied forces based in England.

The trailer shows, so it is no spoiler, that the invasion turns out to be a shambles. The aliens are waiting for the invasion force and takes it in ambush. However just a modicum of sensible tactics, informed by the last D Day invasion of Europe, would have caused a different outcome.

The invasion appears to consist of Cruise, Blunt, and their buddies being dropped on the beach near Calais on bungee cords wearing cumbersome exoskeletons from hovering tilt rotor vehicles. There is a shot of at least one hover craft on the beach, but that seems to be the sum total of D Day 2.0.

The original D Day started with a preliminary bombardment of the beaches by air and sea. It also involved some depth in the forced entry by use of paratroops. The invaders had the use of aerial recon photos. None of these were present in the movie. No wonder they got slaughtered.

A few batteries of long range rail guns emplaced at Dover could have plastered the beach at Calais from one end to the other. Stealth drones could have pinpointed the aliens and helped to target them for air strikes. Some of those bungee warriors could have dropped several miles inland. They could have developed exoskeletons that gave them some mobility."

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+ - National Research Council hits NASA space exploration, proposes pathway to Mars->

Submitted by MarkWhittington
MarkWhittington (1084047) writes "The National Research Council issued its report on the future of space exploration on Wednesday, June 4. 2014. The report stated that the “horizon goal” for any program of space exploration in the near term (i.e. the next two decades) is a Mars surface expedition, It also started that the current NASA program, which includes a mission that would snag an asteroid, put in in lunar orbit, and visit it with astronauts is inadequate to meet that goal.

The report gave two reasons for its critique of the current NASA program. First the asteroid redirect mission would not create and test technologies necessary to conduct a crewed Mars mission. Second, NASA projects essentially flat budgets for the foreseeable future. Any space exploration program worthy of the name will cost considerably more money, with five percent increases in NASA funding for a number of years."

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+ - Russia to evict NASA from the International Space Station in 2020->

Submitted by MarkWhittington
MarkWhittington (1084047) writes "A Tuesday story in Russia Today reports that Russia is moving to retaliate against American and European sanctions over its aggression in the Ukraine by in essence ending most space cooperation with the United States. It will prohibit the use of Russian rocket engines such as the RD-180 and NK-33 to launch military satellites. It is closing down 16 GPS sites in Russian territory. Finally Russia will unilaterally end its participation in the International Space Station project in 2020.

The Obama administration would like to extend space station operations to at least 2024. According to the Financial Times Russia believes that its withdraw from the space station will make this impossible. In effect Russia will have evicted the United States from the orbiting space lab that it provided the lion’s share of money and resources to build and maintain."

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+ - Calls for Private Sector Involvement in Russian Moon Base->

Submitted by MarkWhittington
MarkWhittington (1084047) writes "Russian officials are suggesting that there may be private sector involvement in the proposed lunar base being planned for the 2030s. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin noted that possibility in an article published in Rossiiskaya Gazeta daily a few weeks ago

The idea of a lunar return having private sector participation is not unprecedented. Bigelow Aerospace suggested a lunar effort based on the COTS (Commercial Orbital Transportation Systems) model. The company has even suggested a system of private property rights on the moon to further commercial lunar development.

Russia is far more welcoming of capitalism than it was during the days of the Soviet Union. However private business is conducted slightly differently in Russia than in the West. It is very often a case of who you know trumping what you can do.

A case in point is the Sochi Olympics, a project that cost the Russian Federation roughly $50 billion, comparable to at least starting a lunar base. USA Today analyzed how Sochi worked, including the corruption, the kickbacks, the slipshod performance, and skimming of funds that characterized the run up to the winter games. Sochi was a private sector project, but only in the sense that would have caused many people to go to jail had it happened in the West,

A Russian lunar base would have far more potential for profit, of both the legitimate and dodgy kind, than the Sochi Olympics. Between resource mining and space tourism, many analysts and business leaders suggest that the moon could be transformed into a money maker. Private companies like Moon Express and Golden Spike have been formed as a bet on that very proposition. It may be only natural that Russia would want to get in on that, though perhaps in its own unique way."

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+ - House NASA spending bill has language concerning asteroid, Mars flyby missions->

Submitted by MarkWhittington
MarkWhittington (1084047) writes "When appropriators pass spending bills they often include guidance language that stipulate how the money should be spent. The 2015 spending bill for NASA is no exception. According to a Wednesday post on the Space Policy Online blog, the House is trying to provide some guidance on how space exploration money is spent.

Congress has always been skeptical about President Obama’s mission to an asteroid, including the Asteroid Retrieval Mission that would snag a small asteroid and place it in lunar orbit to be visited later by astronauts. That skepticism is reflected in the NASA spending bill. The language stipulates that no money should be spent on the ARM project that would not also be applicable to other destinations, such as the moon, the moons of Mars, and Mars itself.

A proposal called Inspiration Mars, which would send a spacecraft on a flyby mission around both Venus and Mars, found a little bit more favor in the House spending bill. The bill’s language calls for an independent assessment of the scheme, including its feasibility as well as its impact on the Orion/Space Launch System program. The flyby mission was recently endorsed by former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin."

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+ - Former NASA chief Mike Griffin supports 2021 Mars/Venus flyby mission->

Submitted by MarkWhittington
MarkWhittington (1084047) writes "The concept of a Mars/Venus flyby mission got some institutional support thanks to an oped piece in the Houston Chronicle on Monday. The authors are Mike Griffin, CEO of Schafer Corp., NASA administrator between 2005-2009, and the outgoing president of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Jim Albaugh, the president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes and Integrated Defense Systems, and the incoming president of AIAA. The American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics is one of the oldest and most prestigious aerospace organizations on the planet.

The idea of a flyby of the two planets first was proposed as a flyby of Mars to launch in 2018 using a heavy lift Space Launch System, an Orion spacecraft, and some kind of habitation module to send two astronauts on a trip around the Red Planet. It has been since reworked for a 2021 launch to include Venus as well as Mars. The mission is the brainchild of Dennis Tito and is called Inspiration Mars.

The planetary flyby mission is seen as an alternative to the asteroid capture mission that is currently on NASA’s manifest and is also scheduled to occur in the 2020s. It would test out both spacecraft and human beings on an interplanetary voyage without actually having to land on any planet. The flyby mission is considered challenging and risky, but technically feasible. Because of the alignment of the planets, 2021 provides an opportunity to do the mission that will not come again for a considerable period of time."

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