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NASA Terminates Space Act Agreement With B612 Foundation


NASA has terminated an unfunded Space Act Agreement with the B612 Foundation, a private organization whose goal is to launch a spacecraft called Sentinel that would conduct a comprehensive search for asteroids.

Its primary purpose was obtaining NASA technical consulting and agreement for B612 to use NASA tracking facilities for Sentinel after it was launched.  In return, B612 would keep NASA informed of the spacecraft’s technical characteristics and progress and deliver data from the spacecraft to the Minor Planet Center….

NASA spokesmen Dwayne Brown and Dave Steitz confirmed via email that NASA terminated the agreement with B612.  Steitz explained that B612 had not met an important milestone in the SAA — starting Sentinel’s development — and NASA therefore terminated the agreement because “due to limited resources, NASA can no longer afford to reserve funds” to support the project.  “NASA believes it is in the best interest of both parties to terminate this agreement but remains open to future opportunities to collaborate with the B612 Foundation,” he added.

B612 Vice President for Communications Diane Murphy also confirmed the termination, but said NASA had invited them to return to obtain another SAA when Sentinel’s launch date is closer.   She noted that “our timeline is dependent on our fundraising — and while that is going well – it is hard … and taking longer than we first anticipated.”   She provided a statement from Lu asserting that the “status of the SAA in no way changes the resolve of the B612 Foundation to move forward. … We will continue to work independently and together with NASA, the US Congress and others to see our goals realized.”

According to data compiled by Pro Publica, the foundation became tax exempt in July 2013. The foundation’s tax return for 2013, which is the most recent available, shows it received $1,618,005 in contributions that year while spending $1,556,227. Net assets at the end of the year totaled $195,931.

Foundation President Ed Lu received $240,000 in compensation in 2013. Secretary and Chief Operating Officer Danica Rema received $209,443 for the year. The tax return also lists an additional $271,277 in other salaries and wages. The return does not state who received this compensation. Almost half of it — $132,171 — is attributed to fund-raising expenses.

Spaceflight Purchases SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket

Falcon 9 launch (Credit: SpaceX)

Falcon 9 launch (Credit: SpaceX)

SEATTLE, September 30, 2015 (Spaceflight PR)— Spaceflight, the company reinventing the model for launching small satellites into space, today announced the purchase of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and the expansion of its launch services to include dedicated rideshare missions. Spaceflight’s first dedicated rideshare mission, named the “2017 Sun Synch Express,” will launch in the second half of 2017 to a sun-synchronous low Earth orbit which is popular for earth imaging satellites.

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Google Lunar X Prize Down to the Sweet 16

The moon rising over Half Moon Bay, California on Halloween 2009. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

The moon rising over Half Moon Bay, California on Halloween 2009. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

With an end-of-the-year deadline looming for the Google Lunar X Prize to continue, the $30 million competition to land a private rover on the moon has shrunk in half to 16 teams from the original 33 or 34 (more on that later).

At least one of the teams has to demonstrate that it has a firm launch contract in place by Dec. 31 for the competition to continue.  If at least one team can show a contract this year, then the remaining teams in the competition will have until the end of 2016 to secure contracts in order to stay in the race.

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Four Spire Weather Satellites Launched into Orbit


spire_logo2Spire has successfully deployed four CubeSats as the foundation of what it bills as the “world’s first commercial weather satellite network.”

The spacecraft — named LEMUR2-PETER, LEMUR2-JOEL, LEMUR2-JEROEN, and LEMUR2-CHRIS — were deployed as secondary payloads aboard an Indian PSLV rocket on Monday. The primary payload was ASTROSAT, which is India’s first multi-wavelength space observatory.

“Spire’s operations team, at the heart of our mission control, is already hard at work,” the company announced on its website. “At 24-minutes post launch, our first satellite was deployed from the rocket, followed in quick succession by the remaining three satellites. Our team will spend the next hours and days identifying our satellites (non-trivial when you are released amongst a group of satellites), running core system checks, and preparing to deliver meaningful customer data.

“Also important at this stage will be our global ground station network. We deploy ground stations to far flung locations around the world so that we can be prepared for just this occasion, able to pick up and communicate with our network of satellites in a near continuous fashion. Our network continues to evolve and our team, which operates 24-hours per day/ 6-days per week out of our three global offices, is ready for this launch and the onslaught of launches coming just on the heels of today’s success,” the company said.

Lunar Mission One, Astrobotic Partnership to Establish First Digital Archive on Moon

Griffin Lander. (Credit: Astrobotic Technology)

Griffin Lander. (Credit: Astrobotic Technology)

PITTSBURGH (Astrobotic/Lunar Mission One PR) — Astrobotic Technology Inc. and Lunar Missions Ltd, the company behind the global, inclusive, not-for-profit crowd-funded Lunar Mission One, have signed a deal to send the first digital storage payload to the Moon. The payload will support Lunar Mission One’s ‘Footsteps on the Moon’ campaign, launched earlier today, which invites millions of people to include their footsteps – in addition to images, video and music – in a digital archive of human life that will be placed on the moon during Astrobotic’s first lunar mission.

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U.S. & China Hold Talks on Civil Space Cooperation


china_flagWASHINGTON, DC (U.S. State Department PR) — Pursuant to their shared goal of advancing civil space cooperation as agreed upon in the Strategic Track of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in June 2015, the Government of the United States of America and the Government of China convened their inaugural Civil Space Dialogue on September 28, 2015, in Beijing, China.

The meeting was co-chaired by the Department of State for the United States and by the China National Space Administration for China. The convening of this first Civil Space Dialogue launches a new initiative to enhance cooperation between the two countries and provide better transparency on a variety of space related issues.

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Rush Limbaugh: Mars Water Announcement Part of Leftist Plot


Limbaugh has flowing water on his brain. His synapses are clearly firing, but they’re being short circuited by some briny mixture inside his head. Thus, “flowing water on Mars, well that’s kind of cool, wonder what that means” becomes “NASA is making this up to somehow support a vast left-wing global warming conspiracy.”

It’s kooky. Even for him.

But, it does point to one of the problems with this whole conspiracy theory. NASA is a science agency. It reports the results of its scientific research. It’s the gold standard in planetary science. Nobody in the world does it better than they do.

Yet, some of the same folks who believe what NASA reports about other planets — Lamar Smith, for example, was thrilled by the Mars news — believe it has been hopelessly corrupted in what it reports about our own.

It’s the same agency. It’s the same Science Directorate. Similar methods are used to gather and analyze the data. It doesn’t make any sense. NASA’s science program either has integrity or it doesn’t. Otherwise, you’re simply picking and choosing what science results to believe based on per-conceived ideology.

Virgin Galactic Successfully Fires NewtonThree Engine


MOJAVE, Calif., September 28, 2015 (Virgin Galactic PR) – Successful test firings of key propulsion components marked the latest sign of progress for Virgin Galactic’s dedicated small satellite launch vehicle, LauncherOne. Working on custom-built test stands at the company’s Mojave, California location, Virgin Galactic engineers and technicians achieved longer duration, steady-state firings of LauncherOne’s main stage engine in the same week as multiple full duration firings of the gas generator for LauncherOne’s upper stage engine.

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House Passes Measure Extending Commercial Space Learning Period


Capitol Building
UPDATE: The Senate passed the measure, so Congress has six more months to do the work it failed to do over the past 12 months. Legislators also appear ready to pass a continuing resolution that will keep the government function at FY 2015 spending levels until they get around to passing a budget. So, shutdown averted, moratorium extended, and Congress remains as dysfunctional as ever. 

Remember when you were back in high school, and you had this term paper due, and you’d procrastinate and put it off and come up with every excuse to do anything but work on it? And then it would time to turn it in, and you’d go and beg your teacher for an extension because…well, you needed one and you were a good student and stuff?

Well, Congress is a lot like high school. (If you have any doubts, just spend a few hours watching floor debates on C-SPAN.) Each year at this time, our esteemed legislators are literally hours away from the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30 and haven’t done much of anything all year. Spending bills are not reconciled, and unless they do something quick, the government will shut down and all sorts of regulations and other things will expire at midnight.

Congress being both weak and divided and mighty and powerful, it’s capable of giving itself an extension for its own dysfunction. Legislators are working on continuing resolution, which will fund the government temporarily until the parties gets around to resolving its differences — and extending all sorts of various authorities.

One of them will extend the learning period on commercial human spaceflight for six months, until March 30. The extension is part of a package of FAA-related items in a bill passed by the House of Representatives today.

The extra time will allow legislators to reconcile whether they want to severely limit the FAA’s regulatory authority over the industry for another five years (as the Senate wants) or 10 years (as the House measure does).

That’s assuming the Senate gets around to passing the measure by the end of September. Even if the authority lapses, FAA officials have said they have no immediately plans to begin regulating the industry.

McCarthy Running for House Speaker