March 16 News Items

Cosmic Lifeboats - How Do You Escape a Sinking Space Station? (Source: Slate)
A floating piece of debris approached the International Space Station on Thursday, and the crew took refuge in a "lifeboat" just in case they had to escape back to Earth. What's a space lifeboat? It's just a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. The term "lifeboat," which conjures images of the Titanic, is misleading, since the Soyuz is used for regular travel to and from the International Space Station every few months. In emergency situations—such as when a piece of debris hurtles toward the station—the three-person crew is instructed to move into the Soyuz in case they have to make a quick exit. They leave the hatch open as a final safety precaution: If the debris hits the Soyuz itself, they can quickly return to the space station; if it hits the station, they still have enough time to pressurize the vehicle and undock, which takes only a couple of minutes. Click here to view the article. (3/16)

United Launch Alliance Atlas V Awarded Four NASA Rocket Launch Missions (Source: ULA)
NASA has awarded United Launch Alliance (ULA) four science and communications missions set to launch in the first half of the next decade. All four missions will fly aboard ULA’s Atlas V rocket and are scheduled to launch between 2011-2014. The four launches are the Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP), two Tracking and Data Relay Satellites (TDRS-K and TDRS-L) and the Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission.

The launches will be provided under terms of a launch service agreement procured previously by NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for this vehicle. The liftoffs will all occur from Space Launch Complex-41 at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., will manage all four missions. (3/16)

Glitch Delays Russian Launch of European Satellite (Source: Reuters)
The European Space Agency (ESA) on Monday postponed the launch of its most sophisticated Earth observation satellites to date because of a technical glitch at a Russian spaceport. "The doors of the launch service tower did not open," said an official. He said the cause of the fault had yet to be established. "The two big doors installed at the tower should have opened to allow the tower to retrieve and expose the launcher to free air to be launched," Bonacina said. (3/16)

More Irish Space Exploration Urged (Source: Irish Times)
Ireland should take a greater involvement in space exploration, the head of science at the European Space Agency (ESA) has said. Prof David Southwood said the advent of GPS and other satellite technologies and the need for global monitoring of climate change from space were challenges that could not be ignored by any developed nation. Ireland is one of 16 members of ESA. In November the Government agreed to contribute €14.5 million annually for the next three years, but it is a net receiver of ESA support with contracts worth an average of €23 million a year to Irish firms. (3/16)

NASA Eyes Debris as Discovery Nears Space Station (Source: AP)
NASA kept close tabs on an old piece of space junk Monday that threatened to come too close to the international space station, as the shuttle Discovery raced toward the orbiting outpost for a 220-mile-high linkup. Experts initially warned that the debris from a Soviet satellite that broke up in 1981 could veer within a half-mile of the space station. But later in the morning, they said it appeared that the small piece of junk—about 4 inches in size—might remain at a safe distance.

The debris was in an erratic orbit, and that was causing the constant revisions. NASA said the trend appeared to be moving in the right direction, though, and that the space station might not have to move out of the way. If Mission Control orders a space station maneuver to dodge the junk, it would be carried out Monday night, well ahead of the closest approach early Tuesday. That would force Discovery to adjust its course for Tuesday's docking; the shuttle is delivering one last set of solar wings for the station. (3/16)

The Space Economy: a Public-Private Partnership? (Source: Space Review)
What effect is the economic crisis having on the space industry? Jeff Foust reports that space might be insulated from the worst of the crisis because of its close ties with government. Visit to view the article. (3/16)

"Space Cadet" Politics (Source: Space Review)
Some space enthusiasts are known for their fierce advocacy for the topic that doesn't always match up with the traditional divisions of political thought. Nader Elhefnawy examines the intersection of space advocacy and political philosophy. Visit to view the article. (3/16)

Chandrayaan 2 and the Evolution of India's Space Program (Source: Space Review)
India's first lunar mission, Chandrayaan 1, has been a major step forward for that nation's space program. Taylor Dinerman describes how the follow-on mission could further establish India as a major space power. Visit to view the article. (3/16)

Not a Bang, But a Whimper (Source: Space Review)
When rockets fail, they often do so in a spectacular explosion. Dwayne Day recounts one little-known event where a launch vehicle failed far less spectacularly. Visit to view the article. (3/16)

Japan Pioneers Debris-Killing Kamikaze Satellites (Source: Russia Today)
Japan’s space agency (JAXA) is planning to use microsatellites to clear orbits from space junk. The robotic cleaner grabs debris with a robotic arm and then lunges down to force the dangerous pieces back into atmosphere. The 140-kilogram device uses electrodynamic tethers to drag down the debris. The tethers are conductive wires with lengths of up to several kilometers, which can be used to generate propulsion.

The Japanese cleaner approaches debris, attaches itself to it with a robotic arm, and then moves to a lower orbit, unwinding the tether from a reel. An electric current is generated in the tether, which interacts with Earth’s magnetic field to create drag, which slows down the debris making it re-enter the atmosphere and subsequently burn up. The satellite, of course, is destroyed in the process as well. (3/16)

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