March 7 News Items

PlanetSpace Plans Hypersonic Silver Dart Flights (Source: Parabolic Arc)
While awaiting resolution of their bid protest for NASA's ISS Commercial Resupply Services Contract, PlanetSpace is pursuing 2009 flight tests of sub-scale prototypes of its Silver Dart vehicle. The Silver Dart is an autonomous hypersonic glider designed to operate as an orbital vehicle. It is designed to double as an unmanned or manned spacecraft and can provide for a long duration platform in orbit. Two matching one-quarter scale Silver Darts will fly this year as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) with Canadian pilots at the controls.

The sub-scale Silver Darts are turbojet powered all metal construction research vehicles flown from a mobile flight deck located in a launch control trailer. Each Silver Dart is capable of 300 + knots with retractable custom built undercarriage and flight control system. One Silver Dart, 0.25-B is designed to accommodate rocket propulsion and will test rocket plume and aerodynamic interactions at the base of the vehicle. Both Darts have deployable switchblade wings and will test a variety of airfoil sections and plan-form designs. (3/7)

Air Force to Widen Access to Detailed Space Surveillance Data (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Air Force has agreed to provide wider access to its high-accuracy catalog showing the whereabouts of orbital debris and operational satellites as part of an effort to enable commercial and non-U.S. government satellite operators to better avoid in-orbit collisions, according to U.S. Air Force officials. The new policy, whose exact contours are not yet known, reflects recognition by the Air Force that a failure to stem orbital collisions of the kind that destroyed an operational Iridium mobile communications satellite Feb. 10 ultimately could render certain orbits of high strategic and public service value unusable for decades. (3/7)

NASA to Rebuild Review Boards to Eliminate Conflicts of Interest (Source: Space News)
NASA is revamping six expert panels created to conduct independent reviews of its human spaceflight hardware-development programs following an internal auditor's finding that each committee had at least one member with a vested interest in efforts they were assessing. The panel members are at risk of violating U.S. procurement laws forbidding potential contract bidders from viewing internal agency information not available to the public, according to a report prepared a NASA assistant inspector general. NASA has suspended meetings of the so-called standing review boards while the agency rebuilds their memberships. But the report said the issue already had caused the agency to terminate a contract for the next-generation spacesuit amid allegations of "procurement irregularities," and warned that a bid solicitation for a major Constellation ground processing contract set for release this spring could face suspicion of procurement law violations. (3/7)

Tight Budgets Could Create New Openings for Secondary Payloads (Source: Space News)
When NASA launched the Kepler space telescope, the agency also sent aloft 300 kilograms of excess capacity that could have been filled by small satellites. That's not unusual. An estimated 16,000 kilograms of excess capacity will be launched by NASA and the military during the next five years, according to government and industry officials gathered at a conference on aerospace collaboration. "We leave literally tons of capacity on the table," said a NASA official. Managers overseeing major space missions have no incentive to take on secondary payloads, government and industry officials said.

In recent years, space companies large and small have developed an extensive array of equipment designed to make it faster and easier to add secondary payloads to contracted launches. United Launch Alliance (ULA) is developing five different types of standard adapters to allow satellites ranging from 10 kilograms to 500 kilograms to ride into space on Atlas and Delta rockets. ULA also redesigned the launch vehicle avionics, separating the primary mission avionics from those of the smaller satellites. That change will enable customers to add secondary payloads after the avionics for the primary spacecraft have been completed.

This is critical because secondary payloads will never be widely accepted by program managers until they can be added to a mission in a way that does not interfere with the primary mission. Design Net Engineering is marketing an auxiliary payload adapter for SpaceX Falcon rockets. The Pentagon's Operationally Responsive Space program office has awarded a $500,000 contract to Design Net and InStar Engineering to draft specifications for secondary payloads, including size, weight and resonance frequency, to ensure they do not interfere with the primary mission. The contract also calls for Design Net and InStar to write a step-by-step guide for testing and integration of secondary payloads. (3/7)

NASA Addressing Cost, Schedule Overruns (Source: Space News)
NASA's acting administrator, Chris Scolese, told a congressional panel that the space agency recognizes it has failed to adequately predict cost and schedules for major missions, but that steps are being taken to resolve the problem within one to two years. "We don't have to live with consistent cost overruns," he said. "We have to train our people to recognize when estimates are too optimistic. We have to monitor performance. And we have to put tools in place so we catch [problems] early enough so they don't have large cost impacts."

It has been particularly difficult for NASA officials to estimate the cost of manned flight missions, Scolese said, because so few projects have been undertaken and because these programs extend over decades. "We don't have strong historical data," he said. As a result, NASA was unable to provide GAO with specific cost estimates for the Ares 1 rocket and Orion capsule. Instead, officials told GAO the entire Ares program is expected to cost between $17 billion and $20 billion while Orion is expected to cost between $20 billion and $29 billion.

In spite of these budgetary uncertainties, Scolese told the committee that the space agency remains committed to ending shuttle flights in 2010 and concentrating on the Ares and Orion programs. "From a stability and risk standpoint, having a fixed date allows us to begin transitioning people and resources to the next program," Scolese said. Another witness at the hearingadvised that the U.S. government should consider making improvements to launch facilities and the surrounding infrastructure. "We have to ensure that facilities are being used in the most efficient way to serve multiple users," Pulliam said. (3/7)

EU and ESA at Odds Over Size of Galileo Cost Overrun (Source: Space News)
The European Commission and the European Space Agency (ESA) disagree over the amount of a cost overrun during the in-orbit validation phase of the Galileo SatNav program. This portion includes the construction of four test satellites to be launched in 2010, plus a network of ground installations to be used throughout Galileo's service life. After months of negotiating with industry, and winning industry agreement to absorb part of the overrun, ESA concluded that the in-orbit validation phase is over budget by about 375 million euros ($475 million) that the European Commission will owe.

ESA and the European Commission have agreed that it is the commission, which has agreed to pay 3.4 billion euros to build and deploy Galileo between now and 2013, that will absorb the cost overrun as well. But the European Parliament has made clear that the 3.4 billion euro budget will not be increased, for whatever reason. ESA officials said they had hired their own auditors before concluding that the 375 million euro figure is correct, but the European Commission is far from convinced. (3/7)

Judge: $21M Space Tourist Lawsuit Can Proceed (Source: AP)
A federal judge is allowing Japanese millionaire Daisuke Enomoto to go ahead with his lawsuit against Space Adventures Ltd., which he says unfairly denied him a ride into outer space. Enomoto wanted to be the world's fourth "space tourist" and paid $21 million to Space Adventures for brokering a ride with the Russian space agency. Space Adventures says Enomoto was medically disqualified in 2006 because of kidney stones. Enomoto says the kidney stones were a pretext to boot him off the mission because he refused demands from the company for more money. While the judge is allowing the case to proceed, he tossed out some of Enomoto's claims. (3/7)

Can Guns Fire in Space? (Source: Popular Science)
The explosion that fires a bullet does require oxygen for combustion, but it doesn’t draw it solely from the air. No. Some oxygen comes from an ingredient in the gunpowder itself, called saltpeter or potassium nitrate. The spark produced when the gun’s hammer strikes the cartridge ignites the saltpeter and converts the oxygen in it to its gaseous state. This explosion generates a shock wave that propels the bullet out of the gun-—no atmosphere necessary.

Before unloading your six-shooter in space, get a good grip on something solid. Thanks to Newton’s Third Law—-that’s the one concerning reciprocal actions—-the kickback that normally throws your arm backward after you fire a round would instead send your entire body flying backward. Because there’s nothing to slow the bullet in a zero-gravity vacuum, it would travel much faster and farther than it does on Earth. And so would you. Also, the cold temperature in space might prevent the lead bullet from conforming to the grooves in a rifle’s barrel and cause it to get stuck. (3/7)

Who Will Be the First to Return to the Moon? (Source: Technology Review)
The U.S., China, Russia, and India have all revealed plans; now Europe is joining the race. At the heart of future space exploration lies the feat of returning humans to the moon. The United States, China, and (within the past year) India have all made clear their intentions for manned moon missions by 2020. The Russians claim 2025. And now, Europe is outlining its plans and calling on industry to help develop lunar projects. Last year, the European Space Agency (ESA) approved funding for launching a lunar lander between 2017 and 2020. (3/6)

Moon-Smashing Probes: Are the Data Worth the Damage? (Source: National Geographic)
Even as the dust settles from China's deliberate March 1 crash of its Chang'e-1 lunar orbiter, NASA scientists are readying their own moon-smashing probe in the hopes of dislodging lunar ice. The new NASA mission, set to lift off next month, will advance a decades-long tradition of bullying the moon in the name of science—and some experts are urging extra caution for the future. Known as the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), NASA's craft will gouge a 100-foot-wide (30-meter-wide) hole in the moon, letting fly 220 tons of material.

Such violent impacts are par for the course—the moon is already littered with more than two dozen landers, orbiters, and rovers launched since the 1960s. But as the new international space race heats up, there's a growing movement to balance scientific ambition with its possible consequences. "Any time you crash, obviously you destroy some area of lunar surface for any kind of scientific study, and that's not good," said NASA's lunar sample curator Gary Lofgren. (Read more about NASA's lunar sample collection.) Last year the International Council for Science's committee on space research imposed new documentation requirements to maintain the credibility of future discoveries on the moon. (3/6)

NASA Launches Planet Hunter (Source: Al Jazeera)
NASA has successfully launched a telescope into space to look for Earth-like planets around other stars and determine whether there are places that could support human-like life beyond our solar system. The Kepler telescope, named after the German 17th-century astrophysicist, was sent into space on Friday on a Delta-2 rocket from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport in Florida. It will spend three and a half years searching roughly 100,000 stars, measuring their brightness and looking for signs that might signify orbiting planets. (3/7)

Japan Foresees Manned Mission to Moon by 2030 (Source: Mainichi Daily News)
The government's Strategic Headquarters for Space Policy has presented a new space exploration plan that would see Japanese astronauts landing on the moon by 2030, a major reversal of previous policy. The headquarters, an office of the Cabinet, presented its new vision to an internal expert panel, pushing the development of manned spacecraft as a major technical opportunity. Previously, Government policy held that Japan would undertake no independent manned space missions "for the foreseeable future." (3/7)

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