September 24 News Items

Las Cruces Cancels Rocket Racing League Lease (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
The city's relationship with a Florida-based company that had planned to bring a new rocket racing league to the city-owned airport appears to have come to an end. The Las Cruces City Council on Monday unanimously approved terminating a lease agreement it had with the Rocket Racing League for four parcels at the Las Cruces International Airport, citing the company's failure to fulfill the terms of the lease. City councilors expressed regret that what seemed a promising, although risky, proposal did not materialize.

"I think we all supported the dialogue around this project," said Councilor Gil Jones. "No one, as I recall, was opposed to the mission of RRL. But I think everyone recognized it was a risky venture. I hope they continue to find success elsewhere." The Rocket Racing League first entered into a 20-year lease agreement with the city in April 2006. The Orlando-based company had intended to build hangars and facilities there, from which it would base a competitive league featuring manned rocket-powered aircraft. (9/24)

New Mexico Spaceport Tax Not Adding Up for Area Schools (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
Educational dollars from a spaceport sales tax in Doña Ana County have yet to actually reach schools because of a dispute between county commissioners and school officials about how the money should be spent. County commissioners in June had been set to consider a contract with the area's three school districts about the tax. But the commission never acted on the measure, saying it didn't contain specific enough language about how the dollars would be used.

Las Cruces school board member Chuck Davis said he had the impression, around the time the spaceport tax was proposed, that the educational portion would be divided among the districts based on student count and that the commission would "recognize our expertise in determining what was required or necessary" in spending the money. But Davis said membership on the county commission has changed since then, and "they think their job is to tell us what to do and when to do it." (9/24)

Omega Envoy Teams With Florida Universities for Google Lunar X-Prize (Source: Omega Envoy)
The Omega Envoy Project has added the University of Central Florida (UCF) to its team for the only student-led entry in a $30 million Google Lunar X-Prize international competition. “Our main goal from the beginning was to involve as many state universities as we could to unite Florida in this common goal,” said Jason Dunn, Omega Envoy’s Engineering and Space Concepts director. “With UCF officially on board we are one giant leap closer to the moon.“

UCF will provide faculty members and senior design students, facilities in the UCF Research Park and other resources to assist in Omega Envoy’s lunar rover development program. In addition to the support of several key engineering faculty members, the UCF engineering team that developed the self-powered car that competed in the national finals of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Urban Challenge two years ago will help with design of the rover. The Omega Envoy team added Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) several months ago to support the design and development of the lunar lander. 4Frontiers Corp. is also a sponsor. Visit for information. (9/24)

Craters Show 1970s Viking Lander Missed Martian Ice by Inches (Source: WIRED)
Meteorites that crashed into the Martian surface last year exposed buried ice to the digital eyes of NASA spacecraft. Scientists have used those images to deduce that there is a lot more ice on Mars — and that it’s closer to the equator — than previously thought. In fact, subterranean Martian ice should extend all the way down beyond 48 degrees of latitude, according to the model, which was published in Science Thursday. That happens to be where the Viking Lander 2 was in operation from 1976 to 1980. As part of its science program, the Lander dug a trench about 6 inches deep. The new model predicts that if it had gone an extra 3.5 inches — a bit longer than a credit card — it would have hit ice. It’s difficult to project backwards in time what that discovery would have done to the Martian science program, but its impact could have been large. (9/24)

NASA Tempers Enthusiasm After Ares-1 Motor Test (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
NASA and ATK's Ares-1 first-stage motor test two weeks ago in the Utah desert generated enough heat to turn sand to glass. Preliminary results were, in the words of the engineers, "outstanding": the five-segment rocket motor -- derived from the space shuttle's four-segment solid-rocket boosters -- produced 3.6 million pounds of thrust and was far quieter and less shaky than engineers expected. There were early claims by engineers and Ares I supporters that the test proved that that Ares I rocket won't shake violently during its ascent to orbit -- as had been predicted -- and that the shaking problem, called thrust oscillation, is no longer an issue for NASA.

But as the data is studied further, engineers and managers for NASA and ATK say those early conclusions are overstated. In fact, NASA's associate administrator for space operations, Bill Gerstenmaier, told NASA officials and contractors not to repeat the claims, especially to members of Congress, because, "That is not what the test showed." NASA engineers are continuing to work on designing a system of springs and dampers to counteract the possible effects of thrust oscillation that in extreme cases could incapacitate or injure the crew riding in the Orion capsule at the top of the rocket. However, the first data from the rocket test does suggest that this system might not need to be as robust as first thought. (9/24)

Iridium Launches Big Comeback Bid (Source: Arizona Republic)
Iridium Satellite, the once-bankrupt provider of satellite-phone services with strong Arizona roots, is a publicly traded company again. Shareholders of New York City-based public shell company GHL Acquisition Corp. on Wednesday approved its $400 million acquisition of Iridium. The deal is expected to close Tuesday, but GHL, which has been trading on the American Stock Exchange, will be listed on the Nasdaq Stock Market starting today under the symbol "IRDM." Iridium's name has changed to Iridium Communications Inc. The transaction provides Iridium "with the financial foundation" needed to fund the launch of a new satellite network into space planned for 2014, Chief Executive Officer Matt Desch said. (9/24)

Delta-2 Launch of Defense Satellites Now Set For Friday (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
NASA delayed Thursday's launch of a ULA Delta-2 rocket carrying experimental missile-tracking satellites by at least 24 hours so workers could repair a small fuel leak at pad 17-B at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. The leak in the kerosene fuel lines was discovered last night during preparations for Thursday's launch attempt. Workers isolated the leak and made the repairs early Thursday. With the leak fixed, the launch has been pushed back at least one day, to no earlier than Friday at 8 a.m. EDT. Weather should be good for the launch, with 70 percent favorable conditions. (9/24)

SpaceX Clarifies November Launch Plans (Source: SpaceX)
"We are now only a few months away from having the inaugural Falcon 9 launch vehicle on its launch pad at Cape Canaveral and ready to fly! The actual launch date will depend on a variety of factors, including weather and the overall launch schedule at the Cape, so that is a little harder to predict. Based on prior experience, launch could be anywhere from one to three months after Falcon 9 is integrated at the Cape in November.

This initial test flight will carry our Dragon spacecraft qualification unit, providing us with valuable aerodynamic and performance data for the Falcon 9 configuration that will fly on the following COTS and CRS missions for NASA. The second Falcon 9 flight will be the first flight of Dragon under the NASA COTS (Commercial Orbital Transportation Services) program, where we will demonstrate Dragon's orbital maneuvering, communication and reentry capabilities." (9/24)

SpaceX Lays Out Process for Dragon Crew Capability (Source: SpaceX)
Though it will initially be used to transport cargo, the Dragon spacecraft was designed from the beginning to transport crew. Almost all the necessary launch vehicle and spacecraft systems employed in the cargo version of Dragon will also be employed in the crew version of Dragon. As such, Dragon's first cargo missions will provide valuable flight data that will be used in preparation for future crewed flight. This allows for a very aggressive development timeline—-approximately three years from the time funding is provided to go from cargo to crew.

The three year timeframe is driven by development of the launch escape system. This includes 18 months to complete development and qualification of the escape engine, in parallel with structures design, guidance, navigation & control, and supporting subsystems. Another 12 months will be required to perform various pad and flight abort tests, which are slated to take place at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Under this timeline, the first crew launch would take place 30 months from the receipt of funding, leaving six months of schedule margin to allow for the unexpected. (9/24)

NASA Cancels Commercial Human Rating Study for In-House Work (Source: Flight Global)
On Sep. 8 NASA began a procurment process for a human rating study for its commercial crew and cargo program and then abruptly canceled it on Sep. 15. Contracts for the work would have been limited to Orbital Sciences Corp. and SpaceX, as winners of NASA's earlier Commercial Resupply Services contracts. NASA said: "We received inputs from a large number of aerospace companies that they would also like to participate in the Human Rating studies. We did not have enough Recovery Act money to pay for everyone [so we decided to] do the work in-house with civil servants and their existing support contractors. When the Human Rating products are completed in approximately March 2010, NASA plans to release the products for industry-wide review and comment." (9/24)

Bolden Suggests New Ares-1 Approach (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
New NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden may be backing away from making the wholesale changes to the agency's manned space program that were advocated by a presidential space panel, according to NASA insiders and administration officials. Bolden told senior agency managers that he was considering recommending to President Obama that NASA keep working on its controversial Ares-1 rocket as a "technology demonstrator" — a development project — for the more powerful Ares V rocket still on the drawing board.

Bolden's remarks followed a presentation by NASA managers that showed how, with some changes, its Constellation program of Ares-1 and Ares-5 rockets could appear to fit in with the Augustine Panel's findings. But one high-ranking NASA official who listened in to the meeting — but wasn't authorized to talk about it — said the conversation was "unfortunately caught up in the fantasy" that NASA would be getting an annual $3 billion increase to its current $18 billion budget — a hike that administration officials say is highly unlikely.

Critics are worried that Bolden has been "hijacked" by Ares supporters who are trying to present their slightly modified version of Constellation as real change. "This sounds like the average Washington bureaucracy trying to convince their political leadership that they really are changing, while basically continuing to do what they are comfortable doing," said Washington-based space consultant James Muncy. (9/24)

Bolden Meets with Florida Elected Officials (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
On Wednesday, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden met with several Florida lawmakers, and one participant said the new NASA boss did not seem to have any firm ideas of how to proceed. "I left the meeting unconvinced that there is a guiding vision for the future of manned spaceflight in the United States," said U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Bartow. "I don't mean to imply that he [Bolden] is being evasive; I just don't think he knows." Putnam said several key questions are unanswered: how to replace the space shuttle; how to close the gap between the shuttle and its replacement; and how to ensure U.S. supremacy in space. (9/24)

House Extends FAA Bill Through End of Year (Source: AIA)
For the seventh time in two years, the House has taken temporary action to keep the Federal Aviation Administration operating -- voting Wednesday to extend the FAA bill through the end of the year. Lawmakers said the extension was necessary because they need to focus their efforts on health care reform. (9/24)

Editorial: U.S. Cannot Responsibly Avoid a Significant Investment in Space (Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer)
Since the moment Neil Armstrong and Ed win Aldrin lifted off to come home from the moon in 1969, NASA has faced a problem that no engineer, no astronaut, no administrator has been able to solve: how to sell politicians of constrained vision on the necessity of exploring a limitless universe. Human space exploration is an expensive "product," and over the many years since the end of the Apollo project, NASA's sales force has taken the path of least resistance: a space station here, an orbiting telescope there, a couple of rovers tooling around Mars. And really, NASA had no choice.

The pull just hasn't been there. No charismatic president has drawn the country into his vision of pioneering a new frontier, the way John F. Kennedy did, at a time when U.S. rockets had an unsettling tendency of blowing up on the launchpad. The push hasn't been there, either. The U.S. won the sprint to the moon against the Soviet Union. Then the West won the Cold War. When the defense-related urgency of holding the "high ground" dissipated, NASA's budget followed suit.

Now President Obama has in hand an advisory report saying that unless funding is increased by $3 billion a year, NASA's human exploration program will wither...In light of today's depressed economy and growing federal debt, it may be hard for most people to imagine reaching for the stars, and hard for politicians to imagine proposing such a thing. And yet, that is what should happen. (9/24)

Space Geeks Can Now Own Their Own Space Shuttle (Source: ASF)
Moo-ve over cows, as new statues are parading in… more than twenty uniquely designed 8-foot fiberglass Space Shuttle Statues will soon be up for bid in the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation’s (ASF) Final Destination Online Auction on Oct. 1 – 8 and are available now for viewing at Similar to Cows on Parade, the statues were part of a community-wide art program, Shuttles Orbiting the Space Coast, which launched in 2008 after 35 local companies sponsored the statues and artists adorned each one. After an 8-month tour around Florida’s Space Coast, the Shuttle Statues are ready for auction awaiting their final flight coordinates. The program was a fundraiser for the ASF and paid tribute to NASA's 50th Anniversary and its longest running manned vehicle – the Space Shuttle. (9/24)

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