November 18 News Items

What's the Environmental Impact of Going Into Space? (Source: Slate)
We hear so much about the environmental impacts of transportation. What about space travel? How do rockets affect the atmosphere? Each flight into space does have a small impact on the planet it leaves behind, but—-for the moment, at least—-these launchings are very rare. Only a couple of rockets blast off every week around the world. As a result, space travel doesn't register on most environmentalists' radars.

One issue that might deserve some attention has to do with the depletion of stratospheric ozone. Rocket engines emit reactive gases that cause ozone molecules to break apart. They also discharge microscopic particles of soot and aluminum oxide, which may increase the rate at which those gases wreak havoc. Each variety of rocket propellant delivers its own blend of ozone-depleting substances: Solid propellants, for example, are more damaging than liquid ones, though exactly how much is unclear. Engine design matters, too. To make matters worse, spacecraft dump some of these pollutants directly into the upper and middle stratosphere, where they can start causing damage immediately. (11/18)

Spy Agency Changes Spark Mistrust (Source: DOD Buzz)
Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair should sign by Dec. 1 a document laying out new responsibilities for the National Reconnaissance Office, builder and operator of America’s spy satellites. This will set in motion the first substantial changes to the NRO charter since 1965.

The new document reportedly lays out eight core ideas meant to guide the NRO and will become the foundation for a new NRO charter, which most intelligence community and Pentagon officials feel strongly must be updated. But the document’s main guiding principle has some observers worried that it will give the NRO too much power, particularly over some Air Force satellite systems.

The key here is just what will the NRO build and operate. One phrase in the statement of principles worries these observers: “overhead reconnaissance systems.” This, said our source, “could include Air Force systems,” and thus gives the spy agency powers it currently does not possess. That worries military space advocates. They worry that the NRO could take budgetary and programmatic control over some systems currently controlled by the services, especially the Air Force. (11/18)

U.S. and China Face Mounting Orbital Debris Hazards (Source:
Quick-thinking Chinese ground controllers were able to maneuver a high-value Chinese spacecraft out of the path of space debris marking the first such save by China, demonstrating the country's maturing space tracking and command and control systems.

In the U.S., major efforts are also underway to improve and exercise debris see-and-avoid measures. The U.S. military says it is now tracking 800 maneuverable satellites for possible collisions and expects to add 500 more non-maneuvering satellites by early 2010. (11/18)

Hatches Open and Shuttle and Space Station Crews Get to Work (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Hatches between space shuttle Atlantis and the International Space Station were opened and now there are 12 people aboard the orbiting outpost. The six shuttle astronauts floated into the station and exchanged hugs and handshakes with the six full-time station residents. The opening of the hatch also brings to an end Nicole Stott’s time as space station flight engineer. Stott will now officials be part of the Atlantis crew. If all goes according to plan and Atlantis lands in Florida on Nov. 27, Stott will have spent a total of 91 days in space. According to NASA, she will be the last station crew member to return to Earth on the space shuttle. From now on Russian Soyuz spacecraft will be used for future station crew launches and landings.

Editor's Note: Stott is an Embry-Riddle graduate who will also fly aboard the last Space Shuttle flight, currently planned for next year. Interestingly, Stott is married to Christopher Stott, a co-founder and board member of Excalibur Almaz and Odyssey Moon, based on the Isle of Man. (11/18)

India Reaches Out to Lonely Iran, May Offer Satellite Launch (Source: Indian Express)
New Delhi plans to woo Tehran with offers of greater intelligence sharing, revival of defense training and a possible launch of the latter’s satellite but will remain non-committal on the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline. One “big gesture” by India at the talks will be an offer to launch Iran’s commercial satellite through an ISRO vehicle for which the technical details — sent by the Iranians in July — have been sent to Indian Space Research Organization for “assessing the nature of the satellite”. The Mesbah, designed to travel in low earth orbit to assist in data communication over three years, was first timed for a launch by a Russian Cosmos-3 satellite-carrier but that did not happen. Last week, satellite maker Carlo Gavazzi Space Company of Italy refuted Iran’s claim that it would be launching the satellite after March 2011. (11/16)

SaveSpace Campaign Reaches Milestone With Letters to Obama (Sources: NASA Watch, SaveSpace)
In a video posted at, Space Florida President Frank DiBello claims that he visited the White House and they asked "what they could do with all the letters" that they received. DiBello says that they claimed to have received 500,000 letters and that "this has had a devastating impact in Washington that has been recognized". (11/18)

Star Goes Rogue in Untimely Collision (Source: Discovery)
It's a solid doomsday prediction that in about 5 billion years the dying sun will expand as a bloated red giant and engulf the Earth. But imagine if in just a few weeks the middle-aged sun suddenly ballooned out to the orbit of Saturn and immediately vaporized Earth and most of the other planets in the solar system! And, even before this happened, imagine that every morning you awoke the sun was ever more sweltering until it began evaporating the oceans, spontaneously starting forests ablaze, and melting asphalt!

This sounds like the stuff of a far-out science fiction movie. But astronomers think that they actually witnessed such an even in 2002. A sun-like star on the edge of our galaxy abruptly grew 600,000 times brighter in a few weeks and ballooned 1,000 times its diameter. Alien astronomers on neighboring galaxies would have dutifully noted it as it briefly becoming one of the brightest stars in our Milky Way galaxy. (11/18)

UCF Professor Helps Launch New Space-Travel Industry (Source: UCF)
More than 40 years after man first set foot on the moon, space travel remains for its many fans a lifelong dream that is rarely realized. Joshua E. Colwell, an associate professor of planetary science at the University of Central Florida, is about to help change that. In the past three months, Mr. Colwell and a few other university scientists have begun working with a group of small companies that are close to launching a new generation of privately built spacecraft that would let human passengers routinely travel beyond Earth’s atmosphere to the beginning of outer space. The companies bear such names as Space Adventures, SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, and Orbital Outfitters. They expect their flights, at about $200,000 a ticket, to cater mostly to wealthy tourists, at least at first. (11/18)

NASA Ames Supercomputer Ranks Among World's Fastest (Source: NASA)
After a recent upgrade, NASA’s premiere supercomputer located at Ames Research Center has garnered the sixth spot on the Top-500 list of the world's most powerful computers. The Pleiades supercomputer is an SGI® Altix® ICE system with 14,080 Intel® Xeon® quad-core processors (56,320 cores, 110 racks) running at 544 trillion floating point operations per second (teraflops) on the LINPACK benchmark, the industry standard for measuring a system’s floating point computing power. One of the most powerful general-purpose supercomputers ever built, Pleiades also features the world's largest InfiniBand® interconnect network. (11/18)

Is This the End for Human Space Flight? (Source: New Scientist)
So we won't be going to Mars, not in my lifetime anyway. And not back to the moon either, not for decades. Buzz Lightyear fantasies are dashed. Don't believe the spin - the dream is over. OK, the Augustine panel's review of NASA's human space-flight plans outlines several options. Mars may be out, but the moon is still in with a shout, and plans to go to the Lagrange points and even the asteroids are mooted. Technically, all this is probably doable. But it won't happen, and here's why. The problem is not money: the US can afford an extra $3 billion a year. It is psychological. NASA, the only game in town, has no idea what space is for, and no audacity.

There certainly was audacity in 1961, when JFK made his lunar pledge. The key line was not the crazy bit about landing a man on the moon, it was the hubristic promise to do so by 1970. If Wernher Von Braun had insisted the moon was unreachable before 1975, they probably would never have gone. Why? Because by 1975 Kennedy's presidency would be ancient history. Some other guy would get all the glory as Old Glory was hammered into the lunar regolith. Of course that happened anyway, but Kennedy's reasoning must have been that, even in 1969, he would be able to bask in the glory of a successful moon shot.

It may simply be that space exploration is incompatible with US democracy. A Mars shot would take four presidential terms at least. No president will ask taxpayers to fund something he won't be around to take credit for. Another big problem is the legacy of some terrible decisions that left NASA with the expensive, dangerous space shuttle and a white-elephant space station that manages the feat of making space seem as dull as cardboard. The whole thing is a mess. Click here to view the editorial. (11/18)

Atlas V & Delta IV Get New Launch Dates (Source: Florida Today)
The stalled launch of an Atlas V rocket is being rescheduled for early next Monday and a Delta IV rocket also has a new launch date: Dec. 2. The 19-story Atlas and its payload -- an Intelsat commercial communications satellite -- now is slated to blast off from Launch Complex 41 at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport at 12:50 a.m. Monday. The launch window will extend until 2:20 a.m.

The Delta IV rocket and its payload -- a military communications satellite -- now are scheduled to blast off from Launch Complex 37 at 7:21 p.m. Dec. 2. The launch window that day will extend until 8:41 p.m. The mission had been set for Nov. 19 but the satellite payload had to be returned to a processing facility in south Titusville so critical batteries could be recharged. (11/18)

Hopes Stirring at NASA for Ares Engineering Vindication (Source: Popular Mechanics)
When NASA released news of engineering troubles surrounding the under-construction Ares I rocket's propensity to shake violently, critics were quick to jeer. But now NASA engineers at Marshall Flight are cautiously optimistic that the fears have been overstated after reviewing early data from the Ares I-X's test flight. "The data is very preliminary but the trends are very good," says Pat Lampton, the chief engineer for the first stage. As the Obama administration mulls over the future of manned spaceflight, making any positive test data discoveries especially well-timed.

A NASA team in 2007, looking at ground test data and shuttle launches, determined that the vibrations caused by the first stage of the rocket could damage hardware and disorient, or even injure astronauts. The vibrations were assumed to be worse in a 5-segment booster than a 4-segment boosters used on the space shuttle. However, that amplification has not been recorded during the Ares I-X test flight. "We've looked and we can't find it," Lampton says. "The physics are real but the amplification problem may not be as bad as we feared." (11/18)

Satellite Firms Moving Ahead on Orbital Database (Source: Space News)
Three of the world’s largest commercial satellite operators have issued a request for proposals for a company to design and operate a database on satellite positions, planned maneuvers and signal transmissions with a view to reducing the chance of orbital collisions and frequency interference. The three companies — Intelsat, SES and Inmarsat — expect to select a contractor as early as December to create the Space Data Center, to be located at the newly established Space Data Association (SDA) in Britain’s Isle of Man.

If it is successful in persuading other satellite operators to overcome their natural hesitation in handing over sensitive corporate operating details, the SDA would become the satellite industry’s first global effort to address the related issues of space situational awareness and signal interference. (11/18)

Russia Could Delay Maiden Launch of Angara Rocket (Source: RIA Novosti)
The maiden launch of Russia's new Angara carrier rocket could be postponed for at least one year due to shortage of funds from the Defense Ministry, the top Russian space official said Wednesday. The Angara rocket, currently under development by the Khrunichev center, is designed to put heavy payloads into orbit. The launch facilities were expected to be finished by 2010, and the first launch had been originally scheduled for 2011.

"There is a serious delay in the construction of launch facilities [for Angara] due to the shortage of financing from the Defense Ministry. We are doing everything we can on our part," said Anatoly Perminov, the head of the Federal Space Agency Roscosmos. Perminov said that the ministry has not halted financing completely, but significantly reduced it, resulting in the delay to construction this year. Angara is a modular launch system, planned for a capability similar to the US EELV rockets. (11/18)

Pentagon Takes Aim at Growing Number of Contract Protests (Source: AIA)
Last year saw a record 611 challenges to defense contract awards, and the Pentagon is reviewing its contracting procedures in an effort to reverse the trend. According to the General Accounting Office, contract protests surged 24% in 2008, including high-profile efforts to build new aerial refueling tankers and search-and-rescue helicopters. A Pentagon official refused to speculate whether his department might ask Congress to rewrite the 25-year-old law that made such protests possible. (11/18)

Satmex Reports 7.3 Increase in 3Q Revenue (Source: Space News)
Struggling satellite fleet operator Satmex of Mexico reported increased revenue for the three months ending Sept. 30 and also added to its cash balance as it continued to look for a way to finance a new satellite without violating its debt covenants. Satmex, which like other satellite operators in North America is facing a decline in business from satellite broadband provider Hughes Network Systems, said backlog dropped by 7 percent, to $240.3 million as of Sept. 30, compared where it stood June 30. (11/18)

NASA, Microsoft Take Web Surfers to Mars (Source: AFP)
NASA and Microsoft launched an interactive website that allows Web surfers to become Mars explorers. The "Be a Martian" website invites members of the public to help scientists perform such research tasks as improving maps of the red planet. "We're at a point in history where everyone can be an explorer," Doug McCuistion, director of NASA's Mars Exploration Program, said in a statement. "People worldwide can expand the specialized efforts of a few hundred Mars mission team members and make authentic contributions of their own," he said. Users can, for example, count craters on Mars, a task NASA said had posed a challenge in the past because of the vast numbers involved. (11/18)

Little Progress in Freeing a Rover on Mars (Source: New York Times)
The NASA rover Spirit, stuck in sand on Mars, tried to move Tuesday for the first time since May. In less than a second, it stopped. Cautious mission managers had put tight constraints on the Spirit’s movement to ensure that it did not drive itself into a deeper predicament. Because the uncertainty in its tilt was more than one degree, the rover called it a day. Spirit awaits new instructions. The commands to the rover were for it to make two forward motions, rotating its wheels three revolutions each time. If the rover were on solid ground, that would have carried it about five yards. (11/18)

Editorial: Can We Boldly Go? (Source: Philadelphia Inquirer)
Maybe someone should stick a copy of The Right Stuff into the DVD player tomorrow night on President Obama's long flight back from his mission to Asia. That inspirational movie about America's first astronauts might help Obama make a decision about the future of manned space flight. A blue-ribbon panel has told him that the future will be bleak unless more money is spent.

In a recession, such an assessment would appear to be fatal. But some creative thinking might lead to a different conclusion. With his mind on his whirlwind trip to Tokyo, Singapore, Shanghai, Beijing, and Seoul, Obama probably hasn't had time to appreciate last week's news that the presence of water on the moon has been confirmed. The discovery ironically came only months after former astronauts in the old Apollo program, which first sent men to the moon 40 years ago, had urged Obama to give up on plans to go back there and instead concentrate on a manned mission to Mars. (11/18)

Kranz: NASA Needs a Tune-up (Source: Wichita Eagle)
It took America a decade to go to the moon the first time. "We could do it in much less than that, five to seven years — if we had the will," said Gene Kranz, a NASA pioneer who led the ground team that guided America's astronauts to the moon and back. "Will is the key. Without will, you're powerless." Kranz, who spoke to a crowd of about 1,200 on Tuesday at the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce annual meeting and dinner, called the space program "the economic engine of our country." But, he said it's an engine in need of a tune-up.

The space program of the 1960s and 1970s "unleashed a generation of young Americans to step forward" and "take the hard route" of math, science and engineering. Today, Americans are "not as innovative as we used to be," Kranz said. One of his biggest concerns, he said, is that unemployment among technical and science professions is higher than the general unemployment rate of about 10 percent. (11/18)

Editorial: 2009 - A Space Travesty (Source: Daily Evergreen)
NASA is wasting time and money on moon exploration. Breaking news: NASA’s October attack on the moon has revealed the location of water beneath the lunar surface. I, however, am not excited. NASA plays a key role in improving human understanding of the universe, but continuing to focus attention on the moon harms the agency’s creditability. We are finished with the moon. We have gazed at it, walked on it, driven on it and now blown it up. It is time to look past the moon.

NASA’s official statement claims, “The discovery opens a new chapter in our understanding of the moon.” What the statement fails to answer is how this affects us. We already know the moon was once part of Earth, broken off most likely by a large meteor strike. We are well aware of how important the moon is to our ocean tides. We already knew that ice was on the moon, hinting that there could be water buried underneath. This is no great discovery. This is merely a confirmation of a theory that ultimately has no bearing on the human race.

This discovery sparked talk of “future lunar exploration,” which, in the minds of the average citizen, means astronauts walking on the moon again. Perhaps, it even means setting up a moon colony. We all need to stop believing science fiction. Unless NASA is hiding secret technology meant to allow us to easily live and breathe on the moon, there is [sic] not going to be any moon colonies anytime soon. If NASA is keeping this technology a secret, it must let us know. (11/18)

The Case for 'Telepresence' in Space (Source: EE Times)
Telepresence, a logical derivative of the telephone, is an emerging technology that can enable a human to perform physical work, or take action, at a remote location. Telepresence could be developed to enable a human on Earth to function in, and experience, a distant space environment such as Mars as effectively, for all practical purposes, as actually going there but without going there.

A telepresence mission for the human exploration and development of Mars would then be a valid, and much less expensive, substitute for a manned mission. The fundamental problem making manned missions prohibitively expensive is that the transportation, sustenance and safe return of living human bodies off of Earth is extremely difficult. Mars has therefore only been explored by what are presently called unmanned robotic missions -— an unfortunate terminology. It is unfortunate because the word "robot" is suggestive of an alien being such as R2D2 from Star Wars, while the term "unmanned" seems to imply the absence of a human. The false impression is that the exploration is not really human exploration. (11/18)

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