December 22 News Items

Israeli Diamonds in Space - May Be a Satellite's Best Friend (Source: Israel National News)
Israeli diamonds now sparkle not only on the fingers of happy Jewish women but also amidst the twinkling stars, after the space shuttle Atlantis launched two fine specimens into outer space. Two diamonds cultivated by the Technion's Faculty of Chemistry will spend a year adorning Earth's orbit – roaming freely - after which time they will be returned to the Technion for studies of the damaging effects of the space environment, which may indicate their suitability in satellites. Diamond, nature's hardest material, typically stands up well to chemically erosive conditions. By studying the interaction between diamonds and the space environment, researchers are looking for a material which will endure years of harsh conditions in coatings for space satellites. (12/22)

Company Tests Rocket Engine for Affordable Access to Orbit for Small Satellites (Source: Huntsville Times)
Nowhere else but the Rocket City. Monday afternoon, in a trailer surrounded by cotton fields just west of Huntsville International Airport, a group gathered to watch the 5-second burn of a ground-breaking if not ground-shaking rocket engine. Orion Propulsion is developing it for the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command, which wants a low-cost, on-demand way to loft its new class of small "nanosatellites" into orbit so they don't have to wait for a piggyback ride into space aboard a larger launch vehicle. Besides providing the Army a low-cost, next-day satellite launch capability, the new engine could eventually open orbit to universities or private companies that don't have a good, inexpensive way into space. (12/22)

Can We Find a Living Planet by 2020? (Source: Discovery)
There was a lot of excitement last week about the discovery of a “waterworld” planet called GJ 1214b. This world belongs to an emerging class of planets dubbed “super-Earths.” It is 6.5 times Earth’s mass and nearly three times our diameter. Its mass, diameter and density suggest the planet is largely a ball of water with and icy/rocky core. The next big step is to chemically characterize the atmospheres of exoplanets. And this will inevitably lead us to the confirmation of life on other worlds -- presumably in stellar habitable zones.

Finding evidence for extraterrestrial life is a daunting task. First you need to measure and dissect the light reflected by the planet. Considering the parent star could be as much as 10 billion times brighter than the planet, it would be like trying to see a gnat crawling on the rim of a car headlight aimed at you. This is beyond the capabilities of the largest planned ground-based telescopes, and barely doable by immense space telescopes yet to be built. (12/22)

Russia to Start Research Into Spacecraft Nuclear Engines in 2010 (Source: RIA Novosti)
Russia will launch research into nuclear engines for spaceships from 2010, the head of the Federal Space Agency said. “Nuclear engines for spaceships are a very promising area. Such engines should be created to make flights to Mars and other planets, for example,” Anatoly Perminov said. Perminov earlier said that the development of Megawatt-class nuclear space power systems (MCNSPS) for manned spacecraft was crucial for Russia if the country wanted to maintain a competitive edge in the space race, including the exploration of the Moon and Mars. (12/22)

FAA Plans Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation (Source: FAA)
The Federal Aviation Administration is planning to set up a new university-based Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation (CST) next year. FAA would fund the center at $1 million per year, with additional funds coming from the host institution. A public meeting is planned on Feb. 9 to discuss the new center. Editor's Note: Embry-Riddle already leads one of the FAA's aviation-oriented Centers of Excellence, has established a Space Transportation Research & Development Institute (STRDI), and recently entered into an agreement with the FAA to support various space transportation research projects. (12/22)

Alabama Rep. Parker Griffith Switches Parties to GOP (Sources: CBS, Space Politics)
Rep. Parker Griffith, a freshman Democrat from Alabama, is switching parties to become a Republican. Some aren't surprised by Griffith's switch. He has voted against all major Democratic initiatives this year, including the stimulus, cap and trade and health care bills. He's also spoken out against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, saying that he would not vote for her to be speaker again.

"I have also been very concerned about support in Congress for our Defense and NASA programs...Since election to Congress I have fought hard to educate other members on the importance of a strong National Missile Defense program and that we must give our NASA programs more support if we are to maintain our lead in space. And while there are some great Democratic supporters of these programs I increasingly find that my allies in fighting for these initiatives come from within the Republican Party." (12/22)

Embry-Riddle Teams Fly High for Weightless Science (Source: NASA)
NASA has selected 28 undergraduate student teams to test their science experiments in simulated weightlessness. The teams were selected to fly in the summer of 2010 with NASA's Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities and Systems Engineering Educational Discovery (SEED) programs. The program provides a rare academic experience for undergraduate students to propose, design, fabricate, fly and evaluate a reduced-gravity experiment.

Two teams from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University were selected to participate in the Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program, along with teams from Utah State University, San Jacinto College North, the College of New Jersey, State University of New York at Buffalo, West Virginia University, Purdue University, Yale University, Austin Community College, the University of Washington, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and two teams from the University of Michigan. (12/22)

GAO Recommends Alternative Management of Space Station (Source: SPACErePORT)
A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report focuses on NASA's challenges in accommodating research aboard the International Space Station, part of which has been designated as a U.S. National Laboratory (ISSNL). Among other findings, the GAO recommends that NASA should manage the ISSNL in a manner similar to other U.S. National Laboratories, with a centralized management organization. "The NASA Administrator should establish a body that centrally oversees U.S. ISS research decision making, including the selection of all U.S. research to be conducted on board and ensuring that all U.S. ISS research is meritorious and valid. This body should also be able to strategically prioritize research proposed by many potential sponsors. The report can be downloaded here. Editor's Note: The GAO recommendation is consistent with an essay I developed on this topic, published in June 2009 by the Space Review, here. (12/22)

Centennial Challenges, Spaceport And Suborbital Science Receive Funds (Source: Space Daily)
NASA's Centennial Challenges prize program, FAA's Spaceports Infrastructure Grants initiative, and the new NASA Commercial Reusable Suborbital Research program (CRuSR) gained momentum after receiving funding in the NASA and FAA appropriations bills for Fiscal Year 2010, passed by Congress and signed by the President last week. $4 million in funding is being appropriated for new NASA prizes to promote technology innovation. Prizes are an innovative mechanism for technology advancement for the commercial spaceflight sector, and the funds will allow NASA to develop and announce more new prizes in the coming year.

$500,000 was provided for an FAA Space Transportation Infrastructure Matching Grants program, which will be competitively awarded to spaceports nationwide, the first time the grant program has been funded since being created in 1993. Existing and proposed spaceports in California, Florida, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Virginia / Maryland, Alaska, Wisconsin, Indiana, and other states, will be eligible for these competitively-awarded grants. NASA's Commercial Reusable Suborbital Research Program (CRuSR) program will receive $1 million to fly science, technology, and education payloads aboard next-generation commercial suborbital spacecraft. (12/22)

NASA Announces Final Fixes for Ares Shaking Danger (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
A NASA blog Monday afternoon announced that agency engineers have agreed on final fixes to possible shaking by the Ares I rocket on its ascent to orbit. The shaking problem, known as thrust oscillation, has been a concern dogging the rocket’s design since it was first identified in computer models two years ago. According to the blog post, “NASA and contractor engineers have developed multiple options” to damp out the vibrations caused by the way Ares I solid rocket first stage burns. “When we discover an engineering risk, like thrust oscillation, we tackle it with full rigor,” said Jeff Hanley, Constellation Program manager. “That’s what this team has done with thrust oscillation.” (12/22)

Russian Space Workhorse Soyuz Could Point the Way for Japanese Program (Source: Mainichi)
A Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying Japanese national Soichi Noguchi and two other astronauts blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Monday in a perfect launch. Noguchi and the other astronauts will stay on the International Space Station for five months. Noguchi is the second Japanese astronaut to travel on a Soyuz spacecraft, after Toyohiro Akiyama made a journey 19 years ago. In the future, compatriots Satoshi Furukawa and Akihiko Hoshide will travel to and from the ISS aboard the Soyuz.

For Japan, Noguchi's trip provides the chance to come into contact with manned spacecraft technology differing from that of the U.S. -- and consider the underlying ideology. We hope that Japan will absorb knowledge from the trip and put this to use in its development of manned spaceship technology. Early during the Soyuz program, four people lost their lives, but there hasn't been a fatal accident for almost 40 years. Compared with the U.S. Space Shuttle program, in which 14 people have died in two accidents since the first flight in 1981, the Soyuz program appears relatively stable. Furthermore, few launches are delayed. (12/22)

No comments: