December 3 News Items

TacSat-4 Spacecraft Complete And Awaiting Launch from Alaska Spaceport (Source: Space Daily)
Naval Research Laboratory engineers have completed all environmental and performance testing on the TacSat-4 COMMx payload. The launch date was fall 2009, however it was moved to August 2010 because of Minotaur-IV technical issues and changing DoD mission priorities. TacSat-4 is a Navy led joint mission to augment current satellite communications (SATCOM) capabilities and to advance Operationally Responsive Space systems. The TacSat-4 mission was selected by a joint process cumulating in a flag and general officer vote by Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and US Strategic Command.

TacSat-4 provides ten Ultra High Frequency (UHF) channels, which can be used for any combination of communications, data ex-filtration, or Blue Force Tracking (BFT). TacSat-4's unique orbit augments geosynchronous SATCOM by providing near global, but not continuous, coverage including the high latitudes. TacSat-4 improves on current SATCOM by providing communications-on-the-move for existing radios without requiring antenna pointing. The Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) Office and Air Force's Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) are providing the launch on a Minotaur-IV from Kodiak, Alaska. (12/2)

Good Vibrations: NASA's Ares I-X Rocket Shook Less Than Expected (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
NASA managers reviewing preliminary data from October's test flight of the Ares I-X, the prototype of the rocket that is supposed to replace the space shuttle, say that concerns about the rocket shaking too much during flight may not be as big a problem as first thought. The vibrations, similar to the kind when air is blown through a pipe organ, are called thrust oscillation and are the result of the way the solid propellant in the rocket's first stage burns. The shaking was long-thought to pose a major danger to the next generation rocket, called the Ares I, as well as the crew in the Orion capsule on top of the vehicle. The results of a 30-day study of the data collected from more than 700 sensors on the test rocket indicate that the vibration and the pressure were not as great as originally feared. However, Ares I-X flew on a four-segment solid rocket booster that's used by the space shuttle. The real Ares I will use a longer, more powerful five-segment solid rocket motor that is expected to behave differently. (12/3)

SpaceX Sets Window for First Dragon Flight to ISS (Source: Space News)
SpaceX expects to launch its cargo-carrying Dragon capsule on its first flight to the space station sometime between May and November 2010. SpaceX developed Dragon in part with NASA funding provided under the COTS program. SpaceX is under contract to NASA to conduct three COTS demo flights, to be followed by 12 cargo flights between 2010 and 2015. Dragon’s launch vehicle, the Falcon 9 rocket, is expected to make its debut in early 2010. That mission will carry aloft a Dragon capsule, but it will not rendezvous with the space station. (12/3)

NASA Announces IT Contract Extension for SAIC (Source: NASA)
NASA has extended the Unified NASA Information Technology Services, or UNITeS, contract with Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) of San Diego. The contract extension provides NASA with agency-wide information services and integration support for NASA's Integrated Enterprise Management Program, or IEPM, administered by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The contract modification extends the period of performance by 14 months, valued at approximately $120 million, followed by six one-month options. The extension began Dec. 1 and ends Jan. 31, 2011, if all options are exercised. (12/3)

SpaceX Begins Training Astronauts for Dragon Capsule Arrival at Space Station (Source: SpaceX)
SpaceX recently conducted its first Dragon spacecraft operations training for a group of NASA astronauts and personnel. The training focused on how the crew will interface with the Dragon spacecraft while it is approaching and berthed to the Space Station. Three of the participating astronauts—Tracy Caldwell Dyson, Shannon Walker and Douglas Wheelock—will be on board the ISS when Dragon makes its first visit under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. The astronauts were briefed on vehicle ingress and egress, habitability of the spacecraft, payload handling and commanding through SpaceX's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) Ultra High Frequency (UHF) Communication Unit. The training was a key step in SpaceX's progress towards providing NASA an alternative for cargo transport to and from the ISS when the Space Shuttle retires. (12/3)

Solar Power-Beaming Satellites Get California Support (Source: New York Times)
Solaren, founded by veterans of Hughes Aircraft, Boeing and Lockheed, plans to deploy a free-floating inflatable Mylar mirror one kilometer in diameter. This will collect and concentrate sunlight on a smaller mirror, that in turn will focus the rays on photovoltaic modules, according to the company’s patent. In a recent interview, Gary Spirnak, Solaren’s chief executive, said the key to making a space-based solar farm economically viable is to take the weight out of the system to reduce the number of rocket launches.

Still, Mr. Spirnak acknowledged that putting a solar power plant in space would cost a few billion dollars more than a terrestrial photovoltaic farm generating the equivalent amount of electricity. The rate P.G.& E. agreed to pay Solaren for the electricity produced by the solar station remains confidential. But regulators on Thursday brought the utility back down to earth a bit by not letting the P.G.& E. count the project toward its renewable energy mandates unless certain milestones are met. “I’ll be the first to admit our reach may exceed its grasp,” said Mr. Peevey of the utilities commission. (12/3)

Alexander: Commercial Crew Transport is Essential to Mitigate the Gap (Source: CSF)
"Despite having an option for crew transportation in the COTS program – the so-called Capability D option – NASA has not yet invested in the development of full commercial crew capabilities, opting to prove out cargo services first with the possibility of crew later. The case for beginning a commercial crew program has grown stronger in the years since the COTS cargo program began...Today, three years after the award of the COTS Space Act Agreements (SAAs), we no longer have the luxury of time.

"The Space Shuttle will be retired next year, or shortly thereafter, while the first flight of Ares I and Orion has slipped to at least 2017, according to the Augustine Committee. In fact, the Committee added that if the Space Station is extended to 2020 as seems likely, the first human launch of Ares I would slip further, even if NASA receives the extra money the Committee recommended. As a result, we will be dependent on the Russians for crew transportation to the International Space Station for at least five years, if not longer." (12/3)

Why Atlas-5 Was Shunned by Augustine? (Source: Hyperbola)
It did seem odd that despite there being two operational Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles, namely Atlas and Delta, that only the Delta IV was being considered during the Augustine Panel review of US human spaceflight options. And then in recent testimony before a House subcommittee, Jospeh Fragola, an Augustine Panel engineering analysis support team member, stated that the United Launch Alliance Atlas-5 had been studied by the Orbital Space Plane program and been rejected. Three solid rockets strapped to a liquid first stage was deemed a bad idea apparently.

Have they not seen the Ares V Lite design? A liquid core with two solid rocket boosters. This blog agrees with others that championing the Ares I first-stage (an untested five-segment evolution of the Shuttle four-segment solid rocket booster) while questioning the reliability of an Atlas SRB that has never failed, with full knowledge that the Augustine report recommended a crewed Ares V Lite, is a bit odd.

And this blog had thought that the issue with Atlas was its Russian first-stage engines. And maybe it really is. The turn of events at the hearing has given rise to the view that the Congressional panel had already decided what they wanted to think and that Ares I was the better option. Hyperbola was struck by the apparent lack of knowledge of a number of the subcommittee members, when they should have been the experts as far as Congress was concerned. (12/3)

GAO Sees Challenges for FAA with Space Transportation (Source: GAO)
In overseeing the commercial space launch industry, including the safety of space tourism, FAA faces several challenges. These include maintaining a sufficient number of staff with the necessary expertise to oversee the safety of launches and spaceport operations; determining whether FAA’s current safety regulations are appropriate for all types of commercial space vehicles, operations, and launch sites; developing information to help FAA decide when to regulate crew and passenger safety after 2012; and continuing to avoid conflicts between FAA’s regulatory and promotional roles.

With the expansion of commercial spaceflight, FAA will face increases in its licensing and regulatory workload, and federal agencies and Congress will face decisions about whether to support the U.S. industry by continuing to provide liability indemnification to lower its costs. Additionally, FAA will face policy and procedural issues when it integrates the operations of spacecraft into its next generation air transportation system. Finally, coordinating the federal response to the commercial space industry’s expansion is an issue for the federal government in the absence of a national space launch strategy for setting priorities and establishing federal agency roles. (12/3)

Russia Delays Angara Rocket Debut as Testing Progresses (Source:
The long-delayed Angara rocket family, a modular system designed to replace a range of Russian boosters, has finished a series of ground tests and could be put in commercial service to replace the Proton rocket by the middle of the next decade. The Angara system was approved by the Russian government in 1995, but insufficient funding has repeatedly slowed the rocket's development and pushed the maiden launch to at least 2012. Russian space officials hope the Angara will replace several vehicles, including the Rockot, Kosmos 3M, Zenit and Proton rockets serving the light, medium and heavy satellite markets. (12/3)

Astronaut-Safety Hearing Becomes Pro-Constellation Rally (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
A congressional hearing on astronaut safety turned into a pep rally for NASA's troubled Constellation moon-rocket program, with lawmakers and witnesses endorsing it as the best replacement for the space shuttle while critics complained the hearing was one-sided. U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona Democrat who heads the House subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, organized the hearing as a counter to a presidential panel that recently suggested scrapping Constellation's Ares I rocket in favor of commercial launchers.

Giffords contended that the Augustine Panel did not adequately review astronaut-safety issues posed by commercial rockets. This omission, she said, shortchanges the Ares I rocket and Orion capsule. Giffords and several invited witnesses argued that Constellation is safer because it has been designed to carry humans, includes plans for a crew abort system and would be overseen by NASA safety inspectors. Though commercial rockets such as the Atlas V and Delta IV have launched reliably, they have carried only satellites and other cargo.

Of the six witnesses, only Brett Alexander of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation represented privately built rockets. He echoed a suggestion by the Augustine Panel that NASA encourage commercial companies to develop transportation of astronauts to the Space Station, so NASA could concentrate on missions to the inner solar system and Mars. The one-sided panel of witnesses didn't escape the notice of U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif. "I think that we did need a little more diversity on the panel," he said. "When people like myself are probing … we [need] to have someone there who would keep everybody honest." (12/3)

What on Earth is Happening with "Russia's GPS"? (Source: CNN)
Late last month Moscow celebrated the birthday of Father Frost, the Russian iteration of Santa Claus, with a new-fangled announcement: Father Frost’s retinue would move through the holiday skies aided by Glonass, the Russian answer to GPS. With recent technical setbacks, it is unclear how well Glonass will be able to aid Frost.

The Glonass network (much like America’s Global Positioning System) was envisioned as an equal competitor to its U.S. counterpart. But for complete coverage of the earth’s surface, Glonass, requires 24 satellites evenly distributed among three orbital planes. This includes three in-orbit spares – one per plane. Currently, however, there are only 19 in orbit and just 15 (soon 14) are operational. Because 18 operational satellites are needed for 100% coverage of Russian territory, the current Glonass configuration falls just short of that milestone, too, providing spotty coverage even at home. Coverage around the world is even more fractured and unreliable. (12/3)

Colorado Students Get Increased Opportunity at Space Academy (Source: AFSPC)
The 21st Space Wing's top leaders visited the new Jack Swigert Aerospace Academy Middle School in Colorado Springs Nov. 10 to see its space and engineering programs. The Wing Commander and other officials toured the new public school, which opened this school year with about 500 students in grades 5 to 8. Swigert Aerospace Academy is one of three schools where Peterson servicemembers can volunteer through the new 21st SW Adopt-A-School program. Airmen will also volunteer to tutor and mentor students at Mitchell High School and McCauliffe Elementary. (12/3)

Facility Specs Available for Mars Sample Return (Source: Astrobiology Magazine)
A returning spacecraft may someday hurtle through Earth's atmosphere bearing evidence of life from Mars. But scientists won't casually crack open the precious payload in any old laboratory. They will need a specially-designed building that not only protects the Martian samples from terrestrial contamination, but also prevents any Martian material or organisms from escaping into Earth's biosphere.

Such a Mars sample return mission could signal a huge scientific coup for understanding the red planet's ability to harbor life, and so NASA launched the initial phases of a sample return mission in the late 1990s. Though the sample return mission is now off the books, NASA continued to study what type of sample return facility (SRF) might become necessary for such a mission. Now NASA's Mars team has released the results of that study. Three architectural firms drew up plans for how humans and robots could handle extraterrestrial samples within special facilities. Click here for more. (12/3)

Deadline Extended for Jason Satellite Funds (Source: BBC)
European nations have been given a few more weeks to find the money to fund a key Earth observation satellite. The Jason-3 spacecraft must be ordered soon if a remarkable 18-year record of ocean height is to be maintained. Eumetsat, which looks after Europe's weather satellites, needs at least 58m euros ($87m; £53m) from its member states to initiate the program. Jason-3 would launch in 2013, allowing time to calibrate its data in orbit with the current Jason-2 mission. The Eumetsat Council has extended the deadline for interested member states to subscribe to Jason-3 to the end of the year. (12/3)

Sheboygan Spaceport Supporters Tout Project to Congress (Source: Sheboygan Press)
Advocates for making Sheboygan the Midwest's hub for aerospace development made their case Wednesday before the House Aviation Subcommittee in Washington, D.C., arguing that the city's location and industrial base make it uniquely suited for that role. Among those who spoke to the subcommittee were U.S. Rep. Tom Petri (R-Fond du Lac), James Testwuide, chairman of the Great Lakes Science and Education Center, and Sheboygan Ald. Mark Hanna, who is vice chairman of the Wisconsin Aerospace Authority, which was created by the Legislature in 2005 and charged with developing aerospace facilities, specifically Spaceport Sheboygan at the Sheboygan Armory.

"It seemed a novel and unusual idea at first, but it's becoming a greater and greater reality." Noting that Wisconsin and Sheboygan are perhaps best known for cheese, bratwurst and beer, Petri said: "We have a tremendous industrial infrastructure for everything from making the big castings that are vital for the airplane industry, to many of the key components that support our navy around the world." Spaceport Sheboygan is one of several proposed spaceports in the country seeking to join six federal spaceports and six already-licensed commercial spaceports. (12/3)

Virgin Galactic Ready for Test Flights (Source: The Australian)
Virgin Galactic will begin test flights on its space tourism venture SpaceShipTwo in early 2010. Tests will be carried out on the small, rocket-propelled shuttle which will launch to 50,000ft above sea level by its mothership - WhiteKnightTwo. SpaceShipTwo's own rocket engine will then fire, launching both crafts between the atmosphere and the vacuum of space at three times the speed of sound. The engines will then be cut, sending SpaceShipTwo in to free-fall where passengers will experience total weightlessness for several minutes.

Virgin Galactic is offering the experience for $215,251 and hopes to take its first tourists into space by 2012. So far 300 people have paid in full for their ticket, while a further 82,000 have registered their interest on Virgin Galactic's website. (12/3)

SpaceX a Powerhouse in Rocket Business, Growing in Central Texas (Source: Waco Tribune)
SpaceX is booming in more ways than one. The California-based rocket company is winning one contract after another, the biggest being a $1.6 billion shot in the arm to haul cargo to the International Space Station for NASA. Its success is giving a big boost to McGregor, the community 15 miles west of Waco on Highway 84. That is where SpaceX performs an average of one rocket test a day. Employment there is skyrocketing. “We started with two people in 2003,” said spokeswoman Cassie Kloberdanz. Today, SpaceX has 100 full-time employees, with that number growing to 150 when factoring in contractors and support staffers who travel to McGregor from Los Angeles for some projects. Kloberdanz said those figures definitely will rise. (12/3)

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