December 9 News Items

Saturn’s Hexagon May Be Solar System’s Coolest Mystery (Source: WIRED)
The Cassini spacecraft has returned the best images yet of the strange hexagonal jet stream that flows around the northern pole of Saturn. First discovered by the Voyager spacecraft in the early 1980s, the hexagon remains a beautiful mystery to astronomers, and one they’ve been waiting for another shot to see for almost three decades. “It’s a mystery on par with the strange weather conditions that give rise to the long-lived Great Red Spot of Jupiter,” says a Cassini researcher. The hexagon circles Saturn at 77 degrees north and is wider than two Earths. Nearly everything about the weather pattern is baffling. First, it’s unclear what causes the hexagon. Second, it’s bizarre that the jet stream would make such sharp turns. Earth’s atmospheric movements rarely display such geometric rigor. Click here to view it. (12/9)

Ares Rockets Get a Boost from Congress with More Money (Source: Huntsville Times)
A spending bill approved by House and Senate appropriations conference late Tuesday night could jump start Marshall Space Flight Center-managed Ares rocket projects. Congress approved a 2010 Omnibus Appropriations Bill which puts $1.5 billion in NASA coffers for work on the Ares I and Ares V rocket development. Overall, the Constellation Program, which included Ares, has $3.46 billion in the budget. This bill tops NASA's fiscal year 2009 budget out at $18.7 billion. (12/9)

Emirates Urged to Train its Own Astronauts (Source: The National)
The first Arab in space says the UAE is taking the right approach as it considers embarking on a space program. Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, a member of the Saudi royal family who was aboard a space shuttle mission in 1985, praised the UAE’s efforts to train its own space scientists and engineers. “I salute the efforts of a country like the UAE for its active and gradual efforts,” he said. “Saudi Arabia did not build its program in one day, and no country can import its space program.” (12/9)

Editorial: Green Space Travel? I Don't Think So (Source: The Independent)
You won't know whether to laugh or cry if you're reading this on one of the "pendolino" trains which helped Virgin clock up a higher complaint rate this year than every other British rail operator combined, but Sir Richard Branson is about to inflict an entire new transport industry upon mankind. It's difficult not to admire the dynamism that brought him to this point. And it was actually rather affecting, at Monday's unveiling in the Mojave Desert, to meet the "future astronauts" who boldly intend to entrust their lives to a spacecraft developed by a man whose state-of-the-art locomotives are unable to negotiate fallen leaves.

My ardour, however, began to cool dramatically when I gazed down Sir Richard's press literature and saw a section touting, ludicrously, the project's environmental credentials. "It's almost zero carbon output," he was quoted saying. "We can put people into space for less carbon than, say, a flight from New York to LA and back. I think in time, we'll almost definitely get to zero."There was no scientific source mooted for these extravagant claims. Neither was there any explanation offered as to how VSS Enterprise, powered largely by nitrous oxide, can ever hope to be either "carbon neutral," or remotely environmentally friendly.

Sir Richard knows a bit about "greenwashing," though. After a life promoting airliners, he recently made David Cameron-style trips to the Arctic to "raise awareness" about the very global warming his companies exacerbate. This looks like more of the same: space travel may be a brilliant way to relieve rich people of money; it could even change the future of transport; but there's no point trying to argue that flying sightseers 65 vertical miles into space, for fun, will ever be in the slightest bit sustainable. (12/9)

NASA-Sponsored Florida Space Grant Consortium Supports Undergraduate Academy (Source: Spacce Florida)
The Florida Space Grant Consortium is sponsoring a week-long Space Florida Academy at Kennedy Space Center on Dec. 14 – 18. Sixteen undergraduate STEM students from the University of Miami (UM) and Florida International University (FIU) are participating. The student activities will culminate with the release of a scientific balloon and payloads on Dec. 18. NASA-KSC is an active partner in the Academy and site visits NASA laboratories and processing facilities will be included. The program concludes with a career guidance panel providing information on KSC summer internships and aerospace job opportunities. Space Florida operates an open-enrollment policy and applications for spring 2010 undergraduate Academies can be made at (12/9)

Chinese Rocket Launches Secret Spy Satellite (Source: SpaceFlightNow)
A Chinese remote sensing mission, believed to be a military reconnaissance satellite, lifted off from a desert launch pad on a Long March rocket on Wednesday. The Long March 2D rocket blasted off from the Jiuquan launching base near the border of northern China's Inner Mongolia and Gansu provinces. The 135-foot-tall booster's two stages, fueled by hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide, guided the Yaogan 7 payload into a sun-synchronous orbit about 400 miles high, according to public tracking data. (12/9)

Final NASA Spending Bill Includes Protections for Constellation (Source: Space News)
House and Senate negotiators reached agreement Dec. 8 on a 2010 omnibus spending bill that includes $18.7 billion for NASA — a $942 million increase over the agency’s 2009 budget — and includes a provision that would prevent the agency from scaling back or canceling its current human spaceflight activities in the absence of formal legislative approval from congressional appropriators. President Obama is expected to make a decision in the coming weeks that likely will reshape the future of NASA’s manned spaceflight activities and investments.

“In the absence of a bona fide proposal from the Administration on the future of U.S. human spaceflight activities and investments, the bill provides the budget request of $3.8 billion for activities to support human spaceflight in fiscal year 2010,” House lawmakers wrote in a Dec. 8 summary of the 2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act. “However, the bill requires that any program termination or elimination or the creation of any new program, project or activity not contemplated in the budget request must be approved in subsequent appropriations Acts.”

The full House of Representatives must approve the omnibus spending package before it can be taken up in the Senate, where debate on health care reform continues. A current continuing resolution to maintain 2009 funding levels for federal programs not covered by enacted appropriations bills expires Dec. 18. (12/9)

NASA Finally Resurrects Sick Mars Orbiter (Source:
NASA has finally revived its most powerful Mars orbiter from its months-long slumber due to a computer glitch. The spacecraft, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, slipped into a protective "safe mode" in late August, stalling its science observations but safeguarding the $720 million probe from further damage. Instead of rousing the orbiter within a few days, as in past glitches, NASA engineers spent months trying to find the source of the probe's inexplicable computer rebooting malfunctions. (12/9)

Arianespace Scrubs Launch of Helios 2B Satellite (Source: Space News)
The launch of France’s Helios 2B optical and infrared reconnaissance satellite was canceled several hours before liftoff Dec. 9 following the discovery of a leak in the helium-pressurization system. Launch managers said the suspect valve will be replaced and retested, with a fresh launch attempt likely to occur the week of Dec. 14. The 4,200-kilogram Helios 2B is the sole passenger on the flight, which will be the last of the Ariane 5 GS models and the last of the first-generation Vulcain 1 main-stage cryogenic engines. If launched this month, this will be the seventh Ariane 5 flight for 2009 and will set a record for calendar-year liftoffs of Europe’s heavy-lift rocket. (12/9)

Second Stalled Wheel May Doom Mars Rover (Source: New Scientist)
A second wheel may now be broken on NASA's Spirit rover, dampening hopes for freeing the robot from a sand trap it has been trapped in for seven months. The injury will also increase the rover's risk of freezing to death in the coming winter. Spirit has been struggling to escape from a patch of soft, sandy soil since April. Its three left wheels are almost entirely buried and have little traction, and its right-front wheel is of no use – it seized up permanently in 2006. Now, Spirit's right-rear wheel is also having problems and may be permanently disabled. (12/9)

NASA, DARPA Host Space Junk Wake-Up Call (Source:
Outer space has become Earth's largest junkyard. It is an international dumping ground for derelict spacecraft, wreckage from colliding satellites, remains from mischievous anti-satellite testing, spent rocket stages, discarded lens caps and clamp bands, paint chips and, yes, at one point, even a lost-to-space tool bag. All that riff-raff might be out of sight, but it is far from being out of mind. This week, experts from around the world are attending a wake-up call type of meeting.

NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have teamed up to take a hard look at the issues and challenges of de-cluttering space of human-made orbital debris. The result: A first-of-its-kind International Conference on Orbital Debris Removal was held in Virginia. Understanding the space debris problem is one thing. Hammering out viable operational concepts to eliminate the rubbish is another. Then toss in legal and economic issues, as well as incentives. And for good measure add to the brew international policy and cooperation requirements. (12/9)

ORS-1 On Track For 2010 Minotaur Launch (Source: Aviation Week)
Goodrich and ATK are beginning to manufacture a one-of-a-kind reconnaissance satellite that will be launched by the end of next year to support urgent needs from military leaders overseeing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Called Operationally Responsive Space-1 (ORS-1), the spacecraft is needed to provide a new layer of electro-optical and infrared reconnaissance to airborne collectors, such as unmanned aerial systems and high-altitude aircraft, as well as to the sophisticated national intelligence satellites overhead. The satellite, which will top out at about 450 kg. (990 lb.), will be boosted by a Minotaur-1 rocket.

Probable Failed Russian Submarine Missile Test Causes Strange Norway Light Show (Source: NRK)
"I have not seen anything like it. But probably it is a test launch from a Russian submarine that has gone wrong," said Norway's leading aerospace expert, Erik Tandberg. The Russian Northern Fleet said, however, that there have been no ballistic missile launches in recent days. According to international agreements, Russia is obligated to inform other governments about such launches. Click here for more. (12/9)

Florida School Invited to NASA Student Launch Initiative (Source: NASA)
The NASA Student Launch Initiative, or SLI, involves middle and high school students in designing, building and testing reusable rockets with associated scientific payloads. This unique hands-on experience allows students to demonstrate proof-of-concept for their designs and gives previously abstract concepts tangibility. Teams construct a rocket that is designed to reach an altitude of one mile above ground level, or AGL. In addition to actual vehicle performance, design and other criteria are also evaluated for each team's rocket. This educational experience culminates with a launch near Marshall Space Flight Center in the spring. Fourteen school teams have been invited to the 2010 event, including a team from Plantation High School in Florida. (12/7)

More Obama Space Promises Ranked by PolitiFact (Source: PolitiFact)
PolitiFact has updated the status of three more campaign space promises by President Obama. Conduct Robust R&D on Future Space Missions is ranked as "Stalled." Work Toward Deploying a Global Climate Change Research & Monitoring System is ranked as a "Promise Kept." And Increase Spending to Prepare for Longer Space Missions is ranked as "Stalled." The two stalled promises may need updating soon, as they are both tied to forthcoming policy decisions on the future of NASA's human space exploration program. Click here to see the entire list of space promises and their status. (12/8)

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