January 19, 2010

Astrium 2009 Revenue up Despite Galileo Loss (Source: Space News)
Europe’s Astrium space hardware and services provider on Jan. 19 reported an 11 percent rise in revenue in 2009 and a 31 percent increase in new orders led by a large contract to provide Ariane 5 heavy-lift rockets and an order for four commercial telecommunications satellites. The company, a subsidiary of Europe’s EADS aerospace conglomerate, said it has begun early development of a system to deliver solar power to Earth using an infrared laser beam. (1/19)

China's Mystery Spacelab (Source: Space Daily)
We could be less than a year away from the launch of Tiangong-1, China's first space laboratory. We've been expecting this launch for years, but relatively little is still known about this mission. Tiangong doesn't have to meet any launch windows for reaching planets, so the Chinese can afford to take their time with the launch. As with any new spacecraft, there's probably a lot of debugging to perform, then more testing. It would not be surprising if the laboratory didn't take off before the end of 2010.

What do we know for sure? Tiangong seems to consist of a short, cylindrical pressurized module, with not much more internal volume for the crew than a Shenzhou spacecraft. To the rear of this is a service module, containing two solar panel wings, a propulsion system and other gear. The service module has a slightly smaller diameter than the pressurized module. Tiangong also boasts a Russian-derived APAS-style docking system, with three guidance "petals" at its front to interlock with an identical docking collar.

Artwork and video footage of Tiangong also reveals a cylindrical device pointing outwards from the rear of the pressurized module. This is almost certainly some type of optical telescope, probably for an Earth observation camera. There is also a large parabolic dish antenna bolted to the side of the service module, presumably for communications with a satellite in geostationary orbit. China has already used such a satellite-to-satellite system to communicate with Shenzhou. (1/19)

NASA Reveals New Batch of Space Program Artifacts (Source: NASA)
NASA is inviting eligible education institutions, museums and other organizations to examine and request space program artifacts online. The items represent significant human space flight technologies, processes and accomplishments from NASA's past and present space exploration programs. NASA partnered with the General Services Administration to provide a first-of-its-kind, Web-based, electronic artifacts prescreening capability last year. The first round ended Nov. 30, and all 913 artifacts were allocated. Click here for information. (1/19)

White House: Don’t Expect Big NASA Announcement (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
A senior White House adviser said that President Barack Obama would unveil his vision for NASA next month as part of his 2011 budget proposal — not as a stand-alone announcement as suggested by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida. The plan follows months of indecision by the White House on what to do with NASA after the space shuttle is retired this year and runs counter to Nelson’s warning last week that it would be a “mistake” to reveal Obama’s space plans during his Feb. 1 budget rollout.

Despite the decision, senior adviser David Axelrod said Obama was “committed” to NASA and that his belief in space would be revealed with the agency’s 2011 budget. Nelson said he hoped that Obama would give NASA its due by announcing a new policy himself. NASA’s future is a major concern at KSC, which faces an estimated 7,000 job losses once the shuttle flies its last five missions. (1/19)

House Panel Will Chart NASA Policy This Year (Source: Gannett)
NASA will chart a new path this year, but the precise trajectory remains uncertain, a key House chairman said Tuesday. "I think this authorization is really going to wind up setting the path for NASA for at least the next 10 if not the next 20 years," said Rep. Bart Gordon, a Tennessee Democrat who is chairman of the Science and Technology Committee. But when pressed for details as he explained his priorities for the year, Gordon said simply that he would review the President Barack Obama's proposal "thoroughly." (1/19)

Musk Refutes Report Slamming Safety Standards (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
A commercial space pioneer and a former astronaut are answering claims by NASA's ASAP panel that private companies do not meet NASA human-rating standards and last year's presidential review of the space program did not adequately consider safety. The ASAP report said it would be "unwise" to abandon NASA's Ares 1 rocket and turn to private companies to transport astronauts to low Earth orbit.

Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX, said his company's Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon space capsule were designed to meet NASA's published human-rating standards. "I have to say I've lost a lot of respect for the ASAP panel," Musk said. "If they are to say such things, then they ought to say it on the basis of data, not on random speculation." The ASAP report said neither SpaceX nor Orbital Sciences Corp. "is [human] qualified, despite some claims and beliefs to the contrary."

According to Musk, the panel's findings are "bizarre." He says the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft "meet all of NASA's published human-rating requirements, apart from the escape systems." "They've spent almost no time at SpaceX," Musk said. "They've not reviewed our data. They have no idea what what our margins are, and what is and what isn't human-rated." "The Ares 1 is a paper rocket that's far off in the future," Musk said. "Falcon 9 is a real rocket, most of which is at Cape Canaveral right now." (1/19)

Endeavour Still Targeting Feb. 7 Launch To ISS (Source: Florida Today)
Shuttle program managers wrapped up a quick flight readiness review today with a recommendation to continue marching toward a 4:39 a.m. Feb. 7 launch of Endeavour. The review was expected to extend into Wednesday. But it moved quicker than any since the Columbia accident, primarily because the previous shuttle flight, by Atlantis, experienced so few problems that warranted in-depth discussion. The next step is an executive-level readiness review Jan. 27 at Kennedy Space Center, when an official launch date will be set. (1/19)

EADS Astrium Develops Space Power Concept (Source: BBC)
Europe's biggest space company is seeking partners to fly a demonstration solar power mission in orbit. EADS Astrium says the satellite system would collect the Sun's energy and transmit it to Earth via an infrared laser, to provide electricity. Space solar power has been talked about for more than 30 years. However, there have always been question marks over its cost, efficiency and safety. But Astrium believes the technology is close to proving its maturity. (1/19)

Health Fears Over Chinese Villagers Clearing Up Toxic Rocket Debris (Source: Guardian)
Questions are being asked about the environmental health impact of China's space programme amid allegations that thousands of villagers are being recruited to clear up booster rockets and other toxic debris. According to the South China Morning Post, residents below the flight path of last Sunday's satellite launch were under financial and political pressure to collect the first-stage fallout of the Long March rocket, despite warnings of contamination by the carcinogenic rocket fuel, unsymmetrical dimethyl hydrazine, or UDMH. (1/19)

NASA Names New Wallops Flight Facility Director (Source: NASA)
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has named William Wrobel as director of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center's Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, Va., and director of the center's Suborbital and Special Orbital Projects Directorate. This directorate manages the agency's sounding rockets and scientific balloon programs. Wrobel, the assistant associate administrator for launch services at NASA Headquarters, will continue in that capacity until several near-term activities are completed and an effective transfer to an acting assistant associate administrator can be accomplished. (1/19)

Weather Forecasting From Space (Source: NBC Bay Area)
Silicon Valley satellites bring us the weather. If you're anywhere in the world right now, wondering how this winter got so wet, windy, and cold, we have some answers. They're rarely pretty, but those colorful forecasts streaming across our TV and computer screens have a lot of technology behind them. And, like Hebrew National hot dogs, they answer to a higher authority. Specifically, satellites made in Silicon Valley by Loral Space Systems.

Located in about the most unassuming buildings you can find in the world's capital of tech, Loral boasts one of the few manufacturing facilities left in these parts. Through the decades, Loral has made a name for itself, building gigantic satellites for the likes of DirecTV, Dish Network, and XM satellite radio, each one costing as much as $300 million. The manufacturing wing is currently filled to capacity, as customers want more satellites -- because their customers want more broadband, satellite TV, and so on. (1/19)

A Strange "Comet" Among the Asteroids (Source: Sky & Telescope)
January 7th's announcement that the LINEAR telescope had spotted a new periodic comet wasn't all that interesting: a 20th-magnitude blip out in the asteroid belt in a benign orbit that wouldn't come anywhere near Earth. It was just another notch on the finderscope for this discovery machine in New Mexico, which has chalked up 77 periodic comets (and a couple hundred one-timers) since coming online in 1998.

But as other observers chipped in positions over the next week, it became clear that this was an object worth watching. For one thing, the now-precise orbit was looking less like a comet's and more like an asteroid's. And images of the interloper showed a tail growing in length yet without a clearly defined head. The online chatter got more animated — just what was this, anyway? Click here to read the article. (1/19)

Has the U.S. Hit its Final Frontier in Human Space Exploration? (Source: USA Today)
Still hoping for that Jetsons future? Ruh-roh, as the Jetsons' dog, Astro, might put it. Just six years ago, President Bush laid out a vision of space exploration that harked back to NASA's halcyon days built on astronauts as explorers. Bush wanted to sling them from low Earth orbit to a base on the moon and then, perhaps, on to a first manned landing on another planet, Mars. But that was before huge federal deficits arrived.

So as we look to the next decade, what sort of human space exploration will we see? "We are on a path that will not lead to a useful, safe human exploration program," said Norman Augustine when he testified to Congress in September. But NASA's guardians say it's premature to end the role of the astronaut. Click here to view the article. (1/19)

Feingold Bill Would Delay Constellation (Source: Space Politics)
Last fall Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) introduced S. 1808, legislation titled the “Control Spending Now Act” designed to, as its name suggests, reduce federal spending through a series of budget cuts and related reforms. No action has taken place on the bill since its introduction in October, but his office has been sending out a series of “Spotlight on Spending” releases designed to draw attention to various provisions of the bill.

On Friday Feingold’s office sent out the latest version: “Save $24.7 Billion by Delaying a Trip to the Moon”. Feingold proposes delaying a human return to the Moon by five years to create that cost savings. The bill would allow NASA to spend up to $600 million a year “solely for purposes in connection with research and technology development and maintenance of the manufacturing and technology base” for human lunar exploration. (Elsewhere in the bill another non-NASA space program is targeted for cancellation: the Defense Department’s Space Tracking and Surveillance System satellite constellation.) (1/19)

NASA Urged Not to Outsource Launches (Source: Wall Street Journal)
A key federal aerospace panel warned that NASA could run into serious safety challenges if it relies on private companies to ferry astronauts into space in the near future. The Obama administration has been devising a plan to outsource a chunk of its manned space program to private companies in order to speed up rocket development, save money and focus federal dollars on longer-term expeditions. But a report released last week by the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, an outside safety watchdog for NASA, cautioned that the private space companies rely on "unsubstantiated claims" and need to overcome major technical hurdles before they can safely carry astronauts into orbit.

It urged NASA to stick with its current government-run manned space ventures, and said that switching to private alternatives now would be "unwise and probably not cost-effective." The safety panel's recommendation could force the Obama administration to rethink how far and how fast it wants to go in embracing commercial options. (1/19)

ULA to Serve Military, Science in 2010 Launch Schedule (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
United Launch Alliance plans 10 launches this year with Atlas and Delta rockets to dispatch payloads to space for science, Earth observation, navigation, communications and military reconnaissance missions. Seven of the launches will blast off from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport and three missions are slated to originate from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

The company's 2010 manifest is down from 16 flawless flights last year, mostly due to the drop in launches of the medium-class Delta 2 rocket, which flew eight times in 2009. Just one Delta 2 mission is on the books this year to launch Italy's COSMO-SkyMed 4 satellite from California in September. The schedule begins next month with the Feb. 9 launch of NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory on an Atlas 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral to keep tabs on the sun. (1/19)

Boeing to Bid on NASA Cargo Contract (Source: St. Louis Business Journal)
The Boeing Co. said it plans to bid on a NASA International Space Station cargo mission contract. NASA released a request for proposals Friday for a contract to provide technical support services including the analysis and physical processing of pressurized cargo and flight crew equipment to be transported to and from the space station. The contract also covers launch preparations and post-landing activities related to processing the flight crew equipment.

Boeing is the prime contractor to NASA for the space station. In addition to designing and building all the major U.S. elements, Boeing also is responsible for ensuring the integration of any new hardware, software engineering work. Proposals are due to NASA on April 1. NASA is scheduled to select a contractor at the end of September before works begins in January 2011. The performance period for the contract is three years with four one-year options. (1/19)

China Vents Anger with Missile Test (Source: Asia Times)
China has conducted a successful "defensive" anti-missile test with the intent of sending the United States a stern message of disapproval over Washington's latest arms sales to Taiwan. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu described the Jan. 11 event as a test of "ground-based midcourse missile interception technology" conducted "within its territory". It was defensive in nature and targeted at no country, she said.

The test "is just a game about the US sales of weapons to Taiwan; about the non-proliferation of missiles; and about the prevention of an arms race in outer space between the US and China." according to Li Shouping, professor in international law at the School of Law of Beijing Institute of Technology and director of the Institute of Space Law. (1/19)

Editorial: Safety First (Source: Florida Today)
The countdown clock is ticking down to President Obama’s decision on NASA’s future, and another new report shows how much is at stake. This time it’s about the thin line between life and death faced by astronauts when they’re strapped into a spacecraft and hurled off the planet. We trust that Charlie Bolden has voiced the safety issue strongly with the president and White House science advisers during talks on NASA’s future.

From a safety standpoint, Ares seems the way to go. If Obama dumps it and goes commercial, the company that builds the replacement would have to meet equally rigorous crew safety requirements. Protecting the lives of astronauts must come first. And no corners can ever be cut. (1/19)

Mike Griffin's Architecture is Dead (Source: NASA Watch)
Ares 1 is dead, folks. DEAD. So is the use of Orion in LEO for trips to the ISS. Use of Orion to destinations in cis-lunar space? That is still open. Ares V as currently designed is dead but there will be a heavy launch vehicle - the debate is between an inline shuttle-derived launch vehicle for crew and cargo and a sidemount shuttle-derived launch vehicle. The sidemount concept is losing favor - fast - due to crew escape concerns.

Watch for a significant commercial focus such that NASA may well use a commercial provider to launch crews into space - in a vehicle that meets NASA specs - on a launch vehicle (not necessarily the same each time) that also meets NASA specs. NASA may well be about to bow out of providing human launch services - at least for LEO. Details? Watch for Charlie Bolden's speech at the 11 Feb session of FAA's AST conference. The news for MSFC is not good - and it is not necessarily good for JSC either. But is the news good for America's exploration of space? You betcha. (1/19)

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