April 23, 2010

Minotaur-4 Launches From California, Hypersonic Payload Lost (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
A new Minotaur launch vehicle derived from retired missile parts successfully blasted off from the California coast Thursday, but officials lost contact with a hypersonic glider testbed for a U.S. military quick-response global strike system. The Minotaur 4, flying in a downsized three-stage configuration called the Minotaur 4 Lite, released its HTV 2a payload high in the upper atmosphere at a velocity more than 20 times the speed of sound.

The craft was designed to try out its aerodynamic control system and conduct sweeping turns to bleed off excess energy and demonstrate its cross-range capabilities. Tracking assets lost contact with the triangle-shaped craft 9 minutes after liftoff. A DARPA press release did not specify whether any of the test maneuvers were completed before controllers lost communications with the craft.

Prior to this launch, a grounding of the Minotaur-4 rocket triggered a cascade of launch delays for military satellites. After another Vandenberg launch in July, two Minotaur-4 flights are planned this fall from Kodiak Island, Alaska. (4/23)

Uncertainty Looms for 3-Year-Old ORS Office Amid Declining Budgets (Source: Space News)
The DOD's Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) Office has demonstrated in its three years of existence that there are alternative ways to design and build military spacecraft, but a variety of factors are contributing to a sense of uncertainty about the office’s future, government and industry sources said.

The Pentagon stood up the ORS Office in 2007 at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M. The ORS Office has a three-tiered strategy for delivering timely data from space platforms. This ranges from using existing space assets in different ways to the ultimate ORS goal of being able to build and launch augmentation or replacement satellites in just a few days. Click here to view the article. (4/23)

Whose Human Flight Safety Standards, Again? (Source: Hyperbola)
NASA's new human spaceflight standards may not be as rigorous as those it already demands for high profile payload launches. For high profile "class A" payload missions to be launched on a "category three" low-risk launch vehicle, NASA's certification requirements ask for a 14 consecutive successful flight history.

The Delta-4 doesn't have that, SpaceX's Falcon-9 won't until 2013 at least, Orbital's Taurus-2 never will because it only has eight commercial resupply missions manifested, and so only the Atlas-5 has an adequate launch history. Sorry, I hear you say, but that is for payloads, not crew. So are you saying that crews will ride on rockets with a lesser launch history than payloads?

Admittedly the certification requirements also mention two alternative flight histories for candidate vehicles. They are three consecutive successful flights and six successful flights, three of which must be consecutive. But for each NASA must conduct reviews and audits and for the three-flight history, comprehensive acceptance test results are required as well. And, none of the above boosters have the standards against which they should be designing, or re-designing, boosters for commercial crew services. (4/23)

Japan's ISS Kibo-Mounted Sensor Stops Transmitting (Source: Space News)
An environmental sensor attached to the the international space station’s Kibo Japanese Experiment Module to monitor global distributions of trace gases in the Earth’s stratosphere stopped transmitting April 21, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said April 23. The Japanese sensor, the Superconducting Submillimeter-Wave Limb-Emission Sounder, or SMILES, was put into service last November to help scientists understand ozone depletion and global climate change. (4/23)

How Does Wallops Island Factor Into New NASA Policy? (Source: Parabolic Arc)
I’m wondering if there’s not more to Sen. Mikulski's interest in NASA's new direction beyond a wholly legitimate and sincere concern over astronaut safety. Mikulski helped to persuade Orbital Sciences Corporation – a major employer in nearby Northern Virginia — to launch its new Taurus-2 commercial rocket from Wallops Island instead of the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. Taurus-2 is being funded under NASA’s COTS program, and is a forerunner for the much larger expansion of commercial space proposed by the Obama Administration.

So, we’ve got a very interesting situation here. We have a launch complex that has suddenly found itself at the forefront NASA’s commercial space efforts due, in part, to a powerful senator who now holds a key vote as to whether that approach will be broadly expanded, with potentially major benefits flowing to two key states.

Interesting. Very interesting indeed. NASA has pledged to spend a lot of money to upgrade the infrastructure and facilities at Cape Canaveral. I’d be wondering whether the space agency had a little money to spend on the little-spaceport-that-could over on the Eastern Shore. It should be interesting to see how this plays out. (4/23)

Mineta: Time to bring Silicon Valley Spirit to Space Industry (Source: San Jose Mercury News)
Just over five years ago, as Secretary of Transportation, I had the honor of presiding over the birth of a new industry in the United States: commercial human space transportation. Those private flights of SpaceShipOne made headlines worldwide and showed that America still has what it takes to lead the world in technology, innovation and entrepreneurship.

As President Obama outlined in a historic speech last week, NASA will now partner with commercial space companies to bring that Silicon Valley spirit to all of NASA and breathe new life into the space industry. The commercial space industry has grown so much that NASA can and should start leveraging its capabilities more seriously. NASA should focus on pushing the frontier rather than operating a trucking service to low Earth orbit like today's space shuttle. (4/21)

Air Force: Robotic X-37B Space Plane Not a Weapon (Source: Space.com)
The hush-hush X-37B robotic space plane launched by the United States Air Force late Thursday is many things, but it's no space weapon, according to high-ranking official with the project. Gary Payton, Air Force deputy undersecretary of space programs, scoffed at speculation that the X-37B space plane is the vanguard for a space weapon fleet and said its main purpose is to test space technology, not orbital weapons. "I don't know how this could be called a weaponization of space," Payton said. (4/23)

ATK Must Shrink to Remain Competitive (Source: Salt Lake Tribune)
Facing an uncertain future with no deep-space flights scheduled for years if not decades, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden suggested that ATK has only one option if it wants to remain competitive in the solid rocket motor business -- downsize.

ATK's predicament, which could result in the loss of another 2,000 jobs in northern Utah, isn't its fault. Bolden told a Senate panel on Thursday that the company and other rocket motor developers had only responded to NASA, which had vastly overestimated the number of missions it could handle.

"Unfortunately the solid rocket industry has been overcapitalized for many, many years," Bolden told an appropriations subcommittee as part of his push for President Barack Obama's new direction for NASA. "We are carrying 70 percent of an industry for a capability that no one uses but NASA." (4/23)

Editorial: New Focus on Research Can Propel NASA Toward New Discoveries (Source: Washington Times)
Our space program, once the envy of every nation on Earth, has been showing its age of late. Its ambitions, though laudable, are starting to appear a little outdated. Technologies that once dazzled the masses now seem almost everyday and routine. Visions of new planetary terrain, once the fodder of science fiction, seem somewhat commonplace in light of the discoveries made by robotic spacecraft and the capabilities of other countries. And while the moon remains a fascinating destination, an entire galaxy of other regions - and countless possibilities - is just waiting to be explored.

With a renewed sense of energy and vision, NASA is well-positioned to reinvent itself. While some are lamenting the cancellation of a return to the moon's surface, the type of inspiring vision proposed is exactly what is needed to propel the U.S. beyond the trappings of the technologies developed nearly 50 years ago and to again take a leadership role through innovation and daring, the qualities that first took us to the lunar surface in 1969. (4/23)

Shuttle Backers Say Station Needs Safety Net (Source: Houston Chronicle)
Pro-NASA lawmakers trying to prolong space shuttle operations heard yet another argument Thursday for extending the missions — the lives and safety of astronauts. NASA administrator Charles Bolden told members of the Senate Appropriations Committee that astronauts aboard the orbiting International Space Station theoretically could face life threatening challenges getting back to earth if Russia suffered a catastrophic loss of Soyuz capsules and the American space shuttle had retired.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Dallas, raised the specter of accidents rendering the space station's Soyuz lifeboats inoperable or a mishap on reentry crippling Russia's program, leaving astronauts without ferry service “for an extended period of time.” “What are your plans?” Hutchison asked. Her emphasis on astronaut safety appeared to galvanize the Senate panel that is weighing President Obama's budget request for NASA.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., chair of the Senate panel, said they would explore ways for a shuttle to remain on standby beyond scheduled retirement in September to serve as a potential rescue vehicle. (4/23)

Uncrewed Military Space Planes Usher in New Weaponry Era (Source: Washington Times)
The Pentagon's test launch of two unmanned space vehicles Thursday highlights efforts to develop a generation of high-altitude, high-speed weapons systems that could make the heavens a new battleground. At the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, the Air Force went ahead with the long-anticipated maiden flight of the troubled X-37B space plane, which launches vertically into orbit atop an Atlas rocket but descends into the atmosphere lands horizontally.

Meanwhile at Vandenberg Air Force Base, DARPA test launched another space plane - the Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 (HTV-2), known as the Falcon. The Falcon is a suborbital vehicle launched on a solid-fuel rocket booster made from a decommissioned ballistic missile. Just outside the atmosphere, the plane separates from the rocket and glides back to Earth at more than 13,000 mph - more than 20 times the speed of sound.

Thursday's 30-minute, 4,100-nautical-mile test flight was slated to end with the Falcon crashing into the ocean just north of the Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific. DARPA's $308 million research program is building two Falcon vehicles, the second of which is scheduled for launch early next year. Defense analysts say the Falcon is part of the Pentagon's effort to develop the capability to strike anywhere in the world with a conventional warhead in less than an hour - known as Conventional Prompt Global Strike, or CPGS. (4/23)

Astronaut/Alumna Nicole Stott to Speak at Embry-Riddle Commencement (Source: ERAU)
The spring commencement ceremony for 746 students of Embry-Riddle’s Daytona Beach campus will be held on May 10. Commencement weekend also includes Air Force, Army, and Naval ROTC commissioning ceremonies and an alumni welcome reception. The commencement guest speaker – astronaut and Embry-Riddle alumna Nicole P. Stott – will receive the University’s Distinguished Speaker Award in recognition of her professional accomplishments and national prominence. (4/23)

Musgrave: Put Human Spaceflight in "Partial Hibernation" (Source: The Atlantic)
Story Musgrave is well aware of the obstacles to effecting change in an organization that involves as many Congressional interests and individual fiefdoms as NASA does. He understands Congressional resistance to any changes that might affect jobs back home, as well as how entrenched the different camps at NASA are. Indeed, he says it's a "valid question" whether the operational structure and approach of NASA could even be changed at this point without disbanding the organization as it now stands and rebuilding a new research institution from scratch.

But Musgrave believes it still could happen. "If you have a strong enough leader with an artistic vision of where we go next," he says, "the public is going to get behind it. Congress is not going to give you a good space program. You have to create it and sell it to the public, and the public forces it to happen. And you've got to do that in terms of good project management with a specific and achievable goal and a specific timeline, like we did in the 1960s." Even if, he says, the goal has to be less costly, because the funds are more precious now.

Musgrave labeled the International Space Station a "$100 billion mistake" and thinks that "human space flight needs to be put in partial hibernation. You continue to develop the capability, but send the robots first." (4/22)

Obama's Approval Rating Up in Florida (Source: SpaceKSC)
The latest Quinnipac University poll shows President Obama's approval rating in Florida is up from January. In the January poll, 45% approved of how Obama was doing his job while 49% disapproved. In the latest poll, 50% approve and 45% disapprove.

"The uptick in President Obama's job approval rating among Florida voters is largely due to his improved standing among independent voters, who give him a narrow 48 - 46 percent approval, reversing a 51 - 44 percent disapproval in January." It would appear that the claims by some that the Obama administration's FY 2011 proposed NASA budget would cost the President support in Florida are unfounded. (4/19)

Company To Focus On Small Space Payloads (Source: Aviation Week)
Andrews Space has formed a service company focused on providing routine, low-cost space access for small payloads. SpaceFlight Services is kicking off its business venture by signing an agreement with SpaceX to manifest payloads using excess capability on upcoming Falcon 9/Dragon missions. SpaceFlight says that under this deal customers will have access to multiple scheduled flight opportunities, including dedicated scientific free-flyer missions using SpaceX’s DragonLab variant of the Dragon vehicle.

SpaceFlight says payload space is being offered on missions in 2012 and beyond. “Our focus is on creating a robust market for the launch of small payloads,” says Jason Andrews, president and CEO of Andrews Space. For the future, SpaceFlight “could include other launch providers, although I believe SpaceX is the most progressive in this area,” he adds.

The company will be a commercial provider of small payload flight services for fixed and deployable cargo and spacecraft. It will use a process which “allows payloads to be rapidly manifested, certified, integrated and flown to space by simplifying launch integration planning and providing a single customer interface.” (4/16)

Stimulus Brings 800-1000 Tech Jobs to Space Coast, Including Space Contractor (Source: Florida Today)
Bolstered by $18.8 million in federal economic stimulus bonds, Lighting Science Group plans to build a major manufacturing facility on the Space Coast and create 832 new jobs. "It's going to allow us to move to a new location and to create approximately 1,000 new extra jobs," President Khaled Haram said.

Lighting Science, which will provide LED lighting technologies for NASA and other customers, proposes to hire 214 workers this year, 443 workers next year and 175 more in 2012. County Commissioners unanimously awarded a total of $28.6 million interest-free "recovery zone facility bonds" to the Satellite Beach technology firm and two Melbourne companies: Embraer and Legacy Southeast Investments, LLC. (4/21)

There's My Flying Car! Thanks DARPA (Source: AIA)
The Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, in charge of exploring futuristic technologies, has given the green light for the development of a flying car not unlike those envisioned in the space-age TV show "The Jetsons." The Transformer, if successful, will allow U.S. soldiers to ride in four-person flying cars that can fly like small airplanes, drive on the ground like an SUV and may not require a runway to become airborne. Completion of the project is expected by 2015. (4/23)

Raytheon Beats Q1 Estimates, Stands by 2010 Outlook (Source: AIA)
Raytheon Co. exceeded analysts' expectations with first-quarter net income of $445 million and reiterated its full-year earnings forecast of $4.75 to $4.90 a share. "The threat environment has evolved over the last four to eight years ... and the priorities now front and center from a DoD perspective line up well with the core components at Raytheon," said CFO David Wajsgras. (4/23)

Atlas V Rocket Thunders Aloft With Mini-Military Shuttle (Source: Florida Today)
An Atlas rocket hauled a new military spaceplane into orbit tonight after a spectacular sunset launch from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. The 19-story rocket blasted off from Launch Complex 41 at 7:52 p.m. and then climbed into a clear blue sky as the sun was setting in the west. United Launch Alliance announced a successful mission, so presumably the spacecraft is on its way to an operational low Earth orbit. (4/22)

Does Canada Have a Future in Space? (Source: Univ. of Western Ontario)
Space and space assets should be an essential element of government infrastructure, says Steve MacLean, president of the Canadian Space Agency. Canada has gleaned more than its fair share of space research from investments in the International Space Station, says former astronaut Steve MacLean. MacLean presented the annual Nerenberg Lecture on the subject “It is rocket science,” offering his perspective as a former astronaut on the complexity, benefits and future challenges of space exploration.

Will our space research keep pace with the needs of a growing nation? Many of today’s experts in the field are past the mid-point of their careers and the financial resources have not been available to develop the next generation of experts. MacLean says Canada must build on its heritage in space exploration and foster the synergy in the academic, government and industry circles. (4/22)

Japan Considering Withdrawal From Space Station? (Source: Yomiuri Shimbun)
What does Japan hope to achieve in space? Japan has long considered its involvement in the international partnership behind the ISS to be a central pillar of its manned space activity. But recently, calls for a review of this policy have been getting louder. A typical example is the proposal compiled this week by a panel of experts for Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Seiji Maehara, who is in charge of space development. The panel recommended the government reexamine the benefits of the current space development program.

Japan has attached great importance to being part of the international team involved with the ISS, primarily because it is more efficient--in both money and time--than singlehandedly developing a manned craft for space exploration. The government believed this strategy would provide valuable experience in space activities. Even so, Japan spends 40 billion yen on ISS-related activities, out of the annual 200 billion yen budget for the space program, excluding national security-related expenses.

Yet there have so far been only a few space experiments that have eventually led to discoveries that can have an industrial application. Applications to conduct tests using the Kibo experiment module--now part of the space station--have only trickled in. The panel's proposal has been worked out based on these realities. The proposal did not rule out that Japan might withdraw from the ISS program in the future, and suggested that this budget could then be diverted to satellite development or other projects. (4/22)

Mexico Gets a Space Agency, Plans Spaceport? (Source: Science)
Mexico's congress voted by a huge majority to create a new national space agency which could someday launch rockets from the Yucatan peninsula. The Agencia Espacial Mexicana (AEXA) won't be sending astronauts into space or even building its own rockets. Instead, backers say the goal is to help Mexico develop a space policy and stimulate investment in aerospace technology. The idea "is to choose technologies where Mexico can invest and develop expertise" so that in 10 years the country can catch up with nations such as Brazil and Canada.

Mexican scientists backed the plan, but the biggest boost may have come from NASA astronaut José Hernández, a U.S. citizen with Mexican roots who has flown on the shuttle Discovery and who lobbied for the creation of the agency. Hernández told Mexico's El Universal that "to avoid brain drain, I think Mexico should create opportunities like AEXA to wager on the academic and technological development of our country." AEXA will be headquartered in the state of Hidalgo; plans also call for a launch pad in an unpopulated region of the Yucatan. (4/22)

Reduce Cost-Per-Pound of Going to the Stars (Source: Modesto Bee)
President Barack Obama's plans for the future of America's civilian space programs, outlined in his speech last week, have been attacked for being too bold and relying too much on private enterprise. The reality is that they're not bold enough. The end of shuttle flights this year, as scheduled by President George W. Bush, and Obama's proposed cancellation the overbudget Constellation program, have received the most congressional and media attention. What's been neglected has been the core of the president's proposed revamping of NASA: the development of new technologies to reduce the cost and complexity of operating in space.

These proposals, however, do not address the key problem that limits the exploration and exploitation of space — the high cost of reaching orbit. Launching a satellite into orbit costs approximately $10,000 a pound. Until that cost dramatically drops, the promise of the final frontier will remain only a promise. High launch costs have restricted space to those governments and corporations that can afford tens of millions of dollars to launch a satellite. Nor are rockets infallible: Insurance rates for the launch of a communications satellite can be 10 percent to 15 percent of its value. In comparison, the cost of auto insurance for a teenager seems a bargain. (4/22)

Spaceport Authority Accepts Landeene Resignation (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
Spaceport America officials met Wednesday to formally accept the resignation of Spaceport Authority Director Steve Landeene. After a closed-door meeting, they also appointed board Chairman Fred Mondrag-n, based in Santa Fe, to act as executive director until a replacement is named. Mondrag-n, also state economic development secretary, said he'll spend two to three days a week in Las Cruces or Truth or Consequences while in the role.

The board granted another of its members, Ben Woods, who's also a New Mexico State University official, authority to sign documents on Mondrag-n's behalf, if Mondrag-n isn't able to. Landeene, 47, earns $155,546 annually. He'll be paid through May 14, though officials have said he's only working in an advisory capacity until then. (4/22)

Antelope Valley Commemorates Space Shuttle (Source: Edwards AFB)
Over 100 people turned out to be a part of the Space Shuttle First Flight Commemoration that took place at the Joe Davies Heritage Airpark in Palmdale, Calif., April 20. State, city, Air Force, NASA and Boeing officials joined to pay tribute to the thousands of space and aerospace workers who were part of the Space Shuttle team. "It's a very proud program for the Antelope Valley and especially for Air Force Plant 42," said Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford.

Mayor Ledford said the city of Palmdale is proud to be part of the history of the Space Shuttle Program that started so long ago at Site 1, the home of all six shuttles. Site 1 was also the shuttles' maintenance site for many years. Edwards Air Force Base served as a primary alternate landing site and had the distinction of receiving the very first shuttle landing. On April 14, 1981 space shuttle Columbia made its first flight. (4/22)

Lockheed Martin Hosts 4,000 Students for Young Minds At Work Day (Source: CSA)
Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company opened its doors to students, aged 6-18, for the company’s annual Young Minds at Work Day on Apr. 22. Approximately 4,000 students participated at company facilities in Colorado, California, Alabama and Pennsylvania. Click here for information. (4/23)

Lockheed Martin-Built Instruments See "First Light" on NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (Source: CSA)
Spectacular “first light” images and data from the three state-of-the art instruments on NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) were unveiled by NASA. The SDO spacecraft was launched aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport on Feb. 11. Click here for information. (4/23)

Lockheed-Built Hubble Space Telescope Marks 20 Years of Discovery (Source: CSA)
NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope (HST), built and integrated at the Lockheed Martin Space Systems facility in Sunnyvale, was launched 20 years ago aboard Space Shuttle Discovery, on April 24, 1990, ushering in a new golden age of astronomy. HST was released by the crew into Earth orbit the next day and the universe hasn't looked the same since. Click here for more. (4/23)

No comments: