June 15, 2010

SpaceX Inks Deal to Launch Iridium Satellites from California (Source: Washington Post)
SpaceX has signed a $492 million deal with a satellite phone company to launch a fleet of next-generation commercial satellites aboard its Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg AFB in California. Satellite phone company Iridium Communications previously announced plans to launch six dozen next-generation satellites between 2015 and 2017 to replace its current satellite network. The effort will cost $2.9 billion. Neither company would say how many Falcon 9 launches would be required to put the satellites into low-Earth orbit. (6/15)

Homans Named New Mexico's Spaceport Chief (Source: AP)
The New Mexico Spaceport Authority has a new executive director, and he's no stranger to the job. The spaceport board met Tuesday in Truth or Consequences and voted unanimously to hire Rick Homans. He will take over as permanent director on July 1 after stepping down from his position as head of the state Taxation and Revenue Department. Homans served as the first chairman of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority from 2005 to 2007 and was briefly its executive director in 2007. Gov. Bill Richardson says Homans' appointment provides the continuity needed to ensure the spaceport's success. (6/15)

Falcon 9 Flight Sets Up Dragon Capsule Test (Source: Aviation Week)
Space Exploration Technologies, the poster child of commercial space advocates and the whipping boy of its foes, is girding for a second major hurdle this summer in its quest to deliver cargo and crew to the International Space Station, following a successful debut flight of the Falcon 9 rocket on June 4. That flight changed the environment in the ongoing debate over NASA’s plans to switch from its in-house Constellation Program to commercial vehicles like the Falcon 9 for human transport to low Earth orbit.

SpaceX plans to ship its second Falcon 9 to Florida in July, and launch later this summer with the first full-up version of the Dragon capsule the company hopes will one day carry astronauts to the ISS. That flight is the first of three demonstration missions under SpaceX’s $278-million COTS contract with NASA, a precursor to its $1.6-billion, 12-flight contract to deliver cargo to the space station. (6/15)

Russian Rocket Launches to ISS Successfully (Source: BBC)
A rocket carrying US and Russian crew has lifted off successfully from Kazakhstan, for a mission to re-staff the International Space Station. The Russian spaceship Soyuz blasted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome at 01:35am local time on Wednesday, for the 100th mission under the International Space Station (ISS) program. Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin and NASA astronauts Douglas Willock and Shannon Walker will spend approximately six months at the international orbiting laboratory. (6/15)

Huntsville's Mayor Presses NASA For Answers About Constellation Cuts (Source: WHNT)
Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle says he is concerned with Washington. "We are concerned both with the NASA administration there, and the president's administration, that continues to push to cancel a program that has been named as a program that will continue," said Mayor Battle." Mayor Battle has set up a task force, called the Second To None Initiative, to drum up support to save Constellation and get Congress on board to fund the project in the budget for fiscal year 2011. Mayor Battle says saving the program would save anywhere from 300 to 600 local jobs as well. (6/15)

Ex-'Satan' Rocket Launches Three European Micro-Satellites (Source: AFP)
A former Soviet SS-18 "Satan" intercontinental missile lofted a trio of European micro-satellites into space on Wednesday, including a satellite to monitor the Sun's impact on climate change, France's National Centre for Space Studies (CNES) said. The Russian-Ukrainian Dnepr lifted off from Yasny, southern Russia. Its triple payload included a 150-kilo (330-pound) French satellite called Picard that will scrutinise the Sun for changes that could affect Earth's climate system. The other passengers aboard the Dnepr were the satellites Mango and Tango, under a Swedish Space Corporation project called Prisma. (6/15)

Orion Spacecraft Takes Shape (Source: Lockheed Martin)
The Orion crew exploration vehicle took shape as the two halves of the crew module were fused together at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, La. The Lockheed Martin Orion team welded the forward cone assembly to the aft barrel assembly using the next generation friction stir weld process. The 445-inch long weld is the longest such weld of its kind and will ensure optimal structural integrity for the harsh environments of space flight.

The completion of the crew module welds marked another key milestone for the Orion crew exploration vehicle, completing the structural framework of the spacecraft. All welds have met stringent quality requirements without any rework required. Prior to flight testing, this crew module will be tested on the ground in flight-like environments, including static vibration, acoustic, and water landing tests. Results will be used to correlate sizing models for all subsystems on the vehicle. (6/15)

NASTAR Grant Allows Free Summer Camp (Source: NASTAR)
Due to support received from the NASA Pennsylvania Space Grant Consortium, NASTAR pleased to announce that NASTAR Camp, an exciting 5-day space and aviation camp experience, will be offered at no cost to participants. Contact Greg Kennedy at gkennedy@NASTARCenter.com. (6/15)

Arianespace to Launch the Second Vietnamese Telecommunications Satellite (Source: Arianespace)
Arianespace has contracted with Lockheed Martin to launch the VINASAT-2 satellite for Vietnam Posts and Telecommunications Group (VNPT) in the second quarter of 2012. VINASAT-2 will be built by Lockheed Martin. VINASAT-2 will be launched on an Ariane 5 or a Soyuz launch vehicle from the Guiana Space Center, Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. (6/15)

Kepler Unveils First, Partial List of Exoplanet Candidates (Source: Science)
Team members in the hunt for Earth-size planets circling other stars released the identity and characteristics of 306 candidate exoplanets located using the Kepler spacecraft launched in March 2009. A controversy is simmering over the 400 candidates the team is withholding until February 2011. Researchers say most of the 306 candidates awaiting confirmation—-something like half could be false positives—-have radii less than half that of Jupiter. The candidates include five multi-planet systems. NASA has allowed the team to keep another 400 candidates under wraps to give the team a chance to follow-up on its own and minimize the number of false positives. (6/15)

$15 Million Grant Will Support New Hiring for Displaced Shuttle Workers (Source: SPACErePORT)
The Department of Labor $15 million Grant to Brevard Workforce will fund primarily On-the-Job Training programs for those effected directly and indirectly by the end of the Shuttle. The grant provides for OJT, which partially underwrites the first few months of employee salaries, as an incentive for companies to fast-track hiring of our affected workforce. This fund is available to all affected workers, and can be used to obtain employment across the region. (6/15)

Mikulski Leans Toward Space Compromise (Source: Space News)
In a statement issued by her office June 14, Senator Barbara Mikulski said the elements of the authorization bill outlined in Senator Nelson’s letter offer “an alternative framework for NASA’s human space flight program that could snap us out of the ‘stagnant quo.’...I look forward to seeing the details and how this alternative meets the principles outlined in my February 16, 2010 letter: astronaut safety, mission destination, balanced space program, scientific utilization of human space flight, workforce transition, and taxpayer protection,” she said. (6/15)

Progress Toward Rules of the Road in Space (Source: Space News)
The convening of a United Nations Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) just might be the first step toward building new multilateral norms for the use of space. A UN GGE is proposed for developing transparency and confidence-building measures (TCBMs) for space activities. The concept of developing specific, UN-agreed TCBMs for space was first vetted by the Russians in 2004 through a General Assembly Resolution, and has been refined in annual GA Resolutions. The resolution has received overwhelming support, including by the European Union, but until recently been shunned by the United States, which has feared it would be a step down the slippery slope toward legal restraints on military space activities.

But, under the Obama administration — which has less of an allergy to multilateral solutions to global problems than the previous administration — things are changing, with the 2009 resolution passing by consensus. The Russian concept — presented to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva in August 2009 — for TCBMs is sound. Indeed, the proposal echoes recommendations long put forth by space scientists, industrialists and academics, such as the International Academy of Astronautics, on needed “rules of the road” for space operations. And it is Russia that is now proposing the creation of a GGE.

American diplomats have expressed interest in, and potential support for, the idea — although Washington is still leery about being dragged into any formal negotiations on a space weapons treaty. If a bilateral agreement is reached, it is likely such a panel could be established by the UN General Assembly in October, allowing work to start early next year. Establishment of a GGE is far from a guarantee that any useful moves toward agreed TCBMs will be taken. For one thing, the level of “experts” assigned to GGEs by participant countries varies wildly — from real experts to retired diplomats looking for a jaunt to NYC and Geneva. On the other hand, simply the convening of a GGE, where focused dialogue can take place on TCBMs, should be seen as a sign of progress in building multilateral norms of behavior for space activities. (6/15)

Code of Conduct for Space-Faring Nations Sought by Candidate Obama (Source: Politifact.com)
During the campaign, Barack Obama promised that as president, he would "restore U.S. leadership on space issues by seeking a code of conduct for space-faring nations, including a worldwide ban on weapons to interfere with satellites and a ban on testing anti-satellite weapons. Initiating and stating a willingness to participate in a regime protecting access to space will help the United States return to a position of leadership in promoting global stability."

The administration hasn't stepped back from this goal, but it also hasn't advanced the ball much, space experts say. The space-faring code of conduct is expected to be addressed in twin space policy reviews, now under way, by the National Security Council and the Defense Department. Space experts we interviewed, both inside and outside NASA, say they've heard nothing concrete about its prospects for enactment. (6/15)

Constellation May Not Recover from NASA's Rare Move (Source: Huntsville Times)
President Barack Obama's administration may not have killed the Constellation rocket program last week, but some say it has made Constellation's survival very difficult. Experienced NASA leaders and others also say the agency dropped the financial ax on Constellation using a law rarely - or never - followed in this way before. NASA told Congress last week that Constellation contractors haven't set aside nearly $1 billion in required funds to pay for shutting down their Constellation projects should the program be terminated.

Because they didn't, NASA Headquarters said it was forced to find that money in the remaining Constellation budget for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 or the budget would end the year illegally in the red. "I can recall no instance in which NASA, or other government agencies with which I have been associated, have set aside termination costs in the fashion which is now being required," former NASA administrator Mike Griffin said Monday. "It is, of course, possible that such a thing has been done, but if so, I am unaware of it."

That's not just Griffin's view. Congressional sources and former NASA executives have said the same thing since the announcement. Even NASA's headquarters spokesman for the issue, Bob Jacobs, didn't disagree when asked Monday if the law's application is new. He said there "may be some unique circumstances" this year. The problem for NASA supporters is that "this can create facts on the ground that can be hard to reverse." Congress may get the funding tap turned back on, Pike said, only to find workers scattered and unwilling to return. (6/15)

Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors Files for $178 Million IPO (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Electric car maker Tesla Motors Inc. filed documents Tuesday for an initial public offering of stock that could net nearly $180 million. In addition, Tesla plans to sell $50 million of its stock to Toyota Motor Corp. immediately following the IPO. Tesla recently agreed to buy Toyota’s Fremont, Calif. manufacturing facility for $42 million, while receiving an investment from the Japanese auto maker as part of a broader partnership. (6/15)

Bigelow Aims to Undercut Russians on Space Station Stays (Sources: Parabolic Arc, NY Times)
Over the past year, Bigelow visited countries like Japan, South Korea, Singapore, the Netherlands, England and Sweden to gauge interest. A stay on a Bigelow station, including transportation, is currently priced at just under $25 million a person for 30 days. That is less than half the more than $50 million a seat that NASA is paying for rides alone on Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station. Doubling the stay to 60 days adds just $3.75 million more.

For a country or company willing to sign up for a four-year commitment, the lease for an entire six-person module would cost just under $395 million a year, and that would include transportation for a dozen people each year. “You see why this is attractive for the sovereign client market,” a Bigelow official said. The Bigelow prices are good through 2018, and Mr. Bigelow said the prices would drop by then if, as he expects, rocket prices drop. (6/15)

China Launches Research Satellite (Source: SpaceToday.net)
A Chinese rocket launched a small scientific research satellite on Tuesday. The Long March 2D rocked lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center and placed the Shijian 12 satellite into low Earth orbit. The spacecraft, whose launch was not widely publicized ahead of time, is described as a research satellite that will carry out "scientific and technological experiments". (6/15)

S. Korea Refutes Claims That Premature Fairing Release Caused Rocket Failure (Source: Yonhap)
South Korea's state-run aerospace institute refuted claims Monday that premature ejection of fairings or rocket separation caused South Korea's Naro-1 to fail during takeoff last week. The Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) said images and telemetry data received during ascent showed there was no separation of the first- and second-stage rockets, nor was the fairing assembly ejected. (6/15)

Dnepr Rocket Set to Launch with Swedish and French Satellites (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
The Ukrainian-built Dnepr launch vehicle is set to head uphill on Tuesday, launching from an underground silo at a military base near Yasny, Russia at 14:42 GMT. Riding onboard is PRISMA, two satellites – nicknamed Mango and Tango – which will test rendezvous and formation flying in space, along with a French satellite, called Picard, riding below its Swedish partners. (6/15)

Armadillo Completes In-Flight Restart Test (Source: Flight Global)
A collection of YouTube videos dated 7 June show Armadillo Aerospace has had a successful in-flight restart test flight with its vertical take-off/vertical landing (VTVL) modular rocket vehicle, known as the Mod. The Mod lifted off and boosted to about 2,000ft before the engine was shut down for about 5 seconds. After a brief, freefalling tumble with a small drogue parachute deployed, the engine restarted. Mod stabilized and touched down for a normal landing close to its take off position.

Flight tests will eventually push Mod to an apogee above 100,000ft, according to statements on the company's web site. Armadillio competitor Masten Space Systems had its own in-flight restart test of the Xombie VTVL rocket on 26 May. Days later, the White House spotlighted its Commercial Reusable Suborbital Research Program (CRuSR), a NASA program that will invest $15 million per year from 2011 through 2015 research and development of suborbital spacecraft. Click here to view the videos. (6/15)

Editorial: End the Stalemate (Source: Florida Today)
It’s a game of political chicken that’s making the uncertainty about NASA’s future worse. And it has to stop. We’re talking about new moves in the White House and Congress to shape the agency’s direction that have turned the situation into a bitter stalemate. On one hand there’s the Obama administration, which keeps pressing its plan to launch astronauts aboard private rockets and kill the Constellation moon project. On the other are some members of Congress from NASA-dependent states, fighting to save Constellation and armed with a law that says it can’t be canceled without congressional approval. Common sense calls for cool-headed negotiations to break the impasse, but that’s too much to ask in Washington.

Enough, already. The brawl is delaying the need to move forward, and it’s time both sides recognize a compromise is in order. We’ve offered this idea before — so have others — and do so again as a starting point: A dual-track approach that allows commercial companies to move forward while also giving NASA approval to continue testing the Ares 1 rocket that was part of Constellation. That would provide the nation a fail-safe option should commercial rockets not prove up to the task of ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station. (6/15)

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