June 29, 2010

European Earth Observation Program Faces Big Funding Shortfall (Source: Space News)
Europe’s ambitious GMES satellite-based Earth observation program is an estimated $600 million short of what it needs to complete development of satellites already under construction and assure the promised data continuity to users in the period from 2011 to 2014, with potential funding sources drying up with each new development in Europe’s sovereign-debt crisis, European government and industry officials said. (6/29)

Arianespace Lands Arsat-1 Launch Contract (Source: Space News)
Arianespace will launch the Arsat-1 satellite for Argentine satellite operator Empresa Argentina de Soluciones Satelitales Sociedad Anonima, or Arsat, in mid-2012 under a contract announced June 28 by the Evry, France-based launch services provider. (6/29)

House Spending Panel Punts on NASA Policy (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
A key congressional committee today sidestepped a potential vote on NASA’s future, opting to take “no position” on White House plans to scrap NASA’s moon rocket program and replace the space shuttle with commercial rockets. The House subcommittee with oversight of NASA’s budget did, however, agree unanimously to withhold funding for the agency’s human exploration program until Congress authorizes a plan for the agency — a move that normally could cause headaches for the administration.

But because Congress is unlikely to move this spending bill — or any 2011 spending bill — until after election season, the prohibition essentially is rendered moot. With that procedure aside, much of the rest of the two-hour hearing turned into a debate about NASA should do after the shuttle era. The hearing appeared to do little to advance the debate in any direction, other than to agree to fund NASA at $19 billion next year as requested by the administration. (6/29)

Man Survived Life-Threatening Space Vacuum Exposure (Source: Huffington Post)
Jim LeBlanc was the test subject for a dangerous NASA test in 1965 designed to test if space suits could withstand a zero-pressure vacuum, just like there would be on the moon. But when the tube pressurizing his suit became disconnected, disaster almost struck. "As I stumbled backwards, I could feel the saliva on my tongue starting to bubble just before I went unconscious and that's the last thing I remember," recalls LeBlanc. "Essentially, he had no pressure on the outside of his body and that's a very unusual case to get," explains Cliff Hess, the supervising engineer. "There's very little in the medical literature about what happens when you have that. There's a lot of conjecture, that your fluids will boil." Click here for the story. (6/29)

Space Policy To Boost Tech Investment (Source: Information Week)
The Obama administration this week unveiled a new space policy that calls for more investment in advanced technologies from the aerospace industry so the U.S. can compete better globally. The plan, unveiled Monday, also increases the program's focus on using space technology to study and monitor global climate change and the environment. This move was expected after NASA in April said that playing a stronger role in environmental research was part of a new agency roadmap that anticipated the end of the space shuttle program later this year.

According to the plan, the federal government will actively promote using domestic technology and services for space-related research and development as a way to bolster U.S. industry, as long as it does not interfere with international cooperative agreements. The policy also calls for NASA to seek partnerships with the private sector to develop new technologies for human space travel beyond Earth, including commercial spaceflights to the International Space Station. The administration hopes to send people to new space destinations by 2025. (6/29)

NASA Seeks “Affordable” Heavy Rocket Ideas for Human Spaceflight (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
NASA asked the aerospace industry on Tuesday to come up with ideas for new “affordable” rocket systems and propulsion technology to replace the agency’s current over-budget line of launch vehicles that make up the ill-fated Constellation Program. President Barack Obama proposes cancelling Constellation’s Ares rockets and replacing them with new generation boosters that are more affordable to build and fly.

Many members of Congress, especially those representing districts working on the Ares rockets, object to the change and are fighting to keep Constellation alive. Others lawmakers want the agency to build a compromise rocket using parts of the space shuttle. According to the “Broad Agency Announcement for Heavy Lift Studies,” NASA is “seeking an innovative path for human space exploration that strengthens its capability to extend human and robotic presence throughout the solar system. The information also may help lay the groundwork for humans to safely reach multiple potential destinations, including asteroids, Lagrange points, the moon and Mars.” (6/29)

Musk's Tesla Motors Goes Public (Source: Space News)
Tesla Motors, the electric car company founded by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, is set to go public today with its shares pricing yesterday at $17, exceeding the forecast range of $14-$16 a share, the Wall Street Journal and others reported. The Palo Alto, Calif.-based firm and its shareholders — including Musk — unloaded 13.3 million shares Monday June 28 ahead of the IPO to raise $226 million. (6/29)

Russia, Canada Seek Joint Arctic Space Monitoring Project (Source: RIA Novosti)
Russia and Canada will start negotiations on the integration of their national space systems to monitor the Arctic, a Russian space official said. Anatoly Shilov, deputy head of the Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos, said the first Russian-Canadian meeting was scheduled for August. "We are currently discussing which services will be provided by Russian satellites and which by Canadian satellites," he said. He said the Russian government had made a decision to create a multipurpose space system called Arktika (Arctic), worth around 70 billion rubles ($2.5 billion). (6/29)

Huge Potential Advances in European Space Exploration (Source: Public Service)
As Europe's Goce satellite delivers insight into the subtle but pervasive influence that gravity has on the planet, the European Space Agency's Jean-Jacques Dordain considers the strategic and economic importance of space. For Europe, NASA has always provided the benchmark for space activities. It will always remain "the Space Agency that landed men on the Moon". Our technical culture at the European Space Agency (ESA) is to a large extent inspired from NASA culture and our cooperation with them has grown to the point where many, if not the majority, of our science missions – for instance – have been developed in cooperation with our American partners.

In 1957, the USSR sent the first satellite ever into orbit (Sputnik), the first man in space was a Russian (Yuri Gagarin, in 1961), as was the first human being to conduct a "spacewalk" outside a spaceship (Alexei Leonov, 1965). The Russians will be remembered for all these firsts. But they have also taught us many things in space activities: ESA's cooperation with Russia is long-lasting. We have flown several ESA astronauts on Russian space capsules, and unmanned Soyuz launchers will soon lift off from Europe's spaceport in French Guiana.

Probably less well known around the world, the European Space Agency, in over 40 years of existence, has also had its share of firsts of which Europeans can be very proud: Ariane is leader on the global commercial launcher market; ESA's Envisat satellite is second to none at delivering environment-related data; ESA safely landed its Huygens probe on Titan – the most distant landing ever achieved – to unveil the secrets of Saturn's largest moon; ESA is orbiting Mars and Venus, chasing comets with its Rosetta mission, while water on Mars was first discovered by a European probe (Mars Express) only a few years ago. (6/29)

Utah Senator Blasts Space Policy (Source: Sen. Hatch)
U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) issued the following statement today blasting President Obama’s new National Space Policy: “The Administration is yet again trying to sell this country a failed space policy that irrevocably diminishes our central role in space exploration. The President says he is committed to ‘reinvigorating U.S. leadership in space,’ but what he’s proposing makes us more dependent on Russia and other nations. That’s not how I would define leadership...[I]t’s hard to understand how the President is committed to ‘a robust and competitive industrial base,’ when he’s dismantling a proven and effective space program that has propelled our nation to tremendous heights. In fact, [NASA] has taken extraordinary steps to terminate Project Constellation without Congressional approval, and contrary to the law. I urge the President to rethink this flawed policy, because while this might be a new direction for manned space flight, it’s a direction we don’t want to take.” (6/29)

Aerojet Sponsors Mars Education Challenge (Source: EWORLDWIRE)
Explore Mars Inc. is pleased to announce the launch of the Mars Education Challenge (MEC). The goal of this program will be to challenge science educators around the United States to develop ingenious ways to fit Mars science and exploration into the classroom. While this may not be an easy task, the organization calls on science educators around the United States to develop Mars-related curricula that can be easily adopted in accordance with the majority of curriculum standards around the country.

The inaugural challenge will recognize six (6) winning curricula entries, with five (5) regional awards and one (1) national award. Winners will receive awards of between $2500-$5000 and will also be provided opportunities to do field research with well-known planetary scientists. The official launch date will be on August 23, 2010, but interested educators are urged to start planning their curricula this summer. Explore Mars will be happy to answer any questions that potential participants or other interested parties may have. Click here for information. (6/29)

Canadian Space Agency Invests in Concept Studies (Source: CSA)
The Canadian Space Agency has awarded two contracts to MDA and a contract to the University of Calgary to develop three different concept studies for Canada's participation in NASA's New Frontiers program—-the next space mission to another celestial body in our solar system. Under these contracts (valued at $500,000 each), MDA and the University of Calgary will work with international science teams to develop preliminary designs for three proposed missions, one of which will be selected by NASA for launch in the 2016-18 timeframe. Click here to read the article. (6/29)

First Directly Imaged Exo-Planet Confirmed Around Sun-Like Star (Source: Gemini Observatory)
A planet only about eight times the mass of Jupiter has been confirmed orbiting a Sun-like star at over 300 times farther from the star than the Earth is from our Sun. The newly confirmed planet is the least massive planet known to orbit at such a great distance from its host star. The discovery utilized high-resolution adaptive optics technology at the Gemini Observatory to take direct images and spectra of the planet. The Gemini Observatory is an international collaboration with two identical 8-meter telescopes, in Hawaii and Chile. (6/29)

White House Space Policy: Good News For Greens (Source: TIME)
NASA junkies continue to howl at the Obama administration's plans for human space exploration, and with good reason: there's just no there there. Space partisans won't be any happier with a 14-pg. policy statement released by the White House yesterday. But if there's not much to cheer folks longing for a return to the moon, there's plenty to keep greens happy. This policy statement is written like most government policy statements—which is to say it's vague and platitudinous—but buried in the pabulum are bits of real initiative. Yes, NASA will essentially be abdicating its role in manned spaceflight, and yes it will be relying on the private sector to get Americans back into orbit and beyond. And no, there's no clear target for what "beyond" means, apart from a general idea that we might visit an asteroid sometime after 2025 and go to Mars sometime in the mid-2030s—though you'd be wise not to try to book now. (6/29)

Cosmic Noise Could Improve Space Weather Forecasts (Source: Space.com)
A signal astrophysicists once dismissed as contamination of X-ray observations could actually improve forecasts of dangerous space weather that threatens Earth. Charged particles within the solar wind give off so-called soft X-rays when they collide with the magnetic field that shrouds the Earth. The soft X-rays have longer wavelengths and lower frequencies than their hard X-ray cousins. This signal was once dismissed as local cosmic noise that interfered with space observatory surveys of hot, distant objects such as supernovas, until some scientists realized its significance for Earth. (6/29)

Obama Declares War on Space Junk (Source: New Scientist)
Keeping space debris in check has become a national mission for the US. The White House announced plans to share more information with other countries in a bid to prevent satellite collisions. The US will also fund research into cleaning up the space junk that's already there. Each new US president issues a list of priorities and positions related to outer space. Many elements, such as support for space exploration, tend to stay constant from one administration to the next. However, Barack Obama's National Space Policy includes new language on space debris, calling for the US government's orbital tracking information and collision predictions to be shared with industry and other countries – a move that some have long sought. (6/29)

Secretary of Defense Supports White House's Space Policy (Source: Florida Today)
Defense Secretary Robert Gates fully supported the new U.S. space policy to enhance international collaboration and reduce the country's vulnerabilities. "Space-based capabilities are critical to our military's ability to navigate accurately, strike precisely, and gather battle space awareness efficiently," Gates said last night. "However, changes in the space environment over the last decade challenge our operations. Today, space is increasingly contested as our systems face threats of disruption and attack, increasingly competitive as more states, private firms, and others develop space-based capabilities, and increasingly congested with orbital debris." (6/29)

ICBM Test Set June 30 at Vandenberg (Source: Spaceports Blog)
A Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile [ICBM] operational test flight is scheduled to launch from North Vandenberg Wednesday, June 30, 2010 between 3:01 a.m. to 9:01 a.m. PDT to determine the weapon system's reliability and accuracy. The USAF 576th Flight Test Squadron, which will direct the missile launch, installed tracking, telemetry and command destruct systems on the missile to collect data and meet safety requirements. Maintenance and operations task force personnel from the USAF 341st Missile Wing, Malmstrom AFB, Montana, are conducting operational tasks supporting the launch. (6/29)

UN Sponsors Space Study in Nigeria (Source: Next)
A comprehensive study of the equatorial plane, its attributes and characteristics will soon be conducted by the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) having received formal approval of the International Academy of Astronautics for the projects which will be sponsored by the United Nations Office for Peaceful uses of Outer Space (UNOOSA) “It will be useful for us during our launching of the satellite as information obtained will be applied to it,” said NASDRA's director, adding that the approval, which is first of its kind for any African Nation was given at the end of the meeting of the 53rd session of the committee on the peaceful uses of outer space held in Vienna.

Nigeria initiated the project by making a formal request to the International Academy of Astronauts. The UN support according to Mr. Mohammed will in the form of both technical and financial assistance as the sponsors will take responsibility for the expenses incurred by the researchers and also sponsor a workshop in December 2010, as part the project. Countries around the world occupy different geographical locations on the globe and are classified along the lines of the locations they occupy. Each country can then use this outer space environment and even develop its resources such as earth’s orbit for its benefits. (6/29)

Russia Using South Korea to Test Angara (Source: Chosun Ilbo)
Tomifumi Godai, a former president of the International Astronautical Federation, questions the level of contribution Russian technology is making to Korea's space exploration program. "The first-stage Naro rocket, which was manufactured by Russia, is not a finished product," Gadai, who is considered the architect of Japan's successful H-2 rocket launch in 1994, told the Chosun Ilbo last week. "Russia is using Korean money to test its Angara rocket," which is under development as Russia's next-generation space launch vehicle. "It would make sense if there is a complete sharing of information about the latest mishap, but the Russians produce the hardware and Korean scientists can't touch it." (6/29)

The Right and Wrong Stuff for Space Cooperation (Source: MSNBC)
President Barack Obama's space policy paper stresses international cooperation as a means of advancing national goals in space. But when are these heavenly marriages advantageous to the United States, and when might they be so harmful that "going it alone" is preferable? The 14-page report says that spaceflight has already become multinational because of the growth of national (and commercial) players, and the wide array of teaming among these players for different activities. The report’s brief introduction ends with a “pledge of cooperation,” offered “in the belief that with strengthened international collaboration and reinvigorated U.S. leadership, all nations and peoples will find their horizons broadened, their knowledge enhanced, and their lives greatly improved.”

But these fine words collide with still-powerful international distrust, exemplified by the recent flap over China’s role as a potential partner. Last week, NASA had to deny a report that the Russians were inviting the Chinese to become players on the International Space Station, based on their expected ability to docking their own crewed spacecraft to the outpost. That same week, widespread objections followed the announcement of China’s participation at a NASA-sponsored world conclave on coordination of each country’s space programs.

And now the White House policy paper prominently lists expansion of international cooperation as one of the top goals of the U.S. space program. Such cooperation has proven useful in the past. But expanding cooperation merely for the sake of cooperating, as a goal in itself rather than a means toward a goal, can become an empty (but potentially costly) gesture. In assessing which future projects could benefit from which candidate partners, it's useful to assess the international track record in space. Old partners such as the Europeans, Canadians and Japanese have proved their worth. They stuck to joint projects even after Washington's course changes and delays multiplied the costs and difficulties enormously. Click here for more. (6/29)

Recovered Colorado Moon Rock Finds Home at School of Mines (Source: Denver Post)
Colorado's once-forgotten moon rock will get a permanent home at the Colorado School of Mines Geology Museum in Golden. No date has been set for the ceremonial unveiling. The rock was gathered during the Apollo 17 trip to the moon in 1974 and given to former Colorado Gov. John D. Vanderhoof by President Richard Nixon. Vanderhoof, 88, had the rock in his possession for almost 40 years because he couldn't garner any interest in displaying it, he said. Colorado's other rocks, from the Apollo 11 moon walk, were missing until about 10 years ago. Those are now available for public viewing on the third floor of the Capitol. Each state received a rock from both the Apollo 11 and Apollo 17 missions.

The same week the Colorado moon rock was found, a student tracked down one of West Virginia's missing rocks. A retired dentist, Robert Connor, has had the rock for the 10 years after finding it among his deceased brother's belongings and didn't realize its value. Shelton was honored by the state for her detective work. (6/29)

US to Enhance Space Cooperation with India (Source: Deccan Herald)
Looking to India as a ''great'' up and coming space-faring nation, the US said its newly announced space policy attached "vital" importance to enhance cooperation with that country. "By and large, we are looking to India as a great up and coming space-faring nation to work with us," Peter Marquez, Director of Space Policy, at the National Security Council, said after the White House unveiled the new National Space Policy. The new policy is designed to strengthen US' leadership in space and putting emphasis on greater cooperation with India in this field. (6/29)

NASA Contractor Trading Shuttles for Orion, Home in Exploration Park (Source: CFL-13)
From job fairs to state funding, the process to help the thousands of space workers transition to new work as the shuttle program comes to an end has been taxing. Many will have to leave the area if they can’t find work, and the Space Coast’s economy will suffer all the more. But one of them isn’t waiting for the pink slip to come -- and he’s staying in town. “They told us to find a Plan B, that you really need to start thinking about what you’re going to do post-shuttle,” said Tim Crannel, who has worked as a United Space Alliance flight crew engineer for 23 years.

Crannel and his associates handle all the things the crew would transport to the International Space Station on a shuttle mission -- anything from experiments to cameras, down to food and clothing. He now has started his own local business in Titusville. “Orion Aerospace is a small company going after the space business,” Crannel said. “The commercial guys -- Bigelow Aerospace, SpaceX. We also plan on going after the big guys -- Lockheed, Boeing.” Partnering with Space Florida, Orion Aerospace has four employees, each a United Space Alliance worker making the transition. The group hopes to soon lease space at the new Exploration Park at the Kennedy Space Center, and the three-year goal is to employ 100 former shuttle contract workers. (6/29)

Don't Be Subtle, Nuke that Asteroid! (Source: Discovery)
In recent years, there's been some uncertainty as to how we should deal with a nasty-looking asteroid tumbling toward Earth. If we're to believe the movies, we need to throw our nuclear arsenal at the offending space rock. But more recently, there have been some very strong arguments for more subtle asteroid deflection techniques. Going against the recommendations of not using nuclear explosions destroy an asteroid on a collision course with Earth, physicist David Dearborn of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has turned the "softly, softly" approach on its head. Yes, prepare the missile silos again, it's time to detonate a 100 megaton firework. Click here to read the article. (6/29)

Difficult Rebirth for Russian Space Science (Source: BBC)
Earlier this month, inside Paris' majestic Grand Palace, Russia was showcasing its cultural and technological achievements. Portraying a harmonious and progressive society, colourful musical performances and art exhibits were showing alongside impressive displays of Russia's aerospace power, oil industry and other high-tech sectors. At the heart of the Russian space pavilion was an exhibit for the NPO Lavochkin design bureau - the nation's veteran developer of unmanned planetary probes. Lavochkin's exhibit proudly displayed a scale-model of the Phobos-Grunt spacecraft, a mission to land on the potato-shaped moon of Mars and return grains of its mysteriously light surface back to Earth.

Involving a number of international participants, Phobos-Grunt was being advertised as Russia's flagship deep-space mission, paving the way for the country's return to planetary exploration after a two-decade hiatus. The problem, however, is that Phobos-Grunt developed a credibility problem in the international space community. Conceived in the midst of the post-Soviet economic crisis at the end of the 1990s, it remained a paper project for years. Then, the rebound of the Russian economy afforded the revival of the program. However, as history proved many times, money could not buy what only years of efforts could acquire, be it Olympic gold or the complex world of cutting-edge science.

While Russia's cosmonauts continued to rocket into orbit with Swiss-clock regularity, even in the worst economic times, all efforts to jump-start the nation's neglected planetary exploration programme had so far failed. In the meantime, NASA's planetary spacecraft ventured into the farthest expanses of the Solar System, its rovers logged many miles on the dunes of Mars. Specialised probes penetrated the atmosphere of Jupiter and landed on the surface of Titan. (6/29)

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