July 27, 2010

Sea Launch Post-Bankruptcy Plan Wins Court Approval (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
A Delaware bankruptcy court confirmed Sea Launch's plan to reorganize under majority Russian ownership Tuesday, clearing a key hurdle on the firm's path to emerge from bankruptcy later this year. The milestone ruling came 13 months after Sea Launch filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in June 2009. The plan calls for Energia Overseas Ltd., a subsidiary of the Russian aerospace giant Energia, to purchase 85 percent of the stock in Sea Launch for $140 million in cash. The unsecured creditors, or firms that acquired a stake in Sea Launch in exchange for owed debts, will collectively hold 15 percent ownership in the reorganized launch business. (7/27)

Stanford Scientists Transform Raw Sewage Into Eco Rocket Fuel (Source: Inhabitat)
Here’s a pretty elaborate way to process sewage waste: Stanford researchers propose using anaerobic bacteria to break it down, producing nitrous oxide or laughing gas. Then, use the nitrous oxide as rocket fuel, of course, which burns leaving only harmless oxygen and nitrogen as byproducts. Rather than running needless rockets round the globe, the researchers propose that we use rocket-thruster technology to power sewage processing plants, creating a closed loop. (7/27)

NASA Did Not Illegally Try to Kill Constellation, Watchdog Finds (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
One front in the months-long battle over NASA’s future is whether agency leaders — acting on behalf of the White House — illegally tried to shut down the Constellation program in violation of law passed last year by supporters of the moon rocket project. Acrimony over the issue reached such a boiling point that Congress asked its watchdog, the Government Accountability Office, to investigate. Last week, the GAO released a 13-page report that concludes NASA acted within the law. (7/27)

Food for Mars a Daunting Challenge, NASA Says (Source: Science News)
Most people find the palatability of in-flight entrees an oxymoron. But even frequent fliers seldom encounter more than a few such meals per week. Astronauts, in contrast, may have to survive months in orbit dining on a really limited menu of processed foods and reconstituted beverages served from oh-so-glamorous plastic pouches. Luckily, even the International Space Station can restock its pantry several times a year because these foods are relatively perishable. Which explains the problem NASA faces in planning for really long missions — like a trip to Mars. Click here to read the article. (7/27)

Potentially Hazardous Asteroid Might Collide with the Earth in 2182 (Source: FECYT)
"The total impact probability of asteroid '(101955) 1999 RQ36' can be estimated in 0.00092 –approximately one-in-a-thousand chance-, but what is most surprising is that over half of this chance (0.00054) corresponds to 2182," explains a researcher from Spain. The research also involved scientists Italy and the USA. Scientists have estimated and monitored the potential impacts for this asteroid through 2200 by means of two mathematical models.

Thus, the so called Virtual Impactors (VIs) have been searched. VIs are sets of statistical uncertainty leading to collisions with the Earth on different dates of the XXII century. Two VIs appear in 2182 with more than half the chance of impact. Asteroid '(101955) 1999 RQ36' is part of the Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHA), which have the possibility of hitting the Earth due to the closeness of their orbits, and they may cause damages. This PHA was discovered in 1999 and has around 560 meters in diameter. (7/27)

New Mexico Spaceport Paving Project Gains Ground (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
The route will be crucial to Las Cruces companies and workers who want to travel to Spaceport America. After years of talking about paving the dirt stretch, officials said last week momentum is finally building to carry out the project. The spaceport authority, Dona Ana County and Sierra County are working out an agreement for paving the road, said spaceport executive director Rick Homans last week. (7/27)

New Mexico Governor Announces Spaceport Board Changes (Source: AP)
Gov. Bill Richardson has appointed Benjamin Woods of Las Cruces as chairman of the board of directors of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority. Woods has served on the board since 2005. He works as an administrator at New Mexico State University. Richardson also announced Monday that he has appointed Patrick Beckett of Las Cruces to the spaceport authority board. Beckett fills a vacancy on the board created by Woods becoming chairman. Beckett is an archaeologist and owns a book store in Las Cruces. (7/27)

Sleep: Lost in Space? (Source: Psychology Today)
At a recent conference, Melchor Antunano presented one of the most interesting topics. He is with the FAA Civil Aerospace Medical Institute and the UN International Academy of Astronautics. He discussed medical issues with regard to commercial space flight, including space tourism. It was striking to realize how many companies and how many countries are now pursuing commercial space business and space tourism.

Getting good sleep in outer space is very challenging. Suborbital and orbital flights for non-specialists certainly present significant medical challenges. Long duration flights, say to Mars or on the space station, pose challenges for professional astronauts. What do you do if a crewmember has a heart attack? How do you cope with exposure to galactic cosmic radiation? What about having sex on long duration flights to Mars? What if a passenger has an undisclosed medical problem that becomes an issue on a flight? How will non-professionals cope with the very common problem of space motion sickness?

The list of issues considered was interesting- but sleep was not mentioned during the presentation. Sleep is, however, a very real concern to NASA. And while sleep issues may be relatively less important for sub-orbital space tourism, it will be more significant for those planning on orbital or lunar fly-by flights, both of which are currently being planned by existing space travel companies. Previous research indicates that sleep duration on missions may be short - about 6.5 hours per day with reduced subjective quality of sleep. Long duration flights of more than three months are especially challenging. Click here to read the article. (7/27)

Wolf: Prospects Bleak for Timely Passage of NASA Spending Bill (Source: Space News)
With less than five legislative weeks remaining in the 111th U.S. Congress, it is possible that lawmakers will not approve a 2011 NASA spending bill until January, more than three months into the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, the senior Republican on the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the space agency said July 27. Although Congress is officially in session at least for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, lawmakers are expected to recess for six weeks beginning Aug. 9 to campaign in their districts in advance of the November mid-term elections. (7/27)

Children Fly for Half Price on Zero-G (Source: Zero-G)
Children aged 8 through 13 receive a 50% discount on their ZERO-G Experience, with the purchase of a seat at retail price. This offer is valid for any currently scheduled ZERO-G flight before December 31, 2010 and is subject to availability. Click here for info. (7/27)

1,300 Shuttle Workers Get Layoff Notices (Source: CFL-13)
Layoff notices were distributed Tuesday to 1,394 shuttle program employees. Officials said 902 of those jobs are being cut from Florida. United Space Alliance announced the layoffs earlier this month because of long-range plans to reduce the workforce as the shuttle program nears retirement next year. Up to 8,000 KSC workers could lose jobs by the time the shuttle program ends. (7/27)

U.S. Missile-Tracking Satellites Pass Test with Flying Colors (Source: AIA)
Two experimental U.S. satellites that are part of the Space Tracking and Surveillance System passed several important tests last month, successfully detecting three missile launches and relaying data about their trajectories to Earth. The satellites were built by Northrop Grumman and Raytheon for the U.S. Missile Defense Agency They are equipped with sensors that pick up a signal when a missile fires its boosters and then they track the infrared signature of the missile through its flight. (7/27)

Senate: Long-term FAA Bill Still Possible This Week (Source: AIA)
The House Transportation Committee is already preparing a temporary extension for the FAA, even as Senate leaders insist they may be able to complete a long-term reauthorization bill this week. Among the contentious issues yet to be worked out: allowing airports to charge higher passenger facility charges and raising the limits on long-range flights from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. (7/27)

NASA Panel: Asteroid-Defense Office Should be Top Priority (Source: AIA)
NASA should make the establishment of a defense office dedicated to protecting Earth from asteroids a top-level goal, according to a task force in the agency. The NASA Advisory Council's Ad-Hoc Task Force on Planetary Defense called for the new office after a meeting this month in which ideas for detecting, characterizing and deflecting threatening near-Earth objects were discussed, in addition to ideas for international cooperation on the issue. (7/27)

Recasting the Debate About Commercial Crew (Source: Space Review)
One of the most controversial elements of the White House's plan for NASA, commercial crew, has suffered setbacks in Congress in recent weeks. Jeff Foust reports on how proponents of commercial crew believe that the effort's long-term success may hinge on resetting the terms of the debate about it. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1671/1 to view the article. (7/27)

USA Giving Notice To Employees Losing Jobs This Fall (Source: Florida Today)
United Space Alliance is giving notice to roughly 1,000 shuttle program employees at Kennedy Space Center who will be laid off later this year. The company announced the layoffs earlier this month, citing long-standing plans to reduce the workforce as the shuttle program nears retirement next year. In total, the Houston-based company said it planned to reduce its staff by about 15 percent in Florida, Texas and Alabama by Oct. 1. (7/27)

$150 Million Overhaul at Plum Brook Readies Ohio to Lead Space Testing (Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer)
The Space Power Facility at NASA's Plum Brook Station near Sandusky contains the world's largest vacuum chamber, as well as new facilities for vibration and acoustic testing of spacecraft. The new "horn room" at NASA's Plum Brook testing facility has 36 nitrogen-powered loudspeakers to simulate the rumble of a rocket launch. Next door, at the bottom of a concrete-lined crypt big enough to hold a house, they're preparing to install a massive "shaker table." Its hydraulic rams will rock and roll a 38-ton space capsule like a pebble atop a clothes dryer, to mimic the buffeting of a ride into space.

If all this equipment sounds like a 21st Century torture chamber, well, that's the point. Plum Brook Station, operated by Cleveland's NASA Glenn Research Center, is a proving ground for spacecraft. It's where prototype space capsules, satellites, landing vehicles and rocket components can be exposed to the harsh condition they'll encounter aloft, from searing heat and sub-zero cold to the absence of air pressure.

Now, with $150 million in new facilities and upgrades nearing completion, this 6,400-acre former World War II explosives plant south of Sandusky is poised to make Ohio an international leader in "space environment testing." The vibration and acoustic chambers to be finished in 2011, coupled with other ongoing and planned improvements, are meant to make Plum Brook a "one-stop shop," providing a unique suite of cutting-edge tests in one location. (7/27)

LaBarge Receives $4.9 Million Contract for Atlas V Launch Program (Source: LaBarge Inc.)
LaBarge, Inc. has received a $4.9 million contract from United Launch Alliance (ULA) to continue to produce complex wiring harnesses for the Atlas V launch vehicle. (7/27)

Listening for Aliens: What Would E.T. Do? (Source: TIME)
What would E.T. do? It's an improbable question, but it's one Gregory Benford has been thinking about a lot lately. The SETI project is, as its name suggests, a continuous hunt for sentient, otherworldly life. It involves pointing a radio receiver at a candidate star (one that is sunlike and not too far away) and listening for some sort of steady signal — an alien radio broadcast, on all the time. Like Jodie Foster in the movie Contact (vaguely like that, anyway), SETI searchers would tune in for a while, and if they got nothing, they'd move on. "We've now looked out to about 500 light-years or so," says Gregory Benford, "and found no such transmissions." Click here to read the article. (7/27)

Commercial Spaceflight, We Have a Problem (Source: MIT Technology Review)
A key element of the White House's revised direction for NASA is turning over the transportation of astronauts to and from low-Earth orbit to the private sector. Recent funding moves by Congress could sharply restrict the ability of companies to provide those services. The Obama administration's original budget proposal for NASA, released almost six months ago, included $6 billion over the next five years to help fund the development of such systems.

Proposed revisions to the proposal could cut this figure dramatically, to as little as $150 million over three years. NASA would use the vehicles developed by private companies to get crews to and from the International Space Station. The companies operating such spacecraft could also use them to serve other customers as well. But the high cost of developing such systems--in the hundreds of millions to billions of dollars--means that NASA would have to help fund their development. Click here to read the article. (7/27)

Lockheed Posts Profit (Source: Reuters)
Lockheed Martin, the world's largest defense contractor, posted a higher-than-expected quarterly profit on Tuesday as revenue rose and margins improved. Net earnings in the second quarter rose to $825 million, from $734 million a year earlier. Quarterly sales rose 3 percent to $11.44 billion. (7/27)

Solar Sail Experiment Could Prove Space-Time Theory (Source: Space.com)
Solar sails that use sunlight pressure instead of fuel to fly through space have long been touted by space exploration advocates, but the novel space travel method could also be tapped to settle an unproven theory by famed scientist Albert Einstein. A gossamer solar sail would be a prime platform for an experiment that would test the so-called frame-dragging hypothesis in Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, said Roman Kezerashvili, a professor of physics at New York City College of Technology. He presented the experiment concept during the International Symposium on Solar Sailing held here July 21 at the college. (7/27)

Despite Losing Tools, Cosmonauts Complete Spacewalk (Source: Space.com)
A lost tool and washer marred an otherwise routine spacewalk by two Russian cosmonauts outside the International Space Station Tuesday. Russian cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and Mikhail Kornienko spent six hours and forty-two minutes outside the orbiting lab replacing a broken camera and installing cables on a Russian room to help outfit it as a new docking port. The lost tools will temporarily become new pieces of space junk floating in Earth orbit, and should eventually be destroyed as they burn up in Earth's atmosphere. (7/27)

Students, CubeSats and the Importance of a Space Education (Source: Discovery)
Last month, I joined a team of space engineering students from the University of Michigan in an hour and a half-long flight aboard the famous Weightless Wonder aircraft to document the group's participation in NASA's Reduced Gravity Flight Education Program in Houston, Texas. Flying at 30,000 feet in a state of simulated weightlessness is an outer-worldly experience was the icing on the cake for the young engineers.

They used the flight time to test their nanosatellite experiment, the eXtendable Solar Array System (XSAS), which has been in development since September 2009. The students were able to collect data for this project about 20 times during the 30 parabolas our aircraft executed. (7/27)

New Report Urges U.S. To Overhaul Launch Policies (Source: Space News)
The U.S. government should permit China to launch U.S.-built commercial satellites and force an overhaul of the U.S. Air Force’s relationship with its principal launch-services provider, United Launch Alliance (ULA), as part of a strategy to assure long-term access to commercial satellite bandwidth, a U.S. think tank has concluded.

The Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) says the U.S. policy of guaranteeing “assured access to space,” which has been interpreted to mean access for government-owned spacecraft, should be extended to commercial satellites. U.S. government policies should all move in the direction of ensuring maximum availability of commercial satellite launch capacity, which exists today but could be curtailed in the future.

The CSIS report, “National Security and the Commercial Space Sector,” stops short of offering clear policy proposals and for the most part is a synthesis of often differing opinions from the U.S. Defense Department, commercial launch-service providers and commercial satellite operators. (7/27)

CSIS: Obama Space Policy Falls Short (Source: Aviation Week)
Problems identified earlier with government support for the commercial space launch industry that provides major support for U.S. national security interests have not been addressed in the Obama administration’s new National Space Policy, and threaten future military operations if they are not addressed, suggests the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

The final draft of the CSIS report “National Security and the Commercial Space Sector,” released here this morning, finds the space policy issued last month fails to back up laudable goals with a way to reach them. Instead, the policy adopted by President Barack Obama “remains largely consistent with that of previous administration,” the independent think tank reports. (7/27)

China Considers Big Rocket Power (Source: BBC)
Chinese engineers are considering a new super-powerful engine for the next generation of space rockets, say officials. According to Li Tongyu at the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), engineers are currently studying a rocket engine capable of generating thrust of 600 tons. If China succeeds in the development of such power, it would increase the nation's capabilities in space by orders of magnitude.

For comparison, China is currently well in the development of its most powerful rocket to date - Long March-5 - that would sport engines with the thrust of 120 tons. "Rockets (with 600-tonne thrust engines) would only be justified for things like sending humans to the Moon, if such projects are approved," Li Tongyu said.
In March, the official China Daily newspaper disclosed that CALT was studying a super-heavy launch vehicle, which could be used to mount lunar expeditions.

Although the expected payload of the future heavy lifter had not been disclosed, available details allow placing it close to the same category with that of the Saturn-5 rocket, which carried US astronauts to the Moon. (7/27)

Solar Probes Dispatched to Moon (Source: Discovery)
A pair of NASA science satellites that have been studying how solar geomagnetic storms impact Earth are being dispatched to the moon for a new mission. The probes are part of a constellation of five satellites collectively known as THEMIS, an acronym for Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms, which was launched in February 2007.

The spacecraft, which were carefully positioned in orbit for coordinated measurements downstream of Earth, surpassed their two-year design life and remain operational. But over time, the two outer satellites' orbits would have been in Earth's shadow for prolonged periods, leading to cold temperatures that likely would have been fatal. (7/27)

Editorial: General Wilson's Tough Job (Source: Florida Today)
Brig. Gen. Burke Wilson officially gained his first star last week, which was pinned on his shoulders at Patrick Air Force Base, where he serves as commander and boss of the 45th Space Wing. Wilson has a tough job at a pivotal moment for the Space Coast and Florida — indeed, the nation — as he helps steer America’s space program through the post-shuttle era and initiate what portends to be a major shift in U.S. space policy.

His first responsibility remains helping ensure national security with most of the Pentagon’s network of spy, communication and navigation satellites launched from the Cape. But he’ll also need to display deft leadership in working closely with NASA, state officials and commercial rocket companies that would use the military-run launch pads at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to send astronauts into space under President Obama’s plan for NASA. So far, he’s proving up to the task. (7/27)

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