August 14, 2010

Up Please: How We Could One Day Ride a Space Elevator (Source: NWCN)
Seattle is the home to the Space Needle. Despite its name, at 605 feet, it's nowhere near the edge of space. As much as the human species has dreamed of building a stairway to the heavens, it's taken more than a half-century of rockets to actually get there. But the tower idea isn't dead. It's just gone high tech and there are still major hurdles to overcome. It's called a space elevator - a ribbon of lightweight, extremely strong material that a vehicle could ride up and down. Such a vehicle would be electrically powered, converting power from a laser beam into the juice to run motors.

How high would a space elevator need to be? "About 100,000 kilometers or about 60,000 miles." says Ted Semon of the International Space Elevator Consortium. The consortium is meeting on the Microsoft campus this weekend. The highlight of Friday night is a competition between teams of people trying to overcome what many here consider the biggest technological hurdle of the elevator project -- making a fiber strong enough to hold the weight of tons, yet be light enough to be extended to the extraordinary lengths.

The current champion is a Japanese made fiber called Zylon. "To build a space elevator, we need a material five times stronger than this," says Ben Shelef with the Spaceward Foundation. At stake in the competition are grants totaling $2 million put up by NASA. The U.S. space agency is very interested in the potential of the elevator. (8/13)

A Brief Dose of Reality (Source: Fortnightly Review)
Physicist Stephen Hawking has recently begun advocating we abandon Earth if we want to survive as a species. “It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand or million,” he says. “Our only chance of long term survival, is not to remain inward looking on planet Earth, but to spread out into space.”

If spreading out into space is our “only chance of long term survival,” shouldn’t we do as he advises and just go? It is a simple question and astonishingly there is an equally simple answer “No!” We can barely reach our neighboring planets and everything else is just unimaginably distant. Even if a man does land on one of our neighboring planets, it will either be unbearably cold or impossibly hot, it will have either the wrong atmosphere or little or none at all.

As for going to a nearby solar system, the distances are so great that we will never get there. For humans to survive, we need an atmosphere similar to earth’s. Primarily we need nitrogen and oxygen, a smidgen of carbon dioxide is a big help. We need a reasonable temperature, neither too hot nor too cold. It is a bit on the cold side at the earth’s poles but, compared to other planets, even this is clement. (8/13)

Tethers Tortured in $2 Million Contest (Source: MSNBC)
Three teams brought lengths of string to the Strong Tether Challenge today in hopes of winning as much as $2 million of NASA's money. But they all went away empty-handed ... except for the shreds of carbon nanotubes and glass fiber they had to pick up off the floor. Eventually, such materials could be used in the construction of space elevators, "railways" that reach tens of thousands of miles into the sky. But there are more immediate applications for ultra-strong, ultra-light materials: to make stronger ropes, better bulletproof vests and body armor, lighter and hence more fuel-efficient cars and airplanes, and hardier spacecraft.

NASA has been putting up the prize money for the Strong Tether Challenge since 2005. Five other NASA-backed Centennial Challenges - for prototype lunar landers, moondirt-digging robots, astronaut gloves, innovations in aviation and beam-power systems - have all produced winners. But no one in the tether contest has won a dime yet. (8/13)

California Airman Named Top Space and Missile Systems Operator (Source: USAF)
Two Air Force Space Command Airmen are the 2009 Space and Missile Systems Operators of the Year. The annual award recognizes the best operators in the 1C6X1 Space Systems Operation career field. Tech. Sgt. Michael Rozneck, 3rd Space Experimentation Squadron at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo., won for the noncommissioned officer category and Senior Airman Eric Escobar, 7th Space Warning Squadron at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., won for the Airman category. (8/13)

$1.6 Billion Telescope Would Search Alien Planets and Probe Dark Energy (Source:
A $1.6-billion space telescope that could reveal the nature of dark energy and identify Earth-like planets should be the top priority for astronomers and astrophysicists, according to a long-awaited report that lays out the pressing needs for the next 10 years of space science. The Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) would launch in 2020 as one of the next generation of telescopes that should target the early universe, search for nearby habitable planets and test the boundaries of fundamental physics, according to the Astro2010 Decadal Survey by the National Academy of Sciences. (8/13)

NASA Announces Commercial Crew Initiative Forum (Source: NASA)
NASA is hosting a forum to highlight common themes captured from industry responses to NASA's Commercial Crew Initiative Request For Information (RFI). The forum is scheduled for 9 to 11:30 a.m. on Aug. 19 at NASA Headquarters. The RFI collected information from industry to help NASA plan the overall strategy for the development and demonstration of a commercial crew transport capability and to receive comments on NASA human-rating technical requirements.

The Aug. 19 forum will include discussion about how NASA is addressing the common themes in the responses and presentations on the availability of agency facilities and the availability of service arrangements for commercial providers. NASA managers also will participate in a question-and-answer session. The forum will be broadcast live on NASA Television and online via an agency webcast. Viewers can to ask real-time questions and offer comments online. For the Aug. 19 webcast, visit: (8/13)

China Top of Orbital Garbage Heap, Study Shows (Source: Discovery)
Who’s the biggest space polluter on the planet? Why that would be China, a relative newcomer to the space age, which now tops the list of countries contributing to space debris, according to a study by the Russian space agency, Roscosmos. China accounts for 40 percent of the space debris, followed by the United States, which produces 27.5 percent and Russia, with 25.5 percent, the study showed. (8/13)

Inmarsat Deal Boosts Boeing Satellite Business (Source: Aviation Week)
Inmarsat’s decision to go with Boeing Satellite Systems (BSS) for its Global Xpress deal marks a major step forward in the aerospace giant’s goal to return in force to the commercial satellite business. In the last decade, BSS saw its commercial activities largely vanish in the wake of engineering glitches, lawsuits and skyrocketing defense demand that caused it to shift its focus to military space. However, with U.S. defense budget growth on the wane, illustrated by the department’s decision to cancel the Transformational Satellite (TSAT) system, the U.S. manufacturer is being forced to change course. (8/13)

CSU Research Explores Space Travel (
It may sound like something out of a science fiction novel, but a postdoctoral researcher at Colorado State University has created a computer simulation that could lead to doubling the time that spacecraft and satellites are propelled in space.

Cody Farnell, a researcher working with Professor John Williams in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, developed the simulation that improves the performance of an ion thruster’s grids, which are used to accelerate ions to high speed to give the spacecraft thrust. An ion thruster is a type of electric force that converts electrical energy, rather than chemical energy, into thrust for spacecraft momentum. (8/13)

FAA Gives Environmental Approval for Virginia Spaceport Expansion (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The FAA has given its OK to a NASA plan to expand the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at the Wallops Flight Facility for new commercial launches. In an Aug. 3 ruling signed by FAA Associate Administrator for Commercial Spaceflight George Nield, the agency concurred with an earlier NASA finding that the planned expansion at the Virginia facility “would not individually or cumulatively have a significant impact on the quality of the human environment, and therefore the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was not required.”

The decision supports the issuance of licenses and experimental permits required for future launches. It helps pave the way for Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Taurus II rocket, which is being prepared for its inaugural flight in mid-2011. The vehicle will send Cygnus cargo freighters to the International Space Station. OSC also plans to use the new rocket to launch satellites. (8/12)

ULA and Air Force Launch Satellite from Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: PAFB, ULA)
The 45th Space Wing, with support from United Launch Alliance, successfully launched the first Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellite onboard an Atlas V launch vehicle on Saturday morning. This launch marks the fifth mission overall and third Atlas V mission for ULA in 2010. AEHF-1 represents the latest "one-at-a-time" mission success which has been accomplished 43 times since ULA was formed on Dec. 1, 2006. (8/14)

Business-School Research: Failure to Launch (Source: Economist)
Researchers at Brigham Young University and the University of Colorado are investigating how organizations learn from both successful and failed ventures, and how that knowledge is retained over time. They examined organizations that launch rockets designed to place satellites into orbit. They were able to take a large sample: all orbital launch attempts between October 1957 (the deployment of the first Sputnik) and March 2004.

They wanted to see how, for any given company, its successes or failures, and those of its rivals, influenced its ability to get subsequent rockets into space. The authors also wanted to measure whether success depended on how long had passed since the previous launch. This, they hoped, would measure of whether the company was retaining the lessons that needed to be learned.

They found that failed launches reduced the risk of future problems more than successful ones. What is more, the knowledge acquired after successful launches also seemed to be lost more rapidly than after failures. The effects of learning from other orbital-launch companies' successes and failures were smaller, but similar. In sum, a bad launch proved a better teacher. (8/13)

No comments: