August 26, 2010

The Audacity of Space-Based Solar Power - Japan Sees Opportunity to Lead (Sources: JAXA)
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is now supporting basic technology research into Space-Based Solar Power (SBSP). "To address energy problems on the ground, research and development is being conducted on the Space Solar Power System that will transmit power using microwaves or lasers. The transmitted power is converted to terrestrial electricity and hydrogen for use on the ground." Click here for more on JAXA's efforts, and here for a JAXA video.

Editor's Note: SBSP is a concept hailed as feasible and attractive after U.S. military-sponsored studies only a few years ago, but it has failed to catch-on as a priority for NASA, DOD or the U.S. Department of Energy, despite a growing national emphasis on energy independence. Multiple U.S. companies are attempting to establish SBSP programs, but they require major capital investments and would benefit from a federal push to develop and demonstrate key technologies. Perhaps a U.S./Japan collaboration would make sense. (8/26)

Kepler Discovers Multi-Planet Star System (Source: NASA)
NASA's Kepler spacecraft has discovered the first confirmed planetary system with more than one planet crossing in front of, or transiting, the same star. The transit signatures of two distinct planets were seen in the data for the sun-like star designated Kepler-9. The planets were named Kepler-9b and 9c. The discovery incorporates seven months of observations of more than 156,000 stars as part of an ongoing search for Earth-sized planets outside our solar system. Kepler's ultra-precise camera measures tiny decreases in the stars' brightness that occur when a planet transits them. The size of the planet can be derived from these temporary dips. (8/26)

Blue Origin Plans Novel Escape System on Orbital Vehicle (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Two enabling technologies for Blue Origin's orbital Space Vehicle are a Pusher Escape System (PES) and a composite pressure vessel cabin. Blue Origin proposes to use NASA co-funding to develop these technologies. The PES is reusable with a full-envelope crew escape capability. Rather than an expendable tower over the capsule, PES uses an engine mounted at the rear of the capsule in a ‘pusher’ configuration. It will remain with the vehicle, avoiding the flight-safety risk of the jettison event.

The second risk mitigation activity for the orbital Space Vehicle is to conduct assembly and testing of a composite pressure vessel cabin, which will use composite panels bonded together. No such structure has ever flown in a similar space application. Blue Origin will evaluate the strength and leak-rate of the structure, as well as manufacturing challenge in the joint assembly. Following completion of the NASA-supported CCDev activity, Blue Origin plans a suborbital flight test at private expense. (8/26)

Exploding the Myth of Popular Support for Apollo (Sources: Roger Launius' Blog, HobbySpace)
Because of the on-going dispute over the future of human space exploration, I have been reminded of the longstanding perception that in the 1960s NASA’s Apollo program enjoyed great public support. That is a misconception. The belief that Apollo enjoyed enthusiastic support during the 1960s and that somehow NASA has lost its compass thereafter still enjoys broad appeal. This is an important conception, for without the active agreement of political leaders and at least public acquiescence no exploration effort may be sustained for any length of time.

The level of popular support that most people believe the public held for the Kennedy decision to undertake the Moon landings are, therefore, perceived as something that must be gained for the present space exploration agenda to succeed. Repeatedly a chorus of remorse for the lukewarm popular support enjoyed by specific space exploration activities is followed with a heavy sigh and the conclusion, “if only our current efforts had the same level of commitment enjoyed by Apollo, all would be well.”

The public’s support for space funding has remained remarkably stable at approximately 80 percent in favor of the status quo since 1965, with only one significant dip in support in the early 1970s. However, responses to funding questions on public opinion polls are extremely sensitive to question wording and must be used cautiously. For example, in the summer of 1965 one third of the nation favored cutting the space budget, while only 16 percent wanted to increase it. (8/25)

KSC to Host Second Lunabotics Mining Competition, May 23-28 (Source: NASA)
The Lunabotics Mining Competition is a university-level competition designed to engage and retain students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). NASA will directly benefit from the competition by encouraging the development of innovative lunar excavation concepts from universities which may result in clever ideas and solutions which could be applied to an actual lunar excavation device or payload. The challenge is for students to design and build a remote controlled or autonomous excavator, called a lunabot, that can collect and deposit a minimum of 10 kilograms of lunar simulant within 15 minutes. The complexities of the challenge include the abrasive characteristics of the lunar simulant, the weight and size limitations of the lunabot, and the ability to control the lunabot from a remote control center. (8/26)

GE Aviation Will Build an Engine-Manufacturing Plant in Alabama (Source: AIA)
General Electric Aviation plans to build a facility in Alabama to manufacture coatings for engine components of military jets. It is considering where in the state to build the 200,000-square-foot factory, which is expected to generate as many as 400 jobs. Production is scheduled to begin in 2013. (8/26)

Kansas Airports Contribute $10B to State Economy (Source: AIA)
Kansas airports contribute $10.4 billion each year to the state's economy, according to a report. "Whether moving goods, providing emergency assistance or connecting our communities, airports play a critical role in the Kansas economy," said Lt. Gov. Troy Findley. Eight commercial airports and 132 general aviation airports operate in Kansas. (8/26)

NASA Tech Chief: Budget Would be a Boon for Ohio Research Center (Source: AIA)
Robert Braun, the new chief technologist for NASA, visited the NASA Glenn Research Center in Brook Park, Ohio, this week to discuss how the billions of dollars that would be part of President Barack Obama's budget proposal would be used to promote cutting-edge technologies in space travel. The funds would come under Obama's controversial plan to shift NASA's direction from a back-to-the-moon focus to more research and development, and Braun said that if Congress approves the budget, NASA Glenn will likely have "more work than they know what to do with." (8/26)

Residents Near Spaceport America Still Having Water Problems (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
It's not yet known how severely water levels in Cutter have been impacted by pumping that's tied to the construction of Spaceport America, an official said Wednesday. "It's showing all the right signs of recharge," said Spaceport America Director Rick Homans. "Clearly, this has been a big hit to the water source, but they're just not sure how quickly or how much will come back. That's what we're watching." Officials from the spaceport, the state engineer's office and FNF Construction of Albuquerque met Wednesday with a group of residents in Engle, another small town between Truth or Consequences and the spaceport, to give an update about the situation. (8/26)

Raytheon to Lay Off 82 Workers at NASA Langley (Source: Virginian-Pilot)
Raytheon Co. confirmed Wednesday that it plans to lay off 82 employees at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton. The workers will be laid off Oct. 27, according to a notice Raytheon filed with the state under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act. "This is the direct result of a recompeted contract," said Jon Kasle, a spokesman for the company based in Waltham, Mass. (8/26)

Talking and Looking: Iridium's 'Next' Big Idea (Source: BBC)
Their job is to provide communications anytime, anywhere. And it's been a busy summer for the companies that provide satellite phone and data services. Earlier this month, we saw UK-based Inmarsat announce a $1.2bn project to launch three huge broadband satellites. The US Globalstar concern was also making news, taking delivery of the first of its next-generation spacecraft. Now Virginia-based Iridium, like Globastar, is having to upgrade its current network and has contracted Franco-Italian manufacturer Thales Alenia Space to build 81 spacecraft for the purpose.

Sixty-six satellites will be put in six planes some 780km above the Earth (the remainder will be held on the ground as spares) over the course of 2015-2017. On every one of the new spacecraft, Iridium is making available a 30-by-40-by-70cm volume that can be filled with third-party "hosted payloads" for Earth or space observation, up to a mass of 50kg. Iridium likes to describe its Next project as the biggest private space venture in the world today. Certainly, if a lot of these hosted payload opportunities are taken up then Next would also become the largest privately operated Earth observation program as well. (8/26)

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