September 27, 2010

China's Mystery Moon Rocket (Source: Space Daily)
As we approach the launch of China's second Moon mission on October 1, some major questions about the spacecraft and its launch vehicle remain unanswered. China's media has been generally low-key about covering the upcoming flight. There has been little recent talk in China's major newspapers, despite the supposed impending launch. That's a bit strange for a nation that loves to trumpet its spaceflight achievements.

Coverage was better for the Chang'e 1 mission, China's first Moon orbiter, in 2007. Admittedly, doing a similar mission again isn't as historically significant, but we should still expect more coverage. There's another mystery that goes against the previous expectations of this reporter, and others in the aerospace community. For years, we expected that the Chang'e 2 probe would be launched aboard a Long March 3A rocket, just like its predecessor.

These Chinese themselves supported this conclusion for some time. But things have changed. Photographs posted to the Internet of the upcoming launch show that this is not the case, and muddled reporting in China's People's Daily newspaper also suggests a new rocket. Internet photographs suggest that the Chang'e 2 orbiter will be launched by a Long March 3C rocket, a more powerful launch vehicle. Why has China made this change, when the spacecraft itself is supposedly almost identical? (9/27)

Be Careful What You Do With Space Garbage (Source: Space Daily)
Everyone has heard about the problems with space debris, but few are aware of what will happen when we have human space tourism and orbiting hotels. As an example, let's review a story about a cook on a future hotel/space station. It appears that this future space hotel was designed such that all guests have rooms with Earth views. The kitchen, storage and trash/garbage facilities are all in the back of the hotel. The captain has given strict orders to all staff that nothing is to be released to open space.

Resupply ships periodically replace fresh food and other consumables, and pick up the disposables. Unfortunately, the supply ship was a week late and all storage facilities were overflowing. The head cook was desperate to make room for more trash. So, he thought no one would ever know if he were to release some of the excess garbage through the rear airlock.

Unfortunately, the cook did not understand orbital mechanics. Objects released from a satellite go into orbit with the satellite. The cook assumed that by using air pressure in the airlock, the garbage would be forced away from the station. Exactly one orbit later, all those orange bags came back to the hotel. However, the equations of motion tell us that these bags all hit the front of the station, in effect polluting the view of Earth with floating "space fill." (9/27)

Lockheed Martin Gets $13 Million NASA Contract Extension (Source: AP)
Lockheed Martin has received a six-month, $13 million extension from NASA for cargo mission services to the International Space Station. The work includes planning, processing and analyzing cargo for delivery and return on a NASA shuttle, as well as vehicles for Japanese, Russian and European space agencies. The extension brings the value of Lockheed Martin's cargo mission services contract with NASA to $405 million. The contract started in November 2003 and is scheduled to end in March 2011. (9/27)

Space Program Must Remain National Priority, Symposium Speakers Say (Source: UCF)
As Congress debates NASA’s uncertain future and more than 7,000 Floridians’ space-related jobs are in jeopardy, political leaders and policy experts say the United States must make space exploration a national priority. U.S. Senator Bill Nelson opened a Lou Frey Institute of Politics and Government symposium at UCF by urging the House of Representatives to act immediately. He lobbied for approval of a Senate bill that he said would preserve about 4,000 Florida jobs connected with the space program and keep the U.S. involved with the International Space Station at least through 2020. (9/27)

Space Needle to Support Space Shuttle Effort (Source: Puget Sound Business Journal)
What will be flying up on the Space Needle Wednesday? That would be a flag that symbolizes the city’s effort to attract one of three retiring space shuttles to Seattle’s Museum of Flight. On Wednesday, tourism officials will hoist the flag to the top of the Space Needle, showing support for the museum’s effort to attract a space shuttle. NASA expects to make a decision on what three U.S. museums will get Space Shuttles by the end of this year.

In June, the Museum of Flight broke ground on a $12 million glass gallery to display one of three available space shuttles — even before NASA decides which museums will get one of the famous 122-foot-long shuttles with their 56-foot-tall tails. (9/27)

NASA Expectations Are Not Being Met by Education (Source: Examiner)
Since July criticism of the policy directives concerning NASA’s manned program have been the focus of articles at this site. Politicians and their motivations or lack thereof are not the only concerns for the space agency if there is to be a future in space exploration. What America’s educational system is producing is just as important to NASA and the rest of society if we are to be as productive as in the past. Despite the delusions that educational improvement is occurring, America’s international ranking is slipping to the bottom of all major surveys.

Despite the economic downturn and budgetary restraint, there has long been little desire for any major research and development projects that would benefit this nation. This lack of investment has resulted in a diminished need for educated students for NASA and other science oriented agencies and businesses. This also means that students have little incentive to pursue math or science degrees. (9/27)

Gordon Hopes to Fix Senate Authorization Bill Flaws in Appropriations Bill (Source: Space Politics)
House Science and Technology Committee chairman Bart Gordon has given in to pressure to pass the Senate's version of a NASA Authorization Bill, though, made it clear he wasn’t happy with elements of it. He is displeased with an “unfunded mandate” for an additional shuttle mission, the “overly prescriptive” language for a heavy-lift vehicle, and the lack of a timetable for development a government backup capability to commercial providers for ISS access. He suggested that he’s not done fighting about those issues. “I will continue to advocate to the Appropriators for the provisions in the Compromise language,” he said. (9/27)

Europe's Re-Entry Vehicle Tied to Station Extension (Source: Space News)
The European Space Agency (ESA) will be seeking the approval of is member states late this year to extend its participation in the international space station to 2020, a decision that will bind participating nations to preset budget contributions. ESA officials hope to use their member governments’ approval of the extension to win endorsement for development of a reusable version of Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicle, an unmanned freighter that delivers supplies to the station and reboosts the station’s orbit before being filled with garbage and burned up on a controlled re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere.

If the station’s service life is extended to 2020, the agency has a greater incentive to replace the Automated Transfer Vehicle with an Advanced Re-entry Vehicle (ARV) that would return cargo to Earth. ESA will propose to its governments to spend some 150 million euros ($200 million) on preparations for an ARV. Full development would cost considerably more. (9/27)

NASA Chief Goes to Beijing In October (Source: Aviation Week)
Plans are well along for NASA Administrator Charles Bolden to make a delayed trip to Beijing for what may be the opening round of talks leading to closer international cooperation in human spaceflight. NASA officials stressed that there has been no final invitation for Bolden to visit China at a specific time. However, officials in Beijing already are preparing for the visit, amid suggestions at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) here that it could come in October. (9/27)

Charting a Flexible Path (Source: Space Review)
The Augustine Committee introduced the concept of "Flexible Path" exploration last year, and NASA is taking steps to implement that approach. Jeff Foust examines what approaches NASA is considering as well as some alternative concepts for near Earth asteroid and other missions. Visit to view the article. (9/27)

(Anti-)Socialism in Space (Source: Space Review)
The Obama Administration is often criticized for policies that, to some, are synonymous with socialism. Jonathan Coopersmith argues that such critics need to pay closer attention to the administration's space program, which hardly fits that categorization. Visit to view the article. (9/27)

Senate’s NASA Authorization Bill Headed for House Floor (Source: Space News)
House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) said he anticipates the NASA authorization bill passed by the Senate last month will come to the House floor Sept. 29. Last week Gordon unveiled a revamped version of the House NASA authorization bill, but it sparked criticism from commercial space advocates who said despite more funding for commercial crew, Gordon’s compromise would place onerous restrictions on private space taxi development.

With House lawmakers expected to hit the campaign trail this week after approving a stopgap spending measure to keep the government running at current spending levels past Sept. 30, when the current fiscal year ends, Gordon said time is running out to complete work on a NASA bill. The Senate bill is expected to come to the House floor under a suspension of the rules, which would limit debate on the measure and require a two-thirds majority of members present and voting in order to pass. (9/27)

Virgin to Launch Space Tourism in 18 Months (Source: AFP)
Billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson said Monday that Virgin Galactic is on track to offer commercial space travel within 18 months, and that space hotels are next on the drawing board. The project's SpaceshipTwo, an aircraft built by aviation engineer Burt Rutan and designed to carry paying customers into suborbital space, had its maiden flight in the California desert in March.

Virgin Galactic has already collected $45 million in deposits from more than 330 people who have reserved seats aboard the six-person craft. Branson also has visions of establishing hotels in space, which well-heeled tourists can use as a base for shuttle flights over the moon. "We are looking at hotels in space. We love the moon," the tycoon said, adding that he was also interested in launching "small satellites into space" for the benefit of schools and universities. (9/27)

Australia Urged to Enter Space Race (Source: ABC)
Space scientists are calling on Australia's government to invest more than $100 million to help safeguard from the effects of severe space weather and political obstruction. Members of the Canberra-based Australian Academy of Science and other space researchers have been working on the blueprint for four years. The plan includes a mission to the sun, launching Australian satellites and training young scientists and engineers. Academy fellow Professor Malcolm Walter says Australia is one of the few western nations that does not have a space program. (9/27)

Orion's Future Still Up in the Air (Source: Florida Today)
In the past four weeks, there's been a lot of buzz about progress being made on the space capsule once envisioned to replace the retiring space shuttles and someday carry astronauts beyond Earth's orbit. Lockheed Martin is now working in the newly renovated Operations & Checkout Facility at KSC, which the state and federal government spent at least $50 million to transform into what's being dubbed the "spacecraft factory of the future."

The Lockheed Martin team is practicing new "lean manufacturing" methods in the modernized facility using a full-sized model of the spacecraft. The company's goal is to assemble the first Orion capsule in the facility as early as 2012 for a first flight as early as 2013. There's just one question: what's Orion's future? Click here to read the article. (9/26)

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