September 14, 2010

NASA Cancels Wackenhut Security Contract (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Due to significant changes in NASA programs, Wackenhut Services Inc., a subsidiary of G4S, has been informed by NASA that its consolidated, agency-wide procurement of a protective services contract for 14 NASA sites has been canceled. Wackenhut will continue to supply protective services at six NASA sites via its existing contracts. Wackenhut is a Florida company, based in Palm Beach Gardens. (9/14)

NASA Extends Space Station Contract with Boeing (Source: NASA)
NASA has awarded a five-year, $1.24 billion contract extension to Boeing to continue engineering support of the International Space Station through Sept. 30, 2015. Work under the contract extension is intended to maintain the station at peak performance levels so the full value of the unique research laboratory is available to NASA, its international partners, other U.S. government agencies and private companies.

NASA officially accepted the space station from Boeing at the conclusion of a March 2010 Acceptance Review Board that verified the delivery, assembly, integration and activation of all hardware and software required by the contract. The acceptance signified the transition from assembly of the station to utilization.

This action extends the space station's Vehicle Sustaining Engineering Contract, which was originally awarded in January 1995 and most recently extended in 2008. The extension brings the total contract value through the end of fiscal year 2015 to $16.2 billion. (9/14)

SES Still Skeptical of Satellite Broadband in Europe (Source: Space News)
The chief executive of satellite fleet operator SES said he remains deeply skeptical of whether satellite consumer broadband will be a big market in Europe but is nonetheless investing in Ka-band payloads to serve that market. Romain Bausch, whose Luxembourg-based company already owns a 70 percent economic stake in start-up operator Ciel of Canada, also said he expects SES to assume a 70 percent voting stake given recent changes in Canadian telecommunications law. (9/14)

NASA Buys Humanoid to Become Robot Tour Guide at Cape Canaveral (Source: Daily Mail)
He speaks 15 languages, has a cheeky sense of humour and can even do impressions. And now this frighteningly life-like robot, built by a small firm in Cornwall in the UK, has been bought by NASA to become a robotic tour guide. The robot, who is known as RoboThespian, is powered by compressed air and is made almost entirely from aluminium.

Unlike his rather more macho R2 Robonaut, that will be sent to the International Space Station later this year, RoboThespian will remain firmly Earth-bound. The RoboThespian comes in three variations, the Lite, Stadard and Deluxe versions. It can also be hied for events. (9/14)

Workers Prepare to Dismantle Shuttle Towers at KSC's Pad 39B (Source: Florida Today)
Workers at Kennedy Space Center are preparing to tear down the fixed and rotating towers at a launch pad that helped launch 53 shuttle missions. NASA's Constellation program took over pad 39B -- the more northern of two shuttle pads -- last year and planned to set it up for Ares I rockets. Now, it's not clear what might launch from the pad next as NASA awaits political resolution of its post-shuttle future. (9/14)

Embry-Riddle Observatory Hosts Open House on Sep. 17 (Source: ERAU)
Weather permitting, the Creekside Observatory Astronomy Open House will be held 8-11 p.m. on Sep. 17, and is free and open to the public – tell your friends and neighbors to come too! The Physical Sciences Department and the Embry-Riddle Amateur Astronomy Club invite all Embry-Riddle students, faculty, and staff to view Uranus, Jupiter and its moons, the gibbous moon, the colorful double star Alberiol, Hercules cluster M13, and the deep red star V Aql at the Creekside Observatory this Friday. The Observatory is located at the southwest corner of the Lehman Center on campus. Click here for info. (9/14)

Space Junk: Earth's Forgotten Environmental Disaster (Source: ABC News)
Concerns about global warming have focused attention on the problems facing our planet, but there are also signs of environmental trouble in space. Hundreds of thousands of pieces of space junk are orbiting the Earth, and even the tiniest particles can be dangerous and even deadly to astronauts. Dr Ben Greene says if the international community does not tackle the space debris problem within the next five years it will get out of hand. "We will lose access to big parts of space, and our ability to function as a modern society will be degraded," he said. (9/14)

Are We Heading for a Space Bubble? (Source: MIT Technology Review)
Before the year is out, SpaceX will likely have conducted the first orbital demonstration of the Dragon capsule. Next year, Orbital Sciences is expected to launch its Cygnus cargo vessel. By 2014, two more spacecraft, the Dream Chaser and CST-100 are on track to have maiden voyages. And even more spacecraft are being developed by companies such as Blue Origin and PlanetSpace, as well as suborbital vehicles being built by Virgin Galactic, XCOR, and others. On the ground, there are seven federal and eight nonfederal launch sites licensed by the FAA; most of the latter are new and owned by a combination of private enterprise and state and local governments. Additional applications for even more spaceports are likely.

The lure of space tourism is what's driving interest in spaceports, most of which are intended to support suborbital vehicles. Often with the support of state governments, plans for new spaceports are underway, not just in traditional aerospace hot spots such as New Mexico or Florida, but also in places like Hawaii, Indiana, and Wisconsin. However, there are only a handful of operators, such as Virgin Galactic or Blue Origin, who have progressed even as far as technology demonstration flights.

The Commercial Spaceflight Federation says it could be another five to 10 years before suborbital operations expand to some of these new locations. Ultimately, a shakeout in the coming years may not be a bad thing. "In time, there will be a market to support [as many launch industry players as now exist]. But in the near term, there probably won't be enough, so right now it is kind of a horse race," says a NASA official. "That's why we want to bring along several; then we can afford to have some fail. The model doesn't work if we're trying to rely on free market commercial practices, and then if somebody has problems, we come along and rescue them." (9/14)

How NASA Can Increase Demand for Commercial Crew Launches (Source: MIT Technology Review)
NASA has helped to fuel the space boom by providing financial and technical assistance and making the ISS an anchor customer for space services through its Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office, or C3PO. As well as paying out $500 million in rewards for reaching various technical milestones, NASA has agreed to pay $1.6 billion to SpaceX for the delivery of 20,000 kilograms of cargo to the ISS between 2011 and 2015, and $1.9 billion to Orbital for delivery of the same amount.

NASA could create extra demand by rotating its ISS crews faster. "A lot of the researchers looking at the effects of long-term exposure to a weightless environment say that at about 120 days, they're at the point of diminishing returns, and they would really like to see a new crew brought on," says Valin Thorn, C3PO deputy program manager. "If funding permits, it might be an attractive option that would increase the annual flight rate to help enhance the market." NASA also has the option of adding a fourth astronaut to its crew complement. Coupled with more frequent rotations, this would double the number of astronauts needing transport each year, from six to 12. (9/14)

Spaceport Construction 'Chugging Along' (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
If you've been following the news about Spaceport America, you know that construction has been well under way. The mythical-sounding place where humans can pay to take a ride into space - and, less mythical but probably more common, where companies can launch payloads - broke ground in June 2009.

The nearly two-mile runway is about 95 percent completed; the three-story, 110,000-square-foot terminal hangar facility has started to take shape; and the white dome of the airfield rescue fire facility flanks the larger hanger. Anchor tenant Virgin Galactic continues to test its craft in the Mojave Desert. (9/14)

The Trials of the Modern-Day Astronaut (Source: Telegraph)
First you remove your shoes, as you would upon entering a Japanese home. You are given a pair of special isolation chamber slippers, light blue vinyl imprinted with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency logo, the letters JAXA leaning forward as though rushing into space at terrific speed. The isolation chamber, a free-standing structure inside building C-5 at Jaxa’s headquarters in Tsukuba Science City, is in fact a home of sorts, for one week, for the 10 finalists competing for two openings in the Japanese astronaut corps.

Five closed circuit cameras mounted near the ceiling allow a panel of psychiatrists, psychologists and Jaxa managers to observe the applicants. Their behavior and the panel’s impressions of them will determine which two will wear Jaxa spacesuits instead of slippers. (9/14)

Soyuz, Vega Flights From French Guiana Set for 2011 (Source: SpaceFlightNow)
The first flight of the Russian Soyuz rocket from South America will occur in early 2011 and Europe's smaller solid-fueled launcher will not debut until at least the middle of next year, according to Arianespace's chief executive. The launch services firm's top manager said the Soyuz launch pad at the Guiana Space Center has been finished after several delays in the construction of a mobile gantry.

The 17-story structure will house the Soyuz rocket during the final steps of launch processing, including the attachment of satellite payloads atop the booster. Soyuz launch facilities in Kazakhstan and Russia do not use a mobile gantry. Instead, the rockets are fully assembled horizontally and rolled to the launch pad a few days before liftoff.

The Vega rocket, tailored for small European government satellites, will launch after the Soyuz sometime in the middle of 2011, according to Le Gall. The first Vega mission will haul several lightweight satellites into orbit, including a laser relativity spacecraft and a handful of smaller payloads. (9/14)

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