September 9, 2010

Discovery Makes Last Trip to VAB (Source: Florida Today)
Discovery is safely inside Kennedy Space Center's Vehicle Assembly Building, where the orbiter will be assembled into a shuttle stack likely for the last time. Transporter drivers then parked for several hours on the towway next to a cordoned off area where hundreds of employees had the chance to take photos in front of the spacecraft. The "morale event" is one of many NASA has tried to arrange, if weather and technical conditions permit, to show appreciation to employees as the program nears retirement. (9/9)

Divergent Satellite Market Forecasts Spark Debate (Source: Space News)
Launch service providers and satellite manufacturers voiced sharp disagreement over whether the commercial satellite market was about to go into a tailspin as the major fleet operators wind down their currently high capital spending programs. All agree that the four biggest operators — Intelsat, SES, Eutelsat and Telesat — will end their unusually intense fleet replacement and expansion programs around 2012. Once completed, these companies, which together make up perhaps 70 percent of the global fixed satellite services market, will revert to annual investment that is between one-fifth and one-half of today’s levels.

Running head-on into those trends are what appears to be an expansion of the supply of commercial satellites and commercial launch services. On the satellite manufacturing side, Boeing and Lockheed Martin appear be paying more attention to the commercial market as their military business decreases. In Japan, Mitsubishi has designed a satellite platform that targets the commercial market. China Aerospace Corp. has already demonstrated an ability to win business by bundling satellite construction and launch services contracts for nations that, up to now, have not owned satellites.

India is developing a launch vehicle big enough to carry India’s telecommunications satellites into orbit. Sea Launch, now backed by Energia of Russia, appears ready to emerge from bankruptcy and to return to the commercial market. Set against the entry of these companies into a market that already counts four American and two or three European satellite prime contractors, are market forecasts that show annual commercial satellite orders falling from 30 in 2009 and perhaps 25 in 2010 to 16-17 per year by the middle of the decade. (9/9)

Ship En Route to Pick Up Last External Tank (Source: Florida Today)
If you were focused on Discovery's rollover to the Vehicle Assembly Building this morning at Kennedy Space Center, you might have missed another vehicle on the move. The Pegasus barge departed the center's turn basin around 9:30 a.m. to ship out to NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans, where it will pick up the last shuttle external tank scheduled to be delivered to Florida. The tank called ET-122 was refurbished after sustaining damage during hurricane Katrina in 2005. It's expected to arrive at Kennedy on Sept. 27. (9/9)

Alien Oceans Could be Detected by Telescopes (Source: BBC)
The next generation of telescopes could reveal the presence of oceans on planets outside our Solar System. Detecting water on Earth-like planets offers the tantalizing prospect they could sustain life. Scientists hope the reflection of light, or "glint", from mirror-like ocean surfaces could be picked up by a US space telescope set for launch in 2014. (9/9)

John Spencer Discusses Mars On Earth, Yachts In Space And Space Tourism's Future (Source: Neon Tommy)
John Spencer sometimes receives quizzical looks from strangers when he tells them what he does for a living: space architect, designer and developer. “Like designing the spaces in buildings?',” he says about a stranger's typical reaction. More than $300 million has been invested into building Spencer's original space- and future-themed concepts and designs. His past projects include interior design work for the International Space Station (ISS) and the Aquarius Underwater Laboratory near Key Largo, Fla. He's also behind Space World in Japan, the world's first space theme park. Editor's Note: The KSC Visitor Complex is older than Japan's park. (9/9)

How Microbes Could Help Colonize Mars (Source: Astrobiology)
Tiny rock-eating microbes could mine precious extraterrestrial resources from Mars and pave the way for the first human colonists. Just don't expect them to transform the red planet's surface into a new Earth on a short deadline, researchers say. One of the most promising planetary colonizers comes in the form of cyanobacteria. The ancient bacteria helped create a habitable Earth with oxygen at least 2.5 billion years ago, and have since colonized practically every possible environment while relying upon photosynthesis to convert sunlight into energy. (9/9)

Mars Was a Habitable Planet More Recently Than we Knew (Source: Arizona Daily Star)
Toss out that image of a Martian surface formed by spewing geysers and then encased in ice for a billion years. A new analysis of information gathered by the UA-led Phoenix Mars Lander team points to a planet with wet water within the last 100 million years. The analysis of the carbon and oxygen isotopes contained in the planets pervasive CO2 is the subject of a paper published Thursday in the journal Science.

“One of the key requirements of habitability is liquid water,” said Boynton. “This has to indicate that conditions that favored life existed more recently than we thought.” “Recent” is a relative term for geologists. “We know it’s in the order of 100 million years,” said Boynton. "That’s still younger than several billion years and we couldn’t rule out it happened the day before yesterday.” (9/9)

A Garbage Bag in Space (Source:
When clutter consumes your basement, a well-executed cleaning does the trick. When human-generated junk clogs the Earth’s orbit, things get a little more complicated. Low Earth orbit space debris has increased since the dawn of the space age. But the wake-up call came last year, when the U.S. Iridium 33 and Russian Kosmos 2251 collided. It was the first accidental collision between an operational and defunct satellite, and it produced large amounts of debris.

The NASA orbital debris program office at the Johnson Space Center now predicts eight or nine such collisions will occur in the next 40 years. An American firm has proposed a fix: scoop up spent rocket bodies, defunct satellites and fragments with a big net. Jerome Pearson, president of Mount Pleasant, S.C.-based STAR Inc., says the electrodynamic debris eliminator, or EDDE, would zip around using solar power and electrodynamic thrust. Then, using a tissue-dispenser-like net manager, it would release a net to envelop debris before tossing it in the ocean, putting it on a trajectory to burn up upon re-entry, or recycling the material for future use. (9/9)

Free Historical Cape Tours Available (Source: Space KSC Blog)
Once upon a time, the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex offered two tours. One was the Red Tour, which took visitors to see the space center itself where Shuttle operations are conducted. The other was the Blue Tour, which was of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Both tours are still available today, but at a cost. It's $41 for admission that includes a shorter version of the Red Tour, but if you want to go see CCAFS you need to pay an additional $21 for what's called Cape Canaveral: Then and Now.

In this economy, $62 per person is a steep price to step back into the primordial days of the American human spaceflight program. The U.S. Air Force Space & Missile Foundation offers a free monthly tour of CCAFS that expands on the old Blue Tour. It's on the second Wednesday of every month, departing from their new Space & Missile History Center just outside the CCAFS south gate. The tour is arranged by the 45th Space Wing; to make reservations, call 321-494-5945. (Donations are encouraged.) (9/9)

"Reform Space" Website Urges "No" Vote on House NASA Bill (Source: SPACErePORT)
"Don't let pork ruin NASA." That's the tagline for a new website urging lawmakers to vote "no" on HR-5781, the House version of the FY-2011 NASA Authorization Bill. "HR-5781 asks taxpayers to bail out an over-budget, behind-schedule program called Ares-1." It also would keep the U.S. stuck circling in Low Earth Orbit because its proposed lunar return would effectively be delayed until 2030 or later. Click here to see the website. (9/9)

Laws of Physics Vary Throughout the Universe, New Study Suggests (Source: ScienceDaily)
A team of astrophysicists based in Australia and England has uncovered evidence that the laws of physics are different in different parts of the universe. The team has submitted a report of the discovery for publication in the journal Physical Review Letters. The report describes how one of the supposed fundamental constants of Nature appears not to be constant after all. Instead, this 'magic number' known as the fine-structure constant -- 'alpha' for short -- appears to vary throughout the universe. (9/9)

NASA Plans to Fly a Spacecraft Directly Into the Sun (Source: Smart Planet)
Solar Probe Plus is a project that astronauts, scientists, meteorologists, and astronomers have been dreaming of for a half-century. It’s an extraordinary proposal, venturing eight times farther than any previous spacecraft. It will certainly cost more than one billion dollars, and requires engineering and technology that’s never been seen before. All this for a one-way trip to the sun.

Solar Probe Plus is the name of a project in which an unmanned (obviously), lightweight probe will travel through the sun’s corona, which is essentially the sun’s outer atmosphere. It seeks to answer some of space’s most puzzling questions–why is the corona almost 200 times hotter than the sun’s actual surface? How does the sun create the solar wind, a stream of charged particles that engulfs the solar system in a vast bubble called the heliosphere? (9/9)

Aerospace Sees Potential in Obama's $50 Billion Infrastructure Program (Source: AIA)
President Barack Obama's proposal of a $50 billion infrastructure assistance program has raised the interest of the aviation and aerospace industries, who see potential financing for new cockpit navigation equipment needed to modernize air traffic control. "The president has opened the door," said Marion Blakey, president and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association. Previous efforts to authorize billions in spending on air traffic upgrades have stalled in Congress, and Blakey has previously said a $6 billion investment in air traffic modernization would create 150,000 jobs. (9/9)

Industry Can Survive Pentagon Cuts, Experts Say (Source: AIA)
Growing diversification and increased efficiency will help defense contractors survive the Pentagon's spending cuts, Aerospace Industries Association President and CEO Marion Blakey told the Reuters Defense and Aerospace summit on Wednesday. Industry executives agreed with that assessment. "I think this is something that can be very healthy, can make our businesses operate better and can make the department operate more efficiently," said Northrop Grumman CEO Wes Bush, adding that the details of the cost-cutting initiative have yet to be seen. (9/9)

More than 600 Lockheed Martin Execs Accept Early Retirement Offer (Source: AIA)
More than 600 executives at Lockheed Martin, representing about 25% of the company's executives, have accepted the company's offer of an early exit program offering financial incentives in exchange for resigning. Lockheed Martin has been working to cut its workforce by about 10,000 since the beginning of last year, and the buyouts are seen as part of a larger trend of defense contractors bracing themselves for Pentagon budget cuts. (9/9)

Boeing Eyes WGS Sales, Design Enhancements (Source: Aviation Week)
The looming shortfall in military broadband capacity is encouraging the U.S. Defense Dept. to sharply expand the Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) network and to further blend commercial know-how and other enhancements into its design. At the end of August, the Defense Department signed a $182 million contract with Boeing to supply long-lead items for a new WGS satellite to complement six already in orbit or on order. A production award is expected to be inked by year’s end. (9/9)

NASA Awards Grants for High School Science Education (Source: NASA)
NASA will award about $4 million in grants to public school districts, state-based education leadership, and not-for-profit education organizations to support academic excellence in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. The first round of awards is valued at $3.1 million. Each award is expected to leverage NASA's unique contributions in STEM education, enhance secondary students' academic experiences, and improve educators' abilities to engage their students.

A total of eight proposals were selected for funding to school districts and organizations in California, Maine, New York (2), North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Texas. The selected proposals illustrate innovative approaches to using NASA-themed content in support of secondary-level teaching and learning, with a particular emphasis on high school education. (9/9)

EADS Astrium to Market Falcon 1 Launch Capabilities to European Customers (Source: SpaceX)
SpaceX and Astrium announced a commercial agreement to provide dedicated launch services to the European institutional small satellite market. Under the agreement, Astrium intends to work with SpaceX to market Falcon 1 launch capabilities to various space agencies and other institutional customers in Europe for launches to take place through 2015.

With dedicated launch services, customers with very small payloads can launch independently to low-Earth orbit, giving them greater control over launch and launch schedule. With the Falcon 1, these services can be provided at the world’s lowest cost per flight when compared to any other launch service provider.

Editor's Note: Interesting that this was announced one day after ESA signed production contracts for Europe's new Vega small-class launch vehicle. EADS Astrium appears to have little or no involvement in the Italian-led Vega program, so I guess they have no problem marketing a competing vehicle to their European customers. (9/9)

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