October 9, 2010

House Authorizers Send Requests to Appropriators (Source: Space Politics)
Science committee chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN), ranking member Ralph Hall (R-TX), space subcommittee chair Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), and subcommittee ranking member Pete Olson (R-TX), sent letters to the key members of the appropriations committees in the Senate and House outlining their views on what the committees should do to provide “further clarification and direction” to the language in the NASA authorization bill.

They expressed concern about the “$500 million unfunded mandate" to keep the Shuttle program going through the remainder of FY-2011″ (even though the additional shuttle mission would likely take place months before the end of the fiscal year). Regarding a heavy-lift rocket, they criticized the overly prescriptive Senate language on the HLV design will result in a vehicle too big for ISS crew transport missions and too small for exploration beyond LEO.

They also express confusion about when the HLV is supposed to be ready. And they state that while they support the development of commercial cargo and crew capabilities, any funding appropriated for those programs “should be given to first providing the funding needed for the proposed Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program… and that this need should be prioritized over commercial crew capability funding at this time.” (10/9)

Particles in Hayabusa Sample Capsule Mostly Rocky in Nature (Source: Mainichi Daily News)
The particles in a sample capsule released by the Hayabusa asteroid probe on its return to Earth were largely rocky materials, researchers have announced. At a lecture of the Japanese Society for Planetary Sciences in Nagoya on Oct. 8, a team of researchers released electron micrographs of the particles that were retrieved from the capsule, reporting that most of them were rocky. (10/9)

Canada Looks Sharp in New Space Role (Source: Ottawa Citizen)
The long road to replacing the aging Hubble Space Telescope leads through many countries — including a $130-million contract for Canadian telescope parts, one of the country’s biggest space projects ever. At a laboratory in Shirley’s Bay, where the Canadian Space Agency tests satellites and other space hardware, pieces of NASA’s future James Webb Space Telescope lie on tables in a clean room.

Canada is also supplying a guidance system that “looks” at a far-off star as a reference point to hold the telescope very, very steady and keep the pictures sharp. The instruments sit on a honeycomb-shaped piece of aluminum. It was once a solid block, but workers painstakingly machined three-sided holes all through it, leaving more air than metal. (10/9)

NASA Bill Almost Didn’t Pass (Source: Bay Area Citizen)
The NASA authorization bill that saved hundreds of jobs in the Clear Lake area almost didn’t pass. It took an intense 72-hour Texas bipartisan drive to make it happen. The vote was 304 to 118 with only two Texas congressmen voting against it – Ron Paul, who represents a portion of the Bay Area, and Jeb Hensarling of Dallas. Olson summed it up: “The Obama budget put NASA and JSC on life support. Last week, we gave the Johnson Space Center new life.” (10/9)

UC Berkeley Team Helps Study Mars' Atmosphere (Source: San Francisco Chronicle)
Once upon a time, the atmosphere of Mars was dense enough to hold life-giving liquid water on its surface, but almost all of it disappeared billions of years ago, and now UC Berkeley space scientists are designing and building highly sensitive instruments for a new Mars mission to find out how and why the air vanished. (10/9)

Make Magazine: 10 Do-It-Yourself Space Projects (Source: NASA Watch)
MAKE blasts into orbit and beyond with our DIY SPACE issue. Put your own satellite in orbit, launch a stratosphere balloon probe, and analyze galaxies for $20 with an easy spectrograph! We talk to the rocket mavericks reinventing the space industry, and renegade NASA hackers making smartphone robots and Lego satellites. Click here for more. (10/9)

170 More Shuttle Workers Facing Layoffs (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
The space shuttle's main contractor, USA, announced Friday it will lay off another 170 workers on Jan. 7 as it prepares for the retirement of the orbiter fleet next year. The latest round of layoffs will bring the number of shuttle workers at KSC to below 4,000. The new layoffs are among 320 jobs that are being cut across the Houston-based company, which is jointly owned by the Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp.

The 170 workers will join some 900 USA workers who were laid off at KSC last week. Pink slips giving workers their 60-day notice will go out no later than Nov. 7. Yates said that those who want to leave will have the opportunity to volunteer. (10/8)

UF Astronomers Win $8 Million to Build Unique Telescope Instrument (Source: UF)
A multinational team led by University of Florida astronomers has won an $8 million grant to build a major new astronomical instrument for the largest optical telescope in the world in Spain’s Canary Islands. Led by UF astronomy professor Steve Eikenberry, astronomers and engineers at seven institutions in three countries will build “MIRADAS,” the Mid-resolution Infrared Astronomical Spectrograph, over the next five years. Once it is complete, it will be installed on the Gran Telescopio Canarias, a massive telescope in Spain’s Canary Islands co-owned by UF and the Spanish and Mexican governments. (10/8)

Lost Asian Satellites Send Powerful Signals (Source: Asia Times)
During the second half of 2010 all three Asian space powers - China, India and Japan - suffered major satellite failures. Each failure is significant, but for different reasons. In this instance, the satellite failures will be addressed in chronological order. At the same time, it must be emphasized that satellite failures happen rarely.

What makes the loss of India's Insat-4B in early July so important is the possibility that the satellite fell victim to deliberate act of sabotage as the result of a cyber attack. This involves the very malicious "Stuxnet" worm. In late August, the Japanese government reported that it lost its only operational synthetic aperture radar (SAR)-equipped surveillance satellite. Here again a power supply failure was the primary contributor to the satellite malfunction in question. Was there a Stuxnet connection? It cannot be ruled out entirely.

In early September, Chinasat-6A also known as Zhongxing 6A, ZX 6A, Sinosat-6, or Xinnuo 6 suffered a helium pressurization problem immediately after launch. This affected the operation and control of the satellite's onboard fuel tank. So, although China did not "lose" a satellite here in a technical sense, the setback is severe enough to warrant its consideration here for several reasons. Click here to read the article. (10/8)

ISS Mission Delayed After Damage to Soyuz Craft (Source: AFP)
The next mission to the International Space Station, scheduled for December 13, has been delayed following "idiotic" damage to the Soyuz spacecraft, the mission director said. "It is certain that there will be a delay. The start of the mission should be delayed by 10 days to two months," said Andreas Schon from the German Aerospace Center. "In the worst case it would be February. There was an idiotic logistical error," said Schon. The Soyuz spacecraft was damaged during transport to the Baikonur spaceport in Kazakhstan. (10/8)

When Do We Stop Looking for Life on Mars? (Source: CBC)
Will we ever be able to say there is nothing alive on Mars? Will we ever be able to justify future missions to the red planet on some rationale other than the search for extraterrestrials? Exactly how do we decide when it's time to end the focus on our planetary neighbor and turn our primary exploratory efforts elsewhere?

I ask in part because a casual reader of recent national headlines might have been tempted to pronounce that Canada seems to have aligned with Mars. In August, the Canadian Space Agency and the California Institute of Technology agreed to develop an instrument to help measure methane in the Martian atmosphere. Why go to Mars and not somewhere else when humanity makes its first interplanetary journey? (10/8)

The Prize: Gone are the Days of a U.S. Sweep of Science Nobels (Source: What's New)
The only American among the science winners this year was chemist Richard Heck, retired from the University of Delaware, who now lives in the Philippines. He shared the chemistry prize with two Japanese. Is the rest of the world getting better in science, or is the US slipping? (10/8)

Human Spaceflight on Agenda for Bolden’s China Trip (Source: Space News)
As NASA Administrator Charles Bolden prepares to depart for China for talks about possible Sino-U.S. cooperation in areas including human spaceflight, agency and White House officials are taking care to temper expectations about what the discussions might yield. Damon Wells, a senior space policy analyst in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, cautioned that numerous legal and policy challenges must be addressed before the U.S. can forge a cooperative partnership in human spaceflight with the Chinese.

During a two-day meeting of the U.S. Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee here Oct. 6-7, Wells made no mention of Bolden’s travel plans, but said in response to a committee member’s question that inviting Beijing to participate in the international space station program is “a very complex issue” here and in China. “Those challenges touch issues like the need for more transparency in the Chinese program, nonproliferation questions — there’s a wide swath of issues that make this a very complex problem.” (10/8)

Hurdles to European Soyuz Were Higher than Expected (Source: Space News)
The teams overseeing the introduction of Russia’s Soyuz rocket at Europe’s spaceport underestimated technology export restrictions on both the Russian and European sides and also misjudged how costly it would be to refurbish an existing satellite preparation facility compared with building a new one, the program’s project manager said.

Jean-Marc Astorg, who has overseen the project to create a Soyuz launch facility at Europe’s equatorial Guiana Space Center in French Guiana for several years on behalf of the French space agency, CNES, said export regulations have grown “worse and worse” since the Russian and French governments approved the project in late 2003. “This is clearly a problem that was underevaluated,” Astorg said.

It also proved costly to refurbish an old facility located on the Ariane rocket launch zone, nearby the Soyuz launch pad, to prepare Soyuz payloads. The decision was made on the assumption it would be less expensive than to build a new facility. It turned out otherwise. Building a new structure at the Soyuz launch zone “could have been a better option,”Astorg said. (10/8)

Suborbital Research Hitches a Ride on Commercial Space Cruisers (Source: Physics Today)
Even with its budget in limbo, last month NASA awarded $475 000 to two commercial rocket makers through its Commercial Reusable Suborbital Research (CRuSR) Program, which pays to fly scientific experiments to the edge of space and back. The grant will allow Texas-based Armadillo Aerospace and California-based Masten Space Systems, who will split the award, to launch test flights in the coming months that will haul position- and velocity-monitoring antennas and environmental sensors supplied by the FAA and NASA. (10/8)

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