October 26, 2010

Can Solar Shield Protect The North American Power Grid (Source: Space Daily)
Every hundred years or so, a solar storm comes along so potent it fills the skies of Earth with blood-red auroras, makes compass needles point in the wrong direction, and sends electric currents coursing through the planet's topsoil. The most famous such storm, the Carrington Event of 1859, actually shocked telegraph operators and set some of their offices on fire. A 2008 report by the National Academy of Sciences warns that if such a storm occurred today, we could experience widespread power blackouts with permanent damage to many key transformers.

What's a utility operator to do? A new NASA project called "Solar Shield" could help keep the lights on. "Solar Shield is a new and experimental forecasting system for the North American power grid," explains project leader Antti Pulkkinen, a research associate working at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "We believe we can zero in on specific transformers and predict which of them are going to be hit hardest by a space weather event." (10/26)

'Exorbitant' Price Talk for Galileo (Source: Space Daily)
A top European official slapped down reports on Tuesday that the much-delayed Galileo satellite navigation system could be 20 billion euros over budget, as he named a new contractor for the project. A German government report said that the overall cost of the project, aimed to rival the US-built Global Positioning System (GPS), could rise to 22.2 billion euros.

European Industry Commissioner Antonio Tajani rejected the figure as "exorbitant" and "unimagineable", while insisting that the price tag for the system remained at 3.4 billion euros (4.7 billion dollars). "I don't know where these figures come from," Tajani told a news conference, adding that any budget overruns would be calculated after all contracts for the projected are awarded.

The European Commission official announced that SpaceOpal, a joint venture between German firm DLR and Italy's Telespazio, had won a 194-million-euro contract for the operations of the ground and space infrastructure. It was the fourth contract awarded in the project. The last two contracts will be decided early next year, Tajani said. (10/26)

NASA Software Promotes Airplane Fuel Efficiency (Source: NASA)
Software developed at NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., is enabling major fuel savings for airlines and an increase in environmental efficiency. The Ames Direct-To software is a product of NASA aeronautics research in air traffic management. The software has been adopted by The Boeing Company for commercial use. Boeing intends to offer airlines the opportunity to subscribe next year to a new air traffic efficiency service that uses the software. (10/26)

Sponsorship Opportunities Open for Space Beer Flight (Source: Parabolic Arc)
For a limited time, Astronauts4Hire is offering a Sponsorship Special leading up to its inaugural mission testing the world’s first beer brewed specifically for drinking in space. During this promotion, sponsors contributing $1,000 or more will receive a shoulder logo on the flight suit worn by the Astronaut4Hire researcher during the historic flight. Sponsors of $5,000 or more will receive a logo on the chest of the flight suit and mention in all future press releases regarding the flight. With the high level of media attention expected, sponsors will gain extensive exposure to national and international audiences.

During the planned November 19, 2010 flight aboard Zero Gravity Corporation’s specially modified aircraft, the Astronauts4Hire flight researcher will sample the specially produced beer during periods of weightlessness and record biometric and qualitative data related to the beer’s drinkability. The Vostok Space Beer, produced as a joint venture between Saber Astronautics Australia and the 4-Pines Brewing Company, is a recipe designed to meet anticipated demand from the budding space tourism market while still being popular here on Earth. (10/26)

ISS Orbit Corrected to Avoid Fragment of Space Garbage (Source: Itar-Tass)
Specialists from the Russian Mission Control Center (MCC) corrected on Tuesday the orbit of the International Space Station in order to avoid its collision with space garbage. Progress cargo craft’s eight docking and orientation engines were used for that. ISS’s speed increased by 0.4 meters per second. As a result, the orbit was raised by about 700 meters. In the point of dangerous approach the station was 1.5 kilometers above the space garbage. NASA specialists on Tuesday warned Russian colleagues that a fragment of space garbage was approaching the International Space Station, and this, according to NASA specialists, could pose danger to the station and its crew. (10/26)

An Overview of Past and Future South African Space Activities (Source: SpaceRef.com)
At the recent 61st International Astronautical Congress (IAC2010) in Prague, Dr. Peter Martinez, Chair of South Africa Council for Space Affairs, provided the first Highlight Lecture which covered historical, current, and future developments of space activities in South Africa. Dr. Martinez started by pointing out that it is generally not known that South Africa has been an active participant in the global space enterprise, and that it has supported space applications mostly from ground but also as an active user of the space environment. Click here to read the article. (10/26)

Loral Delivers Intelsat Satellite to Launch Base (Source: Loral)
Loral, the world's leading provider of commercial satellites, announced that a communications satellite that it designed and built for Intelsat arrived safely at the European Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, where it is scheduled to launch in November aboard an Ariane 5 launch vehicle. (10/26)

Lockheed Martin BSAT-3b Satellite Ready for Launch (Source: Lockheed Martin)
The BSAT-3b broadcasting satellite, designed and built by Lockheed Martin for the Broadcasting Satellite System Corporation (B-SAT) of Japan, is ready for liftoff on Oct. 28 aboard an Ariane 5-ECA launch vehicle provided by Arianespace. The launch window opens at 5:51 p.m. ET and closes at 7:01 p.m. ET. (10/26)

NASA Chief Visits China Manned Space Launch Site (Source: AP)
The head of NASA visited China's manned space flight launch center during a trip to the country to explore possibilities for cooperation, the U.S. agency said Tuesday. China launched its first manned space flight in 2003 and plans an unmanned moon landing in 2012, with a possible manned lunar mission to follow in 2017 — marking new milestones in its space program while those in the U.S. and elsewhere face tightened budgets. (10/26)

Surprise Discovery: Two Planets, Two Stars, One System (Source: Space.com)
Two massive Jupiter-like planets were recently discovered orbiting around two extremely close sister stars – an unexpected find, given the disturbing gravitational effects within most binary star systems that usually disrupt planets from forming. The alien planets were found to orbit around the binary star system NN Serpentis, which is located about 1,670 light-years from Earth. The more massive of the two stars is a very small white dwarf – the burnt-out remnant that is left over when a sun-like star dies. The star is 2.3 times the diameter of Earth, but has a temperature of more than 89,500 degrees Fahrenheit (49,700 degrees Celsius) – almost nine times hotter than the surface of the sun. (10/26)

New Mexico Meeting Focuses on Spaceport Sales-Tax Money (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
Area school officials gave an update on how they're spending spaceport sales-tax dollars on education. The Las Cruces, Hatch and Gadsden districts are each receiving a share of the spaceport sales tax Dona Ana County voters approved in 2007. The 1/4 of 1 percent spaceport sales tax took effect in January 2009. But a debate about how much oversight the county commission should have over the dollars kept the money from being distributed to the districts for most of last year. Of the revenue generated from the tax, 25 percent goes to education, while the remaining 75 percent goes to repay bonds for construction of the $212 million Spaceport America. (10/26)

Astronomer Alan Tokunaga Wins Planetary Sciences Award (Source: University of Hawaii)
The Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society conferred the 2010 Harold Masursky Award on Alan Tokunaga, a Maui-born astronomer with the UH Mānoa Institute for Astronomy, for his outstanding service to planetary science and exploration. Tokunaga has served as director of the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility on Mauna Kea since 2000, the longest term in the history of that observatory. According to the award citation, he “has played an indispensable role in the growth of ground-based infrared astronomy of the solar system, and in furthering planetary science as a whole.” (10/26)

Astronaut With Local Ties Visits Pomona (Source: SGV Tribune)
Hard work, perseverance and focus will help Pomona Unified School District students achieve their goals, a NASA astronaut told a group of 450 Pueblo Elementary School students Monday. Dressed in a blue flight suit, astronaut Jose Hernandez spoke to fourth through eighth graders at the Village at Indian Hill Conference Center about how they could achieve any goal they set their mind on. "I'm not that much different from you," Hernandez said. "I see so much of myself in you."

Hernandez, 48, was the flight engineer on the space shuttle Discovery mission from Aug. 28 to Sept. 11, 2009. During the mission, Hernandez and other astronauts traveled to the International Space Station to drop off a member of the station crew and to deliver more than 18,000 pounds of equipment and supplies. (10/26)

Editorial: Humans to Asteroids: Watch Out! (Source: New York Times)
A few weeks ago, an asteroid almost 30 feet across and zipping along at 38,000 miles per hour flew 28,000 miles above Singapore. Why, you might reasonably ask, should non-astronomy buffs care about a near miss from such a tiny rock? Well, I can give you one very good reason: asteroids don’t always miss. If even a relatively little object was to strike a city, millions of people could be wiped out.

Thanks to telescopes that can see ever smaller objects at ever greater distances, we can now predict dangerous asteroid impacts decades ahead of time. We can even use current space technology and fairly simple spacecraft to alter an asteroid’s orbit enough to avoid a collision. We simply need to get this detection-and-deflection program up and running. President Obama has already announced a goal of landing astronauts on an asteroid by 2025 as a precursor to a human mission to Mars. Asteroids are deep-space bodies, orbiting the Sun, not the Earth, and traveling to one would mean sending humans into solar orbit for the very first time.

Facing those challenges of radiation, navigation and life support on a months-long trip millions of miles from home would be a perfect learning journey before a Mars trip. Near-Earth objects like asteroids and comets — mineral-rich bodies bathed in a continuous flood of sunlight — may also be the ultimate resource depots for the long-term exploration of space. It is fantastic to think that one day we may be able to access fuel, materials and even water in space instead of digging deeper and deeper into our planet for what we need and then dragging it all up into orbit, against Earth’s gravity. (10/26)

St. Petersburg, Florida, Yacht Basin Designated Historic Aerospace Site (Source: AIAA)
The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) will designate the Yacht Basin in St. Petersburg, Fla., as a Historic Aerospace Site. A historic marker will be unveiled during a ceremony, held in conjunction with the 47th annual Tony Jannus Award press conference, on October 29 at the St. Petersburg Museum of History. The St. Petersburg Yacht Basin was the original operating location of the St. Petersburg – Tampa Airboat Line, the nation’s first, regularly-scheduled commercial airline.

The line’s inaugural flight was on January 1, 1914, with two daily, round-trip flights between St. Petersburg, Fla., and Tampa, Fla., using two Benoist Type XIV airboats. The flights were twenty-two minutes in length, one way, and rarely exceeded an altitude of five feet above the waters of Tampa Bay. By the time the line ceased operations on May 5, 1914, its two planes had made 172 flights and carried 1,205 passengers, prompting line co-owner Thomas W. Benoist to note that while the line had not made much money, it had proven that “the airplane can be successfully used as a regular means of transportation and [as a] commercial carrier.” (10/26)

Asteroid Impact Could Deplete Ozone Layer (Source: Astronomy Now)
An asteroid impacting into one of Earth's deep oceans would have an obvious effect – a tsunami – but a new study focuses on an equally alarming consequence: depletion of the Earth's protective ozone layer. Expert impact crater researcher Elisabetta Pierazzo of the Planetary Science Institute says that a ‘medium-sized’ asteroid – that is, one between 500 meters and one kilometer in diameter – crashing into Earth's ocean would send huge volumes of seawater into the air. “The results suggest that mid-latitude oceanic impact of one kilometer asteroids can produce significant global perturbation of upper atmospheric chemistry, including multi-year global ozone depletion comparable to large ozone hole sizes recorded in the mid 1990s.” (10/26)

Pratt & Whitney, Union Begin Negotiations (Source: AIA)
Negotiations for a new three-year contract between Connecticut-based Pratt & Whitney and its International Association of Machinists union kicked off Tuesday. And if the recent past is any indicator, there could be plenty of turbulence dead ahead. A possible heated point of contention: union concessions involving job security provisions. (10/26)

International Demand Helps Boost Harris Corp. Q1 Profit (Source: AIA)
Communications equipment maker Harris Corp. says strong international demand for its tactical radios for combat troops helped boost the company's first quarter profit and improve its full-year forecast. The company reported earnings of $163.9 million, compared with $104.5 million for the same quarter a year ago. (10/26)

Moon Express Enters Google Lunar X PRIZE Competition (Source: Moon Express)
Moon Express Inc., a privately funded lunar transportation and data services company, announced its official entry into the Google Lunar X PRIZE, a $30 million competition that challenges space professionals and engineers from across the globe to build and launch to the Moon a privately funded spacecraft capable of completing a series of exploration and transmission tasks. Team MoonEx, headquartered in San Francisco, CA, is among 24 teams from a dozen countries that are competing for their share of the $30 million prize purse.

Moon Express is also among six U.S. companies award a contract by NASA, the US civil space agency, as part of its $30M Innovative Lunar Demonstration Data (ILDD) program. The ILDD contract is for the purchase of technical data resulting from industry efforts to develop vehicle capabilities and demonstrate end-to-end robotic lunar landing missions. The data from these contracts will inform NASA in the development of future human and robotic lander vehicles and exploration systems. (10/26)

Candidates Debate Space in Alabama (Source: Space Politics)
Last week the two candidates for Alabama’s 5th Congressional District, Republican Mo Brooks and Democrat Steve Raby, participated in a debate hosted by the AIAA. The two are vying to win the seat held by Democrat-turned-Republican Parker Griffith, who lost the Republican primary. Brooks claimed that if elected “he believes he’ll be named to at least two key Congressional Committees that would have a major say in steering funding toward NASA.” The only committee that “steers funding” to NASA is the House Appropriations Committee—-and, typically, its members do not sit on any other committees.

Raby argues that what NASA workers “need and want” are “new missions”, although he isn’t specific about what kind of new mission (Brooks is said to favor a return to the Moon as a prelude to human missions to Mars.) Raby said he would support extending the shuttle program while NASA worked on an HLV. He doesn’t explain how the shuttle would be extended at this late date without a significant gap in launches, nor how shuttle and HLV work could both fit into NASA’s budget.

Raby said he’s also concerned about a “BRAC for NASA”, a reference to the Base Realignment and Closure process used to close Defense Department facilities. However, the new NASA authorization act prevents any reductions in force of NASA’s civil servant workforce—which presumably would be one element of a BRAC process—through the end of FY2013. Most election analysts have the district strongly leaning towards Brooks: the New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight gives Brooks nearly a 95-percent chance of winning a week from today. (10/26)

Sierra Nevada Fires Hybrid Rocket Motor and Begins Production on Dream Chaser Vehicle (Sources: SNC, Parabolic Arc)
The Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) Space Systems Group announces the successful completion of two critical milestones for NASA’s Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) Program. On September 21, 2010, SNC completed three successful test firings of a single hybrid rocket motor in one day. SNC’s newly opened rocket test facility in San Diego County, California, hosted NASA personnel for a rocket motor manufacturing review as well as the motor firings, including one firing under vacuum ignition conditions. The tests, which simulated a complete nominal mission profile, demonstrated the multiple restart capability of SNC’s proprietary hybrid rocket motor.

This same hybrid rocket will be used as the main propulsion system on the Dream Chaser during the orbital operations. Sierra Nevada is the main contractor for Scaled Composites' RocketMotorTwo, which will power SpaceShipTwo on suborbital flights. Both vehicles are using the same propulsion system. This probably explains why Scaled Composite and Virgin Galactic officials are predicting powered test flights of SpaceShipTwo in 2011. (10/21)

India: Inter-Planetary Missions a Reality Soon (Source: sify News)
India's space program is inching closer to the realization of its plans for inter-planetary missions, a senior official said Monday. "A mission to Mars, for several reasons, has become a priority for us. We are trying to actualize the ideas as soon as possible. Deep space missions have their own challenges. Gravitational forces from different planets, x-rays from sun and various other hazards have to be carefully monitored before the mission, besides a study of Martian surface," Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) chairman K. Radhakrishnan said. (10/25)

How A Republican Take-Over In Midterm Elections Could Affect NASA (Source: Neon Tommy)
How may the U.S. midterm elections on Nov. 2 impact space policy? That's what industry advocate Space Foundation asked and is offering help to monitor. The nonpartisan, nonprofit organization created a document you can download that “lists the U.S. House and Senate members running for reelection who sit on committees with jurisdiction over space policy and/or have space-related constituencies.”

Eleven lists comprise the election tracking document: five House committees, five Senate committees and an "Others" category; members are sorted by seniority. After the elections, the Space Foundation will update the document with results of each race and also make it available online. “A lot of the senior Democrats who oversee NASA space policy for years in the House are retiring,” said Brendan Curry, Space Foundation Vice President Washington Operations. “So there's a lot of change in the House; the Senate, not so much.” Click here to download the Space Foundation document. (10/25)

Suddenly, Lots of Talk About One-Way Missions to Space (Source: CBS)
Suddenly, the idea of sending humans on one-way flights to colonize other planets is getting a public airing. Just last weekend, NASA Ames Director Simon "Pete" Worden was quoted as saying that NASA has "just started a project with DARPA" called the Hundred Year Starship with the long-range goal of settling other planets. The general idea would be to send humans to destinations where they would live out the remainder of their lives.

And now, a couple of researchers make the argument why the use of one-way tickets to the cosmos would be the preferred - not to mention the most affordable - way to establish human colonies on other worlds. In a paper published in the Journal of Cosmology, Dirk Schulze-Makuch, an associate professor at Washington State University's School of Earth and Environmental Sciences and Paul Davies, a physicist and cosmologist from Arizona State University, say the costs of safely returning a crew would eat up the lion's share of the mission's budget. (10/25)

China Lays Out its Plan for Mars (Source: MSNBC)
Chinese space officials have come up with a plan that would send an orbiter toward Mars on a Chinese rocket as early as 2013. Such a mission would use technologies that were developed for the Chang'e 1 lunar orbiter and its recently launched follow-up mission, Chang'e 2. The orbiter mission also would follow up on China's joint effort with Russia to send probes toward Mars and one of its moons, Phobos. Launch of the Phobos-Grunt mission is scheduled for a year from now. China's Yinghuo 1 ("Firefly") orbiter would hitch a ride on a Russian-built spacecraft that's designed to put a lander on Phobos and return a soil sample to Earth.

All this activity signals that Beijing will be taking its status as a space power seriously in the years ahead. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has just returned from a controversial visit to China, and today he said in a written statement that the visit "increased mutual understanding on the issue of human spaceflight and space exploration, which can form the basis for further dialogue and cooperation in a manner that is consistent with the national interests of both of our countries." (10/25)

Russian Transport Ship Progress Turns Into Research Laboratory (Source: Itar-Tass)
The Russian transport ship Progress that undocked from the International Space Station (ISS) on October 25, has turned into a research laboratory. “Progress M-05M that undocked from the station at 18:25 Moscow time will be used for a geophysical experiment for three weeks,” Mission Control Center spokesman Valery Lyndin said. Some fuel was left in the ship’s tanks to keep it going for three weeks. After the end of the experiment, the ship will be disposed of in the Pacific. (10/25)

Garver: NASA Changes Include Space Station Management Approach (Source: Aviation Week)
NASA’s expected shift from traditional cost-plus contracts to fixed-price procurements will affect not only how the agency buys spacecraft and services for flying astronauts to orbit, but also how it provides for the maintenance and operation of the International Space Station (ISS), Deputy Administrator Lori Garver says. The agency wants to put a nonprofit organization in charge of the station to “stimulate, develop and manage use of the ISS for users other than the government,” Garver said.

“We expect to enter the competitive acquisition phase on this very soon.” Following the government’s plans to buy rides for space station crewmembers from commercial launch providers, NASA intends to make the space station more available to businesses, in hopes of stimulating new products, services and markets. Editor's Note: Read my brief essay on this topic here. (10/25)

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