November 11, 2010

Two Cracks Found on Discovery's Fuel Tank (Source: Space Daily)
Engineers have found two cracks on the external tank of the space shuttle Discovery after delaying its launch until the end of this month following a hydrogen leak. The cracks were found late Wednesday on an aluminium strip which separates the liquid oxygen tank and the liquid hydrogen tank when technicians removed foam insulation from the external tank, the US space agency said.

The strip, known as a stringer, provides structural integrity for the external tank where liquid hydrogen and oxygen are stored. Combined at low temperatures, they provide the powerful fuel to blast the shuttle through space. The cracks measure around nine inches (23 centimeters) long and have increased doubts whether Discovery will be able to launch on its last ever flight to the International Space Station this year as planned. (11/11)

Amazing Evolution of Space Exploration (Source: Engineering News)
It is quite amazing how the exploration of space has evolved. Much modern space exploration is like the ultimate in video games – it is a case of people sitting in control rooms on earth and guiding spacecraft that are way out in space. A beautiful case in point is now under way. Two spacecraft that were supposed to be ‘dead’ a year ago have been brought back to life and given new missions, and all of this has been done from control rooms on earth.

The story begins in 2007, when NASA launched a fleet of five spacecraft to study the magnetosphere of the earth. The magnetosphere shields the earth from nuclear particles coming in from deep space. Two of the spacecraft ended up spending too much time in the Earth's shadow, which limited their effectiveness. The spacecraft still had a good supply of fuel on board, so the project team decided to try to rescue them.

They decided to try to get them out of the shadow of the earth and to send them to the moon. They hey used a last gasp of electricity to fire the spacecraft on a journey to the moon. But what is quite amazing is that spacecraft originally built for another mission could be taken out of earth orbit and successfully steered on a course to the moon – and all from a control room on earth. One really wonders what the future holds. (11/11)

New Analysis Explains Formation of Bulge on Farside of Moon (Source: UC Santa Cruz)
A bulge of elevated topography on the farside of the moon--known as the lunar farside highlands--has defied explanation for decades. But a new study led by researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, shows that the highlands may be the result of tidal forces acting early in the moon's history when its solid outer crust floated on an ocean of liquid rock. (11/11)

ESA Hones Design For Mars Orbiter/Lander (Source: Aviation Week)
Engineers are moving into the last phase of detailed design for ExoMars, a twin lander/orbiter mission planned by the European Space Agency and NASA to pave the way for a sample return from the red planet. ExoMars was conceived as an all-ESA endeavor with a single launch. However, rising costs and technology risks forced planners last year to morph the undertaking into a twin-launch scenario, with NASA as partner, and to redefine system requirements. This was completed in March. Thales Alenia Space (TAS) was retained as prime contractor. (11/11)

Follow the Money: to Commercial Space (Source: Satellite Spotlight)
The current boom in commercial space flight is being stimulated and fueled by a significant source -- money. It's ironic that today's challengers to the titans of telecommunications may end up tomorrow toppling the status quo in launch vehicles and manned space flight. Exhibit one is Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of Space X. Musk's seed money for SpaceX can be traced to his sale of PayPal to eBay. At the time of sale, Musk owned 11.7 percent of PayPal's stock, a foundation of wealth that enabled him to start up SpaceX, along with side ventures Tesla Motors and Solar City.

On the other side of the coin, (News - Alert) founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has been quietly -- some would argue secretly -- funding a sub-orbital spacecraft program. Out of site in the wilds of Texas, the Blue Origin aerospace company has built and flown a testbed for its New Shepard vertical launch and landing spacecraft.

A wildcard is Armadillo Aerospace. Funded by id Software founder John Carmack, Armadillo has built a number of low-cost vertical launch and landing prototypes over the years to chase Lunar Landing Challenge prize money. The company has had a mixed record of success, meeting some goals to collect prices while having dramatic hardware failures (i.e. explosions) during other attempts. (11/11)

Paper Plane Launches Into Space (Source: Huffington Post)
Here's an impressive feat: a team of British space enthusiasts successfully launched a paper plane from Spain into space, and it returned! Composed of paper straws and covered in paper, the miniature plane was launched in a helium balloon, it left Earth's atmosphere and then came flying all the way back, BBC reports. [The team] attached the aircraft - which has a 3ft wingspan - and a camera to a helium balloon and released it into the air on October 28. Amazingly, the plane landed 100 miles from the release point. It suffered virtually no damage. Click here to read the article, with video. (11/11)

Detailed Dark Matter Map Yields Clues to Galaxy Cluster Growth (Source: HubbleSite)
Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope received a boost from a cosmic magnifying glass to construct one of the sharpest maps of dark matter in the universe. They used Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys to chart the invisible matter in the massive galaxy cluster Abell 1689, located 2.2 billion light-years away. Dark matter is an invisible form of matter that accounts for most of the universe's mass. Hubble cannot see the dark matter directly. Astronomers inferred its location by analyzing the effect of gravitational lensing, where light from galaxies behind Abell 1689 is distorted by intervening matter within the cluster. (11/11)

Deep Space Climb (Source: Boulder Weekly)
So you’ve bagged the Seven Summits — the highest mountain on each of the seven continents. Great. You’ve crushed the most difficult bouldering problems. Bravo. There are mountains and cliffs that stand taller than Everest, boulders the size of buildings and craters miles deep that have yet to be climbed. This is the stuff of climbers’ wet dreams, and they all exist … on other planets.

The Earth’s moon is the closest location for deep space climbing. With gravity reduced by 60 percent, the climber could easily scramble over the 12-mile deep craters — so easy that it’s probably best-suited for a novice climber. "The problem with the moon is it’s very boring,” says Fran Bagenal, professor of astrophysical and planetary sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “There’s not much vertical relief.” (11/11)

Russia Starts Building New Space Rocket (Source: Xinhua)
Russian engineers started to lay out a new type of rocket designed specially for new launch site Vostochny in Amur region. The rocket will be an integral part of a new space manned system, said a Roscosmos official. Russian budget has allocated some $806 million for the new launch pad and its infrastructure building for the next three years.

First unmanned launch from Vostochny has been scheduled for 2015 and first manned spaceship will be launch from there in 2018. Currently, Russian manned spaceships are launched from Baikonur space site located in Kazakhstan. (11/11)

Billion Wise, Multi-Billion Foolish (Source: National Review)
I hope that the Deficit Commission is better informed on the 99-plus percent of the federal budget that is not NASA than it is about the space agency and space policy. The reason [their misguided NASA budget reduction recommendation] is unclear to them is that the commissioners apparently understand neither the purpose nor the specifics of the program. They clearly can’t have actually talked to anyone at NASA or anywhere else who does. It is not a “subsidy to the private sector” any more than giving Lockheed Martin a multi-billion cost-plus contract to build the Orion crew vehicle is.

It is the purchase of fixed-price milestones in the development of a capability to get NASA personnel to orbit, at much lower cost and much sooner than they could do so themselves. That it enables a new, high-technology, wealth-generating (and tax-revenue-generating) industry to offer such rides to others (and thus creates a new American export capability with which to help our trade balance) is a beneficial side effect, not the purpose, and it has nothing to do with “training of potential crew.”

With this recommendation, they are actually in effect advocating the end of NASA human spaceflight, because the remaining budget isn’t big enough for the agency to develop its own vehicles in the traditional NASA manner, despite wishful thinking on the part of the authorizers in Congress. If this is the commission’s goal, it’s one worth debating, but the commissioners should understand the implications. (11/11)

Defense And Space Cuts Fill Deficit Reduction (Source: Aviation Week)
A draft document issued by the chairmen of a White House-commissioned panel on reducing the federal deficit recommends scrapping the Lockheed Martin F-35B short-take-off, vertical landing (Stovl) fighter outright, along with the General Dynamics Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, and curtailing production of the Bell-Boeing MV-22 Osprey, all as part of a 15 percent defense procurement cut that only begins to try to help the U.S. rein in its budget deficit.

The proposals, contained in a supplement to a $3.8 trillion plan unveiled Nov. 10, are not final, do not even represent the full panel’s view, and do not have any legislative force beyond trying to influence debate in Washington. In space, the two men suggest cutting commercial spaceflight efforts at NASA, supposedly saving $1.2 billion in 2015. According to their summary, “This subsidy to the private sector is costly, and while commercial spaceflight is a worthy goal, it is unclear why the federal government should be subsidizing the training of the potential crews of such flights.” (11/11)

Space Florida Chief Expects Big Gain in Space (Source: Florida Today)
The head of Space Florida says he hopes to see a tripling of the state's aerospace industry in the next decade, but it won't be in the form of traditional NASA-manned launches. Frank DiBello told an audience of about 75 local businesspeople that diversification of the state's space industry is the key to reaching that goal. That includes commercial launches to supply the International Space Station and other types of launches within Florida, perhaps including horizontal launches from Florida sites outside Brevard County.

He said only 31 percent of all commercial space launches occur in the United States, adding, "This was an industry we once dominated." He is not optimistic that Congress will approve funding for another space shuttle flight beyond the two already funded, considering its $600 million price tag. But he said it might not be so bad not to have that extra flight. "In my mind, it delays the inevitable only a few months," DiBello said. "I would rather have clarity of purpose for the future," and possibly use that money for further development of new programs at KSC. (11/11)

Satellites to Make E-Government Available Across Russia (Source: Itar-Tass)
Two K-2 satellites will be used to bring Internet and e-government services to remote Russian regions where laying fiber optic cables would be loss-making, Rostelecom Voce President Andrei Nashchekin said. “Around two million people living in remote places with a low density of the population will get access to the Internet for 300-400 roubles a month via satellites,” he said. (11/11)

Inside Next Week’s Launch From Alaska's Kodiak Island Spaceport (Source: Kodiak Daily Mirror)
The Kodiak Launch Complex has its first launch in almost two years Nov. 19, and it’s a new type of launch. Instead of the missile defense-related work the complex has done over the last decade, the new launch is for the military’s Space Test Program and will bring 16 experiments into low earth orbit.

The experiments range from high-priority military projects to NASA technology trials and experiments built by college undergraduates. They investigate subjects including electronics, space weather, navigation and biology. But a common thread throughout the mission is projects that are small and inexpensive by aerospace standards. (11/11)

KSC Hosting Educator Appreciation Day on Nov. 20 (Source: Florida Today)
Teachers are invited to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex for Educator Appreciation Day. The inaugural event is Saturday, Nov. 20 and free for all certified Florida and Georgia educators. They will be able to experience activities designed to enhance Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) studies in the classroom and inspire students.

There will be a keynote speech given by an astronaut, door prizes, a scavenger hunt and a variety of workshops designed for K-12 educators. The program is limited to 300 teachers and reservations must be made by Monday. For more details and to participate in Educator Appreciation Day, please contact Maura Anziano at 321-455-7034 or

Orbcomm Switching to Falcon 9 for its Tardy Second-Gen Satellites (Source: Space News)
Satellite messaging service provider Orbcomm said its second-generation satellites will not be ready before next spring, several months later than planned, with the first two spacecraft to launch as piggyback passengers on a large SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, and not the smaller Falcon 1 as originally intended.

Orbcomm, in a contract-change notice given to satellite manufacturer Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC), said it has dropped the requirement that the satellites be compatible with Russian, Indian and other U.S. rockets, which had been viewed as backup alternatives. The 18 second-generation satellites are now entirely in the hands of SpaceX. (11/11)

Arab Institutions Partner for Space and Technology Programs (Source: Zayed University)
The Emirates Institution for Advanced Science & Technology (EIAST) and Institute for Community Engagement (I.C.E) of Zayed University (ZU) signed an agreement to jointly pursue applied R&D. The institutions will now conduct feasibility studies in different fields such as space science, astronomy, energy, and the exchange of human resources. (11/11)

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