November 22, 2010

Masten and Armadillo - Florida and New Mexico (Source: SPACErePORT)
Masten Space Systems and Armadillo Aerospace are looking to fill an emerging niche in the market for suborbital spaceflight. With a mix of NASA contract and prize funding, California-based Masten and Texas-based Armadillo are on seemingly parallel technology development paths with their vertical launch-and-landing vehicles, both hoping to fly suborbital research payloads beginning next year from spaceports in Florida and New Mexico.

Masten plans to use Launch Complex 36 at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport under a deal with Space Florida. LC-36 is a former Atlas launch facility that is being refurbished by Space Florida for new commercial rockets. Armadillo, meanwhile, is planning launches from Spaceport America in New Mexico. Both companies ultimately plan to develop orbital launch vehicles. Click here to see side-by-side photos of their suborbital rocket prototypes. (11/22)

NASA Extends USA Contract for Mission, Crew Operations Support (Source: NASA)
NASA has awarded a $165 million contract extension to United Space Alliance (USA) to provide mission and flight crew operations support for the International Space Station and human space exploration activities after the space shuttle is retired. The one-year extension exercises an option on the Integrated Mission Operations Contract, which covers ground-based human spaceflight operations capability development and execution.

This includes support to mission planning and preparation, crew and flight controller training and real-time mission execution. The initial period of the contract is from Nov. 1, 2008, through Sept. 30, 2011. The extension will be effective from Oct. 1, 2011, through Sept. 30, 2012. The cost-plus-award-fee contract's initial value was $207 million. The extension will increase its total value to $373 million. (11/22)

How a Bridge Was Born on Mars (Source: MSNBC)
A thin channel on Mars has a naturally occurring bridge over it, as seen in an image from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera, or HiRISE. The channel runs through a stretch of knobby terrain called Tartarus Colles. The origin of the channel itself is unknown, though it was probably not formed by running water as there are no obvious source or deposit regions. Click here to see a photo. (11/22)

NASA Funds Nationwide High School Student Robotics Program (Source: NASA)
NASA is providing up to $20 million over the next five years to support a national program to inspire student interest in science, technology and mathematics with a focus on robotic technology. The funding is part of a cooperative agreement with the Foundation For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST). FIRST provides students the opportunity to engage with government, industry and university experts for hands-on, realistic exposure to engineering and technical professions. (11/22)

GAO Report Could Boost Delta-2 (Sources: Florida Today, SPACErePORT)
Several NASA science missions risk increased costs and delays as KSC's Launch Services Program transitions to new medium class rockets, according to a new GAO report. NASA is phasing out use of the Delta-2 rocket, after the Air Force decided to transition away from the rocket in favor of the larger Delta-4 and Atlas-5 until a more affordable medium-class rocket came along. NASA expected Delta-2 prices to soar after the Air Force abandoned the program.

NASA has three more Delta-2 missions planned through next October -- one from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport and two from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. SpaceX's Falcon-9 and Orbital's Taurus-2 are expected to eventually fill the medium-lift need, but each is expected to take at least three years and cost roughly $25 million to certify. Also, neither have West Coast facilities needed for 12 of the 14 medium class science missions through 2020 that are not yet assigned launch vehicles.

GAO identified several science missions approaching their preliminary design reviews -- after which a launch vehicle change is rare -- that face uncertainty if awarded to the Falcon-9. (Taurus-2 is not yet eligible for awards.) Until the rockets are ready, the bigger and costlier Atlas-5 rocket is an alternative. Editor's Note: ULA and Boeing have been anxious to sell the remaining six or so Delta-2s in inventory. This GAO report should help. (11/22)

Europe Maintains its Presence on the Final Frontier (Source: ESA)
ESA has decided to extend the productive lives of 11 of its operating space science missions. This will enable ESA’s world-class science missions to continue returning pioneering results until at least 2014. ESA’s Science Program Committee (SPC) had to make significant decisions at its 18-19 November meeting in Paris: 11 science missions, all of them still working beyond their planned lifetimes, all of them still delivering exceptional science, and yet all coming to the end of their funding. (11/22)

Secretive Air Force Robotic Space Plane May Be Nearing Mission's End (Source: Space News)
A U.S. Air Force robotic space plane continues to maneuver in Earth orbit, according to the latest observations from skywatchers. The reusable space drone has been carrying out tasks using a suite of classified sensors and may be nearing its mission's end, according to comments from Air Force officials.

The spacecraft is the Air Force's X-37B space plane, also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle 1, which launched on its maiden flight on April 22 atop an Atlas 5 rocket. The winged orbiter's mission has been shrouded in secrecy, but Air Force officials have said it was built for 270-day spaceflights, suggesting that it may be in the flight homestretch and preparing to make an atmospheric re-entry and landing – all on autopilot.

Official details regarding the space plane's whereabouts, its classified payload and projected landing date are scarce. An Air Force official said that after the X-37B test objectives are satisfied, "we look forward to a successful re-entry and recovery at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California." No landing date has been scheduled, she added. (11/22)

FAA Awards SpaceX First Ever Commercial License to Re-Enter Spacecraft from Orbit (Source: SpaceX)
Since the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Office of Commercial Space Transportation was created in 1984, it has issued licenses for more than 200 launches. Today the FAA has made SpaceX the first-ever commercial company to receive a license to re-enter a spacecraft from orbit. Next month, SpaceX is planning to launch its Dragon spacecraft into low-Earth orbit atop a Falcon 9 rocket. The Dragon capsule is expected to orbit the Earth at speeds greater than 17,000 miles per hour, reenter the Earth’s atmosphere, and land in the Pacific Ocean a few hours later. (11/22)

Masten Space Systems Plans Use of Space Florida Pad (Source: Masten)
Masten Space Systems and Space Florida have signed of a Letter of Intent to explore performing demonstration launches of a Masten suborbital reusable launch vehicle from Launch Complex 36 at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. “We have been looking at Florida as a launch option for some time now,” said Masten CEO Dave Masten. “We are excited to begin the process of determining if Launch Complex 36 is a good location for our flight operations, and hope to attempt a demonstration launch sometime in 2011... Our ultimate goal is to develop enough market demand to justify flying from multiple space ports.”

Masten Space Systems is a rapid-prototyping rocket technology R&D company based in Mojave, CA. Their fully-reusable, vertical-takeoff-and-landing suborbital rockets are designed to be operated frequently and affordably, flying several missions per day with a small crew. “We’ve had interest from many researchers, scientists, and engineers,” said a Masten official. “We look forward to conducting regular flight operations in the near future, including using suborbital flights as a quality assurance ‘checkout’ for experiments bound for the
International Space Station.”

Minimal construction would be necessary to prepare SLC-36 for Masten demonstration launches. “Everything about our vehicle feeds directly into low-cost operations with minimal infrastructure,” said Dave Masten. “We require a small concrete pad and have optimized vehicle operations for a five person team.” (11/22)

Issue Brief Details Space Situational Awareness Sharing Program (Source: SWF)
Sharing information on the location of space objects and debris is a prime example of addressing collective problems in space through cooperative solutions. As Earth orbit grows more congested, the need to track space objects and provide information about activities in space becomes increasingly critical for a number of reasons, such as helping to prevent collisions or debris-caused damage.

Secure World Foundation is pleased to announce the release of a fact-filled issue brief on the U.S. government’s Space Situational Awareness Sharing Program. The 17-page document details the history, legislation and funding of space situational awareness – or SSA -- as well as describing how it works, recent changes and updates to the program. Click here to download the document. (11/22)

Has the Secret X-37B Spaceplane Landed? (Source:
A HobbySpace reader wonders if the X-37B may have landed or will land soon. A post on a spacecraft observation forum said on Nov. 14 that the X-37B had not been directly spotted by anyone in the group since Nov. 10. The X-37B has occasionally gone missing from amateur observations and then turned up again later. However, a post on Nov. 20 included intriguing NOTAMs (Notices to Airmen) for unmanned aircraft activity in the Vandenberg AFB area. "Did X-37B OTV-1 land on Friday? Since that day there were no video streams except weather? I like coincidences..." Click here. (11/22)

Another Call for a National Space Council (Source: Air & Space)
The major problem with the implementation of the Vision for Space Exploration was that NASA did not adhere to the intent or mission of the return to the Moon segment early in the program. As this was done subtly, no one (in either oversight branch) initially noticed that an unaffordable approach to lunar return was being developed. Moreover, because the agency was approaching lunar return as a “super Apollo” set of extended sorties, the architecture was incapable of accomplishing the basic objective of going to the Moon to learn how to live and work there.

A space council reporting to the President directly (not through the NASA administrator) could provide the necessary independent technical advice and oversight the President and Congress require to determine if an architecture or launch vehicle is the appropriate choice for achieving national strategic objectives. Re-creation of the National Space Council was a specific recommendation of the 2004 Aldridge Commission precisely because of the concerns I’ve discussed here.

Editor's Note: Re-establishing the National Space Council was also among President Obama's promises during his 2008 campaign. See Promise #331 on this website that tracks the president's space-related promises. (11/22)

Boeing Teams Up With Baron of Inflatable Space Hotels (Source: WIRED)
Meet Boeing, an aerospace giant all funded up with nowhere to go. The company has an $18 million NASA contract to build a spaceship for ferrying astronauts into orbit after the space shuttle is mothballed next year. Unfortunately, there’s only one destination — the International Space Station — and that’s not enough for Boeing.

Now meet Robert Bigelow, a UFO-obsessed gazillionaire with plans to build for-profit inflatable space stations for rent by governments, scientists, and tourists. Don’t laugh — he already has two prototypes in orbit. But max altitude of the Virgin Galactics of the world is only 68 miles. And with his stations 235 miles up, that’s not enough for Bigelow. Thankfully, these crazy kids got together.

In February, Boeing announced that it was partnering with Bigelow to design and build a capsule called the CST-100. And in September, Boeing teamed up with Space Adventures, a company that arranges civilian space flights. The Obama administration wants to encourage commercial crewed spaceflight, but without a guaranteed customer other than NASA, it’s been hard to attract big shots like Boeing. Click here to read the article. (11/22)

TerreStar Corp. Sued by Finnish Supplier for $25.8 Million (Source: Space News)
Elektrobit Corp. of Finland has filed a lawsuit against the parent company of mobile satellite services startup TerreStar Networks, which is under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, in an attempt to recover $25.8 million. Elektrobit is under contract to TerreStar to provide technologies for the TerreStar dual satellite-terrestrial handset. (11/22)

Europe's New Astronauts Graduate (Source: BBC)
The European Space Agency's new intake of astronauts have completed their basic training. The six individuals - two Italians, a German, a Frenchman, a Dane and a Briton - received their graduation certificates at a special ceremony in Cologne, Germany. They are the first group of candidates ESA has put through a training program of its own design. Previous astronauts have relied on the US and Russia for their education.

The first chance for one of the new recruits to go into orbit to visit the space station should come in 2013. This is expected to be one of the two Italian fighter pilots in the group - Samantha Cristoforetti and Luca Parmitano. The 2013 opportunity is guaranteed under an agreement the Italian Space Agency (Asi) has bartered for its nationals in exchange for producing key modules for the space station. (11/22)

UK's Former DARPA-Like Group Wins NASA KSC Contract (Source: BBC)
UK defense technology firm Qinetiq has won a contract to provide engineering services for NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The deal is for at least five years, with options for a further three, and is worth up to $2 billion. Under the terms of the deal, Qinetiq will provide mainly ground operations and engineering support. Qinetiq's North American arm will provide the services, and is expected to start in March 2011. Qinetiq was formed from the previously state-owned Defense Evaluation and Research Agency and was floated on the London stock market in February 2006. (11/22)

Russia to Launch Unmanned Lander to Martian Moon in October 2011 (Source: Xinhua)
The head of Russia's Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), Anatoly Perminov, said here on Sunday that the launch of an unmanned lander to one of the moon of Mars, Phobos, was scheduled for October 2011. The Phobos-Grunt spacecraft will be sent to the surface of Phobos, and then return to the Earth with soil samples. A Chinese micro-satellite YH-1, the country's first Mars probe, will also be carried by the Phobos-Grunt spacecraft to the Martian orbit. (11/22)

As Shuttle Program Fades Away, What Comes Next for Manned Spaceflight? (Source: Flight Global)
As the Space Shuttle program slowly winds to a close in 2011, the question on the mind of every space enthusiast in the USA and beyond is "what comes next?" Without the Shuttle or even a clear path - and funding - to a replacement, the future of the US manned spaceflight program is murky at best. But despite uncertain funding and changing schedules, NASA and the aerospace industry continue to forge ahead with new ideas for getting humans into space after the Shuttle.

Although President Bush intended for the crew exploration vehicle to be more or less developed by 2008 and flying its first manned mission no later than 2014, Congressional funding faltered, followed by confidence and support. In spite of pouring about $9 billion into the development of the Constellation's Ares rockets and Orion crew capsule, costs continued to balloon and timelines shifted to the right. Without the momentum from a huge push of national will that the Apollo program enjoyed, Constellation - and talk of returning humans to the Moon - fizzled out. (11/22)

Haridopolos to Run Against Nelson in 2012? (Source: Daily Caller)
Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos has some strong words to say about U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, especially Nelson's support for NASA. Haridopolos said he has yet to make a final decision as to whether he’ll run against Nelson for the Sunshine State’s Senate seat in 2012, but that he has received many phone calls from voters urging him to run. Many of those callers urging him to run, he said, are urging him to run based on his support for programs at NASA.

"He [Nelson] has allowed NASA to be destroyed," [Florida Senate President Mike] Haridopolos said. "That's 20,000 jobs, let alone the more important component which is national security. That's why, I think, people who have been long-time Bill Nelson supporters are calling people like me and saying we want you to challenge Bill Nelson because he's not standing up for Florida." Click here to read the article. (11/19)

Human Spaceflight Worth the Cost (Source: Space Review)
As we complete the International Space Station and debate future plans for human space exploration, a key question remains: how can we maintain support for this endeavor? In the first in a new series, Lou Friedman examines the issue and the consequences for not answering that question. Visit to view the article. (11/22)

Where First for Space Resources? (Source: Space Review)
Much of the debate over the last year regarding human spaceflight has been where humans should go next: the Moon, near Earth objects, or some place else. Jeff Foust reports on a recent panel session that looked at the question of where to go first from the point of view of accessing space resources. Visit to view the article. (11/22)

Mars Antenna Work Finished (Source: San Bernardino Sun)
NASA has completed a seven-month repair job to keep its "Mars antenna" in working order. The Mars antenna, so named because it received the first communication from human technology in Martian space, was out of service from March until the last day of September. The Mariner 4 spacecraft transmitted images of the Red Planet to the antenna in 1966. "Pretty much all data that mankind has of Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, Uranus and Neptune, at least one third of that data and pictures has come through this antenna," said Peter Hames, manager of antennae and facilities for the Deep Space Network. (11/22)

Intrepid: New York Deserves to Get a Retired Space Shuttle (Source: New York Daily News)
New York is easily the world's best stage for a retired space shuttle, and the city will get one if Congress plays fair, the head of the Intrepid Sea-Air and Space Museum said Sunday. "We believe the merits of New York City and the Intrepid will continue to position New York to be a final destination for a shuttle," said Susan Marenoff, the Intrepid's executive director. (11/22)

500 Planets: it's Just the Beginning (Source: Cosmos)
In space at least, the real estate business is booming: the number of planets discovered outside of our Solar System has now passed 500 - and that's just the beginning, astronomers say. While many of these distant planets are the size of Jupiter or even larger, planets are continually being found that are looking more and more like the Earth. The exoplanet count now stands at 502, with most Earth-like yet discovered probably Gliese 581 g, just three times Earth's mass. About once a month astronomers claim the discovery of yet another planet that is Earth-like in one way or another, says astronomer Chris Tinney. (11/22)

NASA Moves X-34s Out of Storage, Considers Return to Flight Status (Source: Flight Global)
Two X-planes parked in storage by NASA for nearly 10 years have been moved to a new facility to be inspected for a possible return to flying status, the agency says. Orbital Sciences Corp will determine whether the X-34s are still viable as technology demonstrators for reusable space vehicles. Both X-34s have been stored at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center near Palmdale, California since the hypersonic spaceflight program was canceled in 2001.

Neither aircraft was flown under its own power before being moved into storage, although one vehicle completed three captive carry tests from an Orbital Sciences-owned Lockheed L-1011. A NASA contractor moved both X-34's overnight on 16 November, trucking the aircraft with their vertical tails removed from Dryden to a hangar owned by the National Test Pilot school in Mojave, California. (11/19)

Iran to Launch New Satellites Soon (Source: AFP)
Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi said on Sunday that Tehran would soon launch into space a number of its newly designed satellites. "Currently, we are building new satellites and soon, in the near future, some of them will be launched into space," Vahidi said. He did not specify when the launches would take place. Iran had planned a launch for its second home-made satellite, Rasad 1 (Observation), in late August but it was postponed until the second half of the Iranian year to March 2011. (11/21)

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