December 12, 2010

U.S. House Spending Bill Adds Money for Civil Weather Satellites (Source: Space News)
Most of the funding the White House requested for a new civilian weather satellite system is included in a 2011 spending bill that narrowly passed the U.S. House of Representatives Dec. 8. But the bill, which holds total discretionary spending to 2010 levels through September, would not allow the Defense Department to begin procurement of its next-generation GPS fleet. (12/10)

ORS-1 Satellite Now Set for April Launch From Virginia Spaceport (Source: Space News)
Goodrich ISR Systems is finishing environmental testing of the final component to be installed on a new tactical surveillance satellite now planned for launch in April 2011. Launch of the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) Office’s ORS-1 satellite was previously planned for this fall, but it has been delayed by challenges with its imaging payload, which is a variant of the unit flown on U-2 spy planes. Prime contractor Goodrich, for example, had trouble getting the payload’s camera properly aligned.

Engineers hope to have the data storage unit installed this month so that environmental testing of the integrated satellite can be completed in January, he said. The satellite then will be shipped off for launch aboard a Minotaur-1 rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. (12/10)

Third Mission Carries Risk (Source: Florida Today)
As NASA waits to see if Congress funds a hoped-for third shuttle flight next summer, the mission faces a lesser-known but more important hurdle: safety. NASA continues to wrestle with large, dangerous cracks in the foam coating shuttle external tanks. Cracks can cause large hunks of foam to pop off in flight, or harbor ice, either of which can fall and slam into the spaceship during launch. The peril is obvious: Falling foam doomed Columbia and seven astronauts in 2003.

NASA tried, but failed to eliminate foam debris during launch. The best the space shuttle team could do was to reduce the likelihood of breakaway foam and other dangerous launch debris. NASA leaders determined the best way to protect astronauts from the unlikely, but still possible, threat of foam debris crippling the spaceship or compromising its heat shield was to make sure another shuttle was ready for a rescue launch from Kennedy Space Center. (12/12)

Lockheed Martin Wins Space Station Cargo Mission Services Contract (Source: NASA)
NASA has awarded a contract with a potential value of $171 million to Lockheed Martin Corp. for support of International Space Station cargo mission services. The contract will support planning, coordination, preparation and packing of standardized containers for cargo missions to the station by international partner and commercial cargo vehicles. Lockheed Martin will process flight crew equipment including clothing and personal hygiene items, housekeeping items, audio and video equipment, laptop computers, batteries and crew survival equipment. The contract also includes provisions to support similar services for future vehicles to the station. (12/10)

Shuttle Needs to be Kept Warm (Source: Florida Today)
Kennedy Space Center teams are working through the weekend to prepare Discovery for a tanking test before another cold snap hits Sunday, dropping the temperatures into the 30s. Discovery's launch is scheduled for no earlier than Feb. 3. The NASA test set for Wednesday morning is to gather data that could help explain what caused cracks in two external tank support brackets, a problem that has kept the shuttle grounded since last month.

Teams at launch pad 39A are installing nearly 90 strain gauges and temperature sensors on the tank's mid-section, cutting away rust-colored insulating foam to fasten them on the metal skin beneath and then spraying foam back on. But unusually cold weather had slowed preparations and could continue to be a challenge next week. To bond properly, the sensors need roughly 75-degree warmth. (12/12)

NASA Solar Sail Lost in Space (Source:
NASA has not heard from the experimental NanoSail-D miniature solar sail in nearly a week, prompting officials to wonder if the craft actually deployed from a larger mother satellite despite initial indications it ejected as designed. The agency announced Monday the NanoSail-D ejected from the its mothership, the Fast, Affordable, Science and Technology Satellite, or FASTSAT. The deployment was supposed to trigger a three-day timer before issuing an automatic command to unfurl a 100 square foot ultra-thin polymer sail from NanoSail-D, which is about the size of a loaf of bread. (12/11)

Abbey Sees Limits in Private Spaceflight (Source: Houston Chronicle)
George Abbey, senior fellow in space policy at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy and a former director of NASA's Johnson Space Center, says the launch by SpaceX was a major achievement but won't be a replacement for the space shuttle. Abbey talked to Chronicle reporter Jeannie Kever about the launch and the challenges facing the space program. Click here to read the interview. (12/12)

This Week in Space History: Spaceport Deal Made on a Handshake (Source: Alamogordo Daily News)
Their experiences would be "truly out of this world," the press release proclaimed on Dec. 14, 2005. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Galactic "the world's first commercial space tourism business" had just agreed to locate Virgin's "world headquarters and Mission Control" in the state. Virgin's customers, said Branson, chairman of Virgin Companies, would be "fledgling astronauts." Three-and-a-half years later, on June 19, 2009, Spaceport America broke ground. (12/12)

Not Enough Fuel for Akatsuki (Source: Yomiuri Shimbun)
The sudden loss of balance that prevented the Akatsuki space probe from going into orbit around Venus on Tuesday was due to a sudden drop in engine power likely caused by an insufficient supply of fuel, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said. As the ceramic nozzle on Akatsuki's engine is believed to have been damaged, JAXA may find it difficult to put the probe into orbit around Venus when it comes close to the planet six years from now.

The agency analyzed data recorded while Akatsuki's orbit maneuvering engine was retrofiring to reduce the probe's velocity so it would be drawn by Venus' gravity into orbit around the planet. The data indicated the flow of fuel and changes in temperature around the engine. (12/11)

Space Tourism Lifts Off in Australia (Source: Sydney Morning Herald)
There are at least 10 accredited agents in Australia selling the dream of spaceflight on behalf of the space tourism company Virgin Galactic, and its product could be just 18 months away. Spencer Travel, in Sydney, was the first to sell a fully paid ticket in Australia in 2007.

Spencer Travel gets about six people a year legitimately interested in buying a ticket. The company expects prices will drop when it becomes more established, possibly with two trips a day. The experience involves three days training before the actual flight, which will operate out of New Mexico in the US. (12/11)

India to Launch New Satellite on December 20 (Source: DNA)
Indian Space Research Organization has decided to launch its new communication satellite GSAT-5 Prime from the spaceport of Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh at around 4 pm on December 20. (12/11)

NASA still is giving us reasons to be inspired (Source: Galveston Daily News)
NASA recently announced a discovery that, while not quite proving there is life on other planets, does offer proof there is life still at NASA. There’s something inspiring in realizing NASA is more than the FedEx of space, simply delivering parts to the International Space Station every few months. (12/11)

PETA Claims NASA Won’t Irridiate Monkeys (Source: Galveston Daily News)
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) claims high-ranking officials at NASA headquarters have confirmed the space agency won’t go through with an experiment involving exposing monkeys to radiation. NASA officials, however, said the agency has not made a decision on the proposed experiment.

The proposed $1.75 million study would expose 18 squirrel monkeys to high doses of radiation at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York. Researchers then would study the animals through behavioral experiments to measure radiation damage. (12/11)

Railgun Shot Heard Round the World (Source: MSNBC)
Navy researchers notched a world record at the Naval Surface Warfare Center when they fired off a projectile packing 33 megajoules of energy using an electromagnetic railgun. That's as much kinetic energy as a 33-ton semi has when it's traveling at 100 mph. The previous record for railgun power was 10 megajoules.

A railgun's range could conceivably be up to 20 times farther than that of the conventional guns currently used on ships, with shells flying at five times the speed of sound. And because a railgun rely on cleverly controlled magnetic field rather than high-energy explosives to accelerate projectiles, the system eliminates the need to keep those explosives aboard ships.

Rail launchers have been proposed as a way to get to outer space as well. The concept even plays a part in "The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress," Robert Heinlein's 1966 sci-fi novel. Editor's Note: The Air Force hosted an "electromagnetic launcher" rail gun research facility at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida's panhandle during the 1990s. I don't think it is still there. (12/11)

Financial Meltdown Scuttles Dreams of Green Bay's Rocket Man (Source: JS Online)
For a brief time, he soared. Then he crashed, hard. But it was a hell of a ride. George French could have stuck to the familiar trajectory of a successful middle-aged businessman. His company, Orde Advertising Inc., was doing fine. In fact, it had grown into the biggest billboard outfit in northeastern Wisconsin. But French had an itch he couldn't ignore, and to scratch it he ended up leaving the billboard business to follow his true star, into space.

"What a great entrepreneurial story," said James Testwuide, president and CEO of Sheboygan brokerage H.C. Denison Co. "He just found something that he's passionate about and went right at it. And he certainly isn't the first guy to not fulfill the high end of his dream." French's dream was to lead a company that builds and operates rockets for everything from servicing the international space station to taking wealthy tourists on 60-mile-high, six-figure excursions.

He got involved in a number of space-related activities, including chairing a NASA-review panel for then-Congressman Toby Roth, representing Wisconsin at the Aerospace States Association and serving on the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium. He also set up a business, Space Explorers Inc., offering space-related educational programs to schools. Click here to read the article. (12/12)

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