December 20, 2010

FAA Certifies Santa’s NextGen-Equipped Sleigh for Christmas Eve (Source: FAA)
FAA safety inspectors at the North Pole certified Santa One, the reindeer-powered sleigh piloted by Santa Claus, for its Christmas Eve round-the-world delivery mission. Santa One, led by Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, is outfitted with new satellite-based NextGen technology, which will allow Santa to deliver more toys to more children with improved safety and efficiency.

“Children around the world will get their gifts on time, regardless of the weather, thanks to NextGen,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “We’re proud to say NextGen is bringing Santa Claus to town.” Rudolph’s red nose has been outfitted with avionics that will broadcast Santa One’s position via satellites to air traffic controllers around the world with improved accuracy, integrity and reliability. (12/20)

NORAD Tracks Santa With Google (Source: NORAD)
All the preparations for this year are in place! Come back each day to receive updates from the North Pole and to discover new surprises in the Kids' Countdown Village. Santa’s elves have been busier than usual this year preparing. This Christmas eve, join NORAD to track Santa's flight from your phone. On December 24th, open Google Maps for mobile and do a search for "Santa" to see his latest location. Click here for more. (12/20)

Rocket to Nowhere (Source: Space Review)
The new NASA authorization act directs the space agency to develop a massive heavy-lift launch vehicle in the next six years. Lou Friedman warns that without a specific mission and corresponding requirements for the vehicle, the project is destined to fail. Visit to view the article. (12/20)

India, Russia to Sign Pact to Launch Satellites (Source: Financial Express)
During the forthcoming visit of the Russian President to New Delhi next week, India and Russia are set to boost cooperation in space, including launching Russian navigational satellites with the help of Indian booster rockets. “The two countries will ink an agreement related to cooperation in Outer Space, like using satellites to find out militants hideouts,” sources told FE.

Though there is agreement for production of satellite navigation equipment and services in India for civilian purpose, a joint venture would be set up for this purpose. “ There would be another joint venture for manufacturing ground based equipments for receiving signals from Russia-made GLONASS space navigation system. Only two countries-US and Russia - have such satellite navigation systems which has lot of civilian and military implication, here, trust element is very important,” pointed out senior officials. (12/20)

‘Korea Should Find Niche in Space Race’ (Source: Korea Herald)
It is nearing three years since South Korea successfully sent its first astronaut, 29-year-old bioengineer Yi So-yeon, into outer space. In April 2008, with the successful blast off, Yi became the first South Korean to board the International Space Station, as a guest crew member of Russia’s Soyuz TMA-20 under a $20 million contract signed between Russia and Korea in December 2006.

Yi now works at the Korea Aerospace Research Institute as a senior researcher, with mixed opinions over her mission remaining three years on. The Korea Herald spoke with Yi about her space mission and post-mission activities. Yi’s mission to space was fraught before she was even in the air. Controversy arose when it was reported that Russian cosmonauts were to spend six months on board the orbital station, while Yi would be in orbit for only ten days. Click here. (12/20)

The Right Stuff to Wear (Source: The New York Times)
Stashed in a Smithsonian storage building in this Washington suburb are some of the engineering wonders of the space race. These marvels are far smaller than the towering rockets and streamlined spacecraft that took men into orbit and to the Moon. Far softer, too. They are the spacesuits that kept the astronauts alive beyond Earth.

Most of the National Air and Space Museum’s collection of about 300 spacesuits is here. Each is protected by a sheet of muslin, giving the room the eerie feel of a morgue or the final resting place of members of an odd space cult. There are Mercury suits like the one worn by Scott Carpenter, its iconic reflective coating coming off in spots. There’s the Apollo 11 suit worn by Neil Armstrong, looking about as pristine as when he made stepped on the moon, thanks to a cleaning job by NASA that damaged the materials the suit was made of. Nearby lies Harrison Schmitt’s Apollo 17 outfit, still heavily coated in lunar grit.

There are many suits that never made it into space, projects like the EX1-A, which had doughnut-shaped joints that allowed the wearer full limb movement; the AX-5, which looks like a space-age version of the Michelin Man; and the AES, which was covered almost entirely in fabric of woven stainless steel. Click here to view the article. (12/20)

Space Budgets are Made to be Broken (Source: Space Review)
Last month NASA announced that the James Webb Space Telescope will require more money and more time before it will be ready to launch. Todd Neff notes that cost and schedule overruns are as old as the Space Age itself, a consequence of working on cutting-edge projects. Visit to view the article. (12/20)

Securing Space Security (Source: Space Review)
Orbital debris, satellite collisions, and ASAT tests have increased the awareness of the need of measures to preserve the safety of operations in Earth orbit. Jeff Foust reports on some potential and proposed measures the US and other countries can take in the near term to enhance space security. Visit to view the article. (12/20)

House Approves 2011 Defense Bill; Objections Expected in Senate (Source: AIA)
The House approved a compromise 2011 defense authorization bill on Friday, with a vote of 341-48, but the bill could stumble in the Senate due to a last-minute provision that would extend a ban on transferring any military detainees to the U.S. from the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Issues that were abandoned in the new compromise included authorization for a second F-35 Joint Strike Fighter engine. (12/20)

Infrared Telescope Gets Extra Time to Search for NEOs (Source: AIA)
The WISE infrared telescope will continue to scan the solar system for potentially dangerous asteroids until the end of January. WISE's mission was supposed to end when its block of solid hydrogen fuel was depleted, but NASA budgeted an extra $1.6 million to complete a second survey of the solar system in its search for near-Earth objects. (12/20)

Mexico Quake Studies Uncover Surprises For California (Source: Space Daily)
New technologies developed by NASA and other agencies are revealing surprising insights into a major earthquake that rocked parts of the American Southwest and Mexico in April, including increased potential for more large earthquakes in Southern California. The earthquake is among the most complex ever documented along the Pacific/North American tectonic plate boundary. The main shock activated segments of at least six faults, some unnamed or previously unrecognized. (12/20)

SpaceShipTwo Testing Update (Sources: Hobby Space, Aviation Week)
The latest issue of Aviation Week has an article about SpaceShipTwo testing. Testing is ahead of schedule as Scaled Composites plans one more glide test before the end of the year, aiming for routine commercial flights "as early as 2012". Following a recent landing gear failure, a landing gear fix will be installed soon. Until then, drops start at 45k ft instead of operational 50k ft.

To simulate change of center-of-gravity from motor and passengers, a water ballast tank has been used. The full-up weight of SS2 is 30,000 pounds. The next test phase will involve short rocket bursts to increase subsonic speeds. This will be followed by supersonic, higher-altitude tests. (12/20)

Senate Stopgap Funding Proposal Does Not Address NASA (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Senate is expected to take up a temporary spending bill Dec. 21 that would effectively freeze funding for federal agencies at 2010 levels through March 4, according to a summary of the $1.2 trillion measure posted on the Senate Appropriations Committee website Dec. 19.

The stopgap spending measure will be offered as an amendment to a continuing resolution covering the remainder of fiscal year 2011 that was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives Dec. 8. The spending rate in the Senate version, if extended through the end of the year, would represent a $1.16 billion increase over 2010 spending levels, according to the bill summary. (12/20)

Lunar X-PRIZE Teams Meeting End-of-Year Deadline (Source: X-PRIZE Foundation)
Potential Lunar X-PRIZE teams are working hard to meet the end-of-year deadline for registration. Some of those potential teams have elected to complete an optional partial registration process of filing a Letter of Intent to Compete. These Letter-of-Intent teams aren't required to reveal themselves publicly. Six of them have at least some presence online. Click here for more. (12/20)

NASA Selects Companies for Further Lunar Demonstrations Data (Source: NASA)
NASA has issued delivery orders to three companies as part of its Innovative Lunar Demonstrations Data (ILDD) project. Each order is worth $500,000 and will help develop vehicle capabilities and demonstrate end-to-end robotic lunar landing missions. The three companies selected are: Astrobotic Technology Inc.; Dynetics Inc.; and Moon Express Inc.

These companies are among six that received ILDD contract awards in October. After issuing the ILDD Broad Agency Announcement, NASA awarded six firm-fixed price, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contracts, with a potential total value for all awarded contracts of up to $30.1 million during a period of up to five years.

After those awards, each ILDD contractor submitted System Definition Review (SDR) packages, in which they identified their top risks. NASA invited the ILDD contractors in November to propose task plans for the delivery of data associated with a critical component demonstration test. (12/20)

Boeing Signs Deal for Mexican Government Satellite System (Source:
The Mexican government has awarded Boeing Co. a $1.03 billion contract for three communications satellites and an associated network of ground systems. The MEXSAT satellite system will be used for federal government communications, including law enforcement and military activities that could encompass the ongoing drug war in Mexico, according to Juan Carlos leal Sosa, Mexico's director general for spectrum technology and social programs. (12/20)

Shuttle Roll-Back Scheduled for Tuesday (Source: NASA)
Space shuttle Discovery is scheduled to roll back from Launch Pad 39A to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida for additional work related to its final scheduled mission. The first motion of the shuttle is targeted for 12:30 a.m. EST on Tuesday, Dec. 21. (12/20)

Entire Sun Rocked by Explosions (Source: National Geographic)
Pictures of a series of eruptions that day—-made possible by a new satellite—-revealed for the first time that outbursts covering the entire sun can be connected. The Solar Dynamics Observatory which has been watching the sun nonstop since last spring. Though it started small, the eruption stunned scientists by quickly expanding to envelop much of the star. Scientists had previously known that intense solar activity could occur simultaneously on multiple sections of the sun, but the satellite's new capabilities have enabled researchers to see that these events aren't always coincidental. (12/20)

Apps Bring Space Weather Down to Earth (Source: TechNewsDaily)
Want to see our violent, unpredictable sun the way a powerful NASA space telescope does? Now there's an app for that. This week, a Colorado-based company introduced its free SDO app for Android smartphones, which lets users access nearly real-time images and videos captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft. SDO is the latest in a series of apps that drop space weather information into the smartphones of scientists and regular folks alike.

The sun drives space weather — the changing environmental conditions in near-Earth space — with its variable emissions of energy and charged particles. The weather can get ugly: Huge electromagnetic storms on the sun can interfere with radio and GPS signals here on Earth. (12/20)

Sarkozy: Satellite Operators Should Support European Launch Sector (Source: Space News)
French President Nicolas Sarkozy is proposing that telecommunications satellite operators help support Europe’s government-sponsored space infrastructure through “innovative financing” of facilities that are unprofitable but indispensable to the health of the satellite telecommunications sector.

Sarkozy said profitable telecommunications operators in France, Europe and the United States should be “called upon at one time or another to take part in the financing… of space activities.” did not specify what kind of financial contribution might be made by telecommunications operators to support infrastructure including Europe’s Guiana Space Center spaceport, which is on French territory, and Europe’s launcher sector. (12/20)

NASA Celebrates Ambitious Year (Source: NASA)
NASA in 2010 set a new course for human spaceflight, helped rewrite science textbooks, redefined our understanding of Earth's nearest celestial neighbor, put the finishing touches on one of the world's greatest engineering marvels, made major contributions to life on Earth, and turned its sights toward the next era of exploration. Click here to read the news release. (12/20)

The Job: Space Mission Designer (Source: Financial Times)
I work as a space mission designer for Astrium, the European space company. From my base in the UK, in Stevenage, one of my biggest projects currently is the European Space Agency’s unmanned mission to Mercury, which will lift off from French Guiana in July 2014. If all goes to plan, the two spacecrafts, one from Europe and one from Japan, will arrive in an orbit around Mercury in 2020.

As a mathematician my role is to plot the most fuel-efficient route from A to B. If we just took the shortest route to Mercury, the spacecraft would have to carry so much fuel that there would be hardly any room on board for the scientific instrumentation. So instead we plot a path that loops around the inner solar system, free-riding on the gravity fields of the planets and saving vast amounts of fuel. Click here. (12/20)

India Puts Off GSLV Launch (Source: Deccan Herald)
The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO)’s next Geosynchronous Satellite launch vehicle (GSLV-FO6) flight, scheduled for Monday, has been suddenly put off on Sunday. ISRO said the launch of the GSLV-FO6 with India’s latest communication satellite “GSAT-5P,” scheduled for December 20, has been postponed “due to a minor leak in one of the valves of the Russian cryogenic stage, observed during pre-countdown checks.” (12/20)

Ohio County Turns to State for NASA Runway Funds (Source: Sandusky Register)
Erie County's latest attempt to obtain federal money to build a runway at NASA Plum Brook has failed, forcing the project's supporters to seek help from Ohio's new governor and a realigned Congress. Governor-elect John Kasich's spokesman said Kasich hasn't taken a position on the merits of the project. Supporters say the proposed runway would allow Plum Brook to attract more business to its testing facilities, such as the vacuum chamber in the Space Power Facility.

Kasich, who takes the governor's seat next month, has designated Jerry Wray as director of the Ohio Department of Transportation. It's unknown if Kasich and Wray will back the Plum Brook runway project. And any questions on the issue are "premature," said Rob Nichols, Kasich's spokesman. (12/20)

Colorado: Looking for a Little Love from NASA (Source: Longmont Times-Call)
Last week’s news that NASA is partnering with the Colorado Association for Manufacturing and Technology to build a technology park should have piqued the interest of everybody who calls the St. Vrain Valley home. Don Marostica, outgoing director of the state’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade, said potential locations for the park have been narrowed to six sites, all between Boulder and Loveland.

The park is planned to be 1 million square feet — about half the size of IBM’s Gunbarrel campus. The purpose of the park is for small- and mid-size companies focused on the aero-space and clean energy industries to co-locate in an incubator-like setting. The goal is to help them bring products to markets faster — thus creating jobs.

That’s why the announcement said the park could create 10,000 jobs in the next five years. The key word there is “could.” Marostica said the number of highly skilled workers in this region was the main reason officials want to put the park around here. He also said the park needed to be centrally located to CU, CSU, the Colorado School of Mines and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, both of which are in Golden. (12/20)

How Will We Know if Planets Are Inhabited? (Source: Discovery)
The recent and scientifically controversial announcement of arsenic-eating microbes in the eastern California desert has ratcheted up the expectation of finding life among the stars. Add this to the building anticipation of the NASA Kepler mission’s promise to find “Earth-sized” planets in its survey of over 100,000 stars near the Summer Triangle.

Another Kepler data release is scheduled for February and once again there will probably be a flurry of blogs speculating if the mission has found the interstellar Holy Grail -- an Earth-sized planet in the balmy habitable zone about a sunlike star. A term that's often kicked around is finding an Earth-analog. But what does that really mean? Does it imply something is living there? If so, the answer is very likely to be decades away, and full of uncertainty. Click here to read the article. (12/20)

Taurus 2 Main Engine Passes Gimbal Steering Test (Source:
The Taurus 2 rocket's Russian first stage main engine passed a preflight acceptance test Friday at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, according to NASA and Orbital Sciences Corp. The engine firing was the second of three tests planned to verify its readiness for launch. The first Taurus 2 flight is scheduled for the second half of 2011 from Wallops Island, Va. Friday's test lasted 55 seconds and stressed the AJ26 engine to 108 percent of its baseline thrust level, according to Orbital. (12/20)

Astronomer Sues the University of Kentucky, Claiming His Faith Cost Him a Job (Source: New York Times)
In 2007, C. Martin Gaskell, an astronomer at the University of Nebraska, was a leading candidate for a job running an observatory at the University of Kentucky. But then somebody did what one does nowadays: an Internet search. C. Martin Gaskell, who currently works at the University of Texas, says he is not a creationist and does not deny evolution.

That search turned up evidence of Dr. Gaskell’s evangelical Christian faith. The University of Kentucky hired someone else. And Dr. Gaskell sued the institution. Whether his faith cost him the job and whether certain religious beliefs may legally render people unfit for certain jobs are among the questions raised by the case, Gaskell v. University of Kentucky. (12/20)

ISS Managers Review Long-Term Configuration of International Space Station (Source:
International Space Station (ISS) program managers are currently in the process of conducting an assessment into the long-term configuration of the US Segment of the orbital outpost, as preparations are made for the post-Shuttle era which will see the addition of a new fleet of “Visiting Vehicles” arriving at the Station.

Under current plans, only four “open” Common Berthing Mechanism (CBM) ports will be available on ISS after the shuttle fleet is retired – Node 2 Nadir & Zenith, and Node 3 Forward & Aft. Node 2 Nadir & Zenith are currently reserved as the Visiting Vehicle (VV) Primary and Back-up ports respectively, and Node 3 Forward & Aft have issues regarding clearances with other parts of the Station. (12/20)

China Celebrates Successful Launch of 2nd Lunar Probe (Source: Xinhua)
China on Monday held a celebration rally to mark the successful launch of the nation's 2nd lunar probe Chang'e-2. Members of the Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee's Political Bureau Hu Jintao, Wu Bangguo, Wen Jiabao, Jia Qinglin, Li Changchun, Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang, He Guoqiang and Zhou Yongkang attended the meeting. Chinese President Hu Jintao gave a speech. The meeting was presided over by Wu Bangguo, who is also Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC). (12/20)

Shuttle Program's End Will Have Far-Reaching Impact on Titusville (Source: Florida Today)
The launch pads from which history roars and shuttles soar are visible 12 miles across the Indian River from Titusville, which old-timers still refer to as “Space City.” This city of 44,510 is a proud place. In many ways, it’s Your Place, the name of a small downtown eatery where customers are treated like family and Christian music plays non-stop on the radio and the windows rattle like crazy when a shuttle lifts off.

That rumble is reverberating through this town in a different way as the shuttle program winds toward its expected end next year. Caught up in that wave and connected through its wake are Titusville residents long dependent on the financial benefits of the storied space program. Now, they’re connected by the questions no one can answer just yet: What comes next for the thousands of highly skilled people who’ll lose their jobs once the shuttle program is history, too?

What about those who don’t work at the spaceport but whose jobs will be affected by the loss of residents and tourist dollars — restaurant workers, lawn-care specialists, motel employees? They wait. And wonder. And, as the layoff ripples reach closer to the city’s shore, they recall the days when the view from their place seemed so much clearer.Will those people leave for parts unknown, or stay in a city already facing a 13.8 percent unemployment rate? (12/20)

Armadillo Conducts Parachute Test (Source: Hobby Space)
Armadillo Aerospace yesterday tested a parachute deployment process by dropping a weight out of an airplane. Armadillo is scheduled to fly from Spaceport America at the end of January and expects to reach 100 kilometers altitude. Click here to view the parachute test video. (12/20)

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