December 24, 2010

Space Station Gesture Goes Global (Source: Florida Today)
Seeking fellowship with humans around -- and above -- Earth this holiday season? Over the next week, look to the heavens as the International Space Station flies overhead, and wave. You'll be part of a campaign connecting people around the planet with the six astronauts and cosmonauts living in space, while paying homage to a marvel of human technology and ingenuity. (12/24)

Mars: An Inexpensive Way To Restore America’s Future (Source: Forbes)
The federal government is planning to spend $19 billion on NASA’s civil space program next year, and yet the agency’s signature mission — human exploration of space — seems to be in its death throes. The Obama Administration has canceled plans it inherited to send astronauts back to the Moon, the Space Shuttle is about to retire, and the only near-term human space flight initiative on the books is a handout to rich California businessmen to update old technology. You’d think that with the nation in the midst of an identity crisis, the White House could have come up with something a little more inspiring.

Congress has stepped in to stop the administration from destroying the human space flight industrial base, but it doesn’t really have a vision of what NASA should be aiming to achieve. So here’s a vision: send humans to Mars by the early 2030s, and do it without spending any more money than NASA was planning to spend anyway. Mars is the only other earth-like planet in the known universe. It has water, it may contain life, and it could eventually sustain a human colony. By organizing the human spaceflight program with Mars in mind, NASA can develop a near-term investment and exploration agenda that gets us somewhere interesting without any additional commitment of funding. And in the process, maybe it can help America get its sense of purpose back.

I’m not going to talk about how China plans to get into human spaceflight, because then you might think this entire posting was about us versus them. But it wasn’t really about China at all — a country that typically generates fewer patents in a year than IBM does. It’s about America getting its act together and starting to think like a winner again rather than like some aging baby boomer fearful of its own mortality. America still has huge advantages over any other country that can be leveraged to restore the confidence with which we entered the new millennium. Some of the steps we can take in that direction would be surprisingly inexpensive and popular. And all we need to do to get started is to think a little differently about what we are trying to accomplish. (12/24)

No More Monkey Business (Source: Pasadena Weekly)
Monkey lovers were delighted Dec. 13 when they learned that NASA had pulled the plug on its controversial plan to irradiate 18 of the sociable primates to learn about the effects of radiation on human astronauts on long voyages to Mars. The experiments, which included bombarding squirrel monkeys with withering doses of radiation to see what effect it had on them, were to take place at the Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) in Upton, NY. (12/24)

Contract Marks New Generation for Deep Space Network (Source: NASA JPL)
NASA has taken the next step toward a new generation of Deep Space Network antennas. A $40.7 million contract with General Dynamics SATCOM Technologies, San Jose, Calif., covers implementation of two additional 34-meter (112-foot) antennas at Canberra, Australia. This is part of Phase I of a plan to eventually retire the network's aging 70-meter-wide (230-foot-wide) antennas.

The Deep Space Network (DSN) consists of three communications complexes: in Goldstone, Calif.; Madrid, Spain; and Canberra, Australia. The 70-meter antennas are more than 40 years old and are showing signs of surface deterioration from constant use. Additional 34-meter antennas are being installed in Canberra in the first phase; subsequent phases will install additional 34-meter antennas in Goldstone and Madrid. (12/24)

NASA Launches Contest for Best 'Space Craft' (Source:
A panel of NASA judges will convene early next year to pick the best design among a number of competing space crafts. But they'll be vetting paintings and sculptures, not rovers and orbiters. In October, NASA and the online crafts marketplace Etsy teamed to launch "Space Craft," a contest in which entrants share original handmade items or works of art inspired by the space agency and its programs.

In October, NASA and the online crafts marketplace Etsy teamed to launch "Space Craft," a contest in which entrants share original handmade items or works of art inspired by the space agency and its programs. Contestants submitted more than 1,000 entries in three categories — original 2-D art, 2-D reproductions and original 3-D art. The online Etsy community has whittled those entries down, choosing 40 finalists in each of the three fields, Brown said.

The finalists span a wide range of media, styles and degrees of whimsy. One finalist in the 3-D category, for example, is a fleece space shuttle hat, complete with a smiling Hubble Space Telescope attached via a grapple arm. The next step comes early next year with a panel of judges from Etsy, NASA and other guests making a final decision in February. (12/24)

2011 Preview: Private Space Flight Takes Off (Source: New Scientist)
Private companies have been promising for years that they can slash the cost of space travel, breaking the government monopoly on space flight and opening up the final frontier to the rest of us. At long last these efforts may be bearing fruit. So what do we have to look forward to in 2011? SpaceX plans two more demonstration flights, the first of which will likely blast off mid-year and is expected to fly within a few kilometers of the ISS. The second would actually dock with the station, marking another first for a non-governmental spacecraft.

Virgin Galactic is also set to take some giant leaps forward in 2011. In October 2010, the company carried out the first unpowered flights of SpaceShipTwo. The suborbital vehicle was lofted up to an altitude of nearly 14 kilometers by its WhiteKnightTwo carrier plane, before gliding back down to Earth. SpaceShipTwo, which is modeled on the X-Prize-winning SpaceShipOne, will launch into space for the first time during test flights in 2011. If the tests are a success, passenger flights could begin as soon as late 2011.

Several other companies, such as Boeing, have long-term plans to offer rides into space. But Virgin Galactic and SpaceX are likely to dominate headlines in the coming year, and may make 2011 the most exciting yet for private space flight. (12/24)

Russia to Launch Up To 53 Communication Satellites in Five Years (Source: Xinhua)
Russia plans to launch five Glonass communication satellites in 2011 and 48 more later to create a Cosmonaut information highway. There are 20 of 26 Glonass satellites in orbit offering services. Two more Glonass satellites are needed to secure the signals to cover the Russian territory. Russia is also going to develop the Gonets 48-satellite system designed for high-speed communications.

Galkevich said the system would require 20 billion rubles (650 million U.S. dollars) to become operational in five years time. The Cosmonaut system will be developed by the U.S. Loral company if approved by the Russian Space Agency, or Roscosmos. Roscosmos must decide whether foreign companies could participate in developing the system. (12/24)

No Bad Faith in Contracts for NASA Cargo Launch Capability (Source: Courthouse News)
PlanetSpace has no basis to challenge contracts that NASA awarded for a project to develop new commercial launch capabilities, the Court of Federal Claims ruled. Judge Lawrence Block called PlanetSpace's attempts to discredit the bid process "somewhat incredibl[e]" and based on "unfounded insinuations of bad faith."

PlanetSpace was one of three bidders that applied to transport NASA cargo to the International Space Station, and it filed suit when NASA awarded contracts to SpaceX and Orbital Sciences. The court dismissed four of the PlanetSpace's claims in an earlier ruling and asked NASA to explain its decision process before it considered the remaining two points.

After a NASA board concluded that PlanetSpace did not meet contractor responsibility standards, a second board found that SpaceX offered the best mission suitability at the lowest price and PlanetSpace had the second best offer. NASA decided that PlanetSpace's plan was too risky, however, and picked the third company, Orbital Sciences, to win the second contract. Block found that NASA properly rationalized why it picked the two contractors over PlanetSpace. (12/24)

Android Did Not Go Into Space (Source: The Inquirer)
Many websites reported that Google sent Android gadgetry into space, when in fact it didn't even get a third of the way there. While Google entitled its blog posting and related video "Android in spaaaace," what actually happened was that it sent some Android toys, Nexus S handsets and flight related electronics up to an altitude of 107,000ft.

Space is above 50 miles or 63 miles depending upon whether you are the US Air Force or the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI). Beyond the parochial shores of the US, 63 miles or 100km is the accepted altitude where space begins. It is also known as the Karman line. Even Virgin Galactic has accepted this and so the maximum altitude for its Spaceshiptwo will be above 100km. For the FAI, and most of the world, space begins at 328,000ft. (12/24)

Aerojet Propulsion Remains Operational as Voyager 1 Approaches Interstellar Space (Source: Aerojet)
Aerojet celebrates NASA's recent announcement that Voyager 1 has reached a point at the edge of our solar system where there is no outward motion of solar wind. Now approximately 10.8 billion miles from the sun, Voyager 1's passage through the heliosheath, the turbulent outer shell of the sun's sphere of influence, and the spacecraft's upcoming departure from our solar system, mark a major milestone as it will become mankind's first interstellar probe.

In about 40,000 years, Voyager 1 will drift within 1.6 light years (9.3 trillion miles) of AC+79 3888, a star in the constellation of Camelopardalis. Signals to command the thrusters now take more than 16 hours to reach the spacecraft. (12/24)

World's Largest Neutrino Detector Completed at South Pole (Source: Scientific American)
Thousands of meters below the ice near the South Pole lies one of the most unusual observatories ever constructed. The instrument's nervous system comprises 86 strands of light detectors, stretching down into the ice sheet like oversize strings of pearls. Each strand features 60 basketball-size detectors, spanning the depths from 1,450 to 2,450 meters below the surface. And the body of the observatory is the ice itself, an abundant medium with an astonishing natural clarity. (12/24)

Funding Puts NASA At Square One Again (Source: Aviation Week)
Congressional action to fund the government through March 4, 2011, leaves NASA pretty much right where it started in February when the Fiscal 2011 budget came out, with everything—from an extra space shuttle flight to early use of commercial replacements for the shuttle—uncertain.

In addition to a short-term continuing resolution (CR), NASA has received its Fiscal 2012 “passback” from the White House Office of Management and Budget along with a strongly worded presidential caution to all federal agencies not to expect much wiggle room on the spending figures it contains.

In legislative parlance, the latest CR contained no “anomalies” for NASA, continuing funding levels and conditions set out in its Fiscal 2010 appropriation. That means the Constellation program that Obama killed with his budget request remains on the books, as does legislative language prohibiting NASA from embarking upon the White House’s new approach to human spaceflight that would rely on commercial providers. (12/24)

ESA Unable To Secure Commitment to Station Extension (Source: Space News)
The European Space Agency (ESA) was unable to win its member governments’ approval of NASA’s proposed five-year extension of operations of the international space station because of an unrelated dispute over financial support for Europe’s Arianespace commercial launch services consortium, ESA and European government officials said. As a result, no decision approving the station’s extension to 2020 will be made before a March meeting of ESA governments. ESA already is committed to supporting the station through 2015, though the details remain to be worked out. (12/24)

NASA's COTS Dream Gets Boost from Taurus II Test (Source: Flight Global)
NASA's vision of private enterprise partners filling the cargo and crew launch gap left by the imminent retirement of its Space Shuttle fleet got a further boost from Orbital Sciences's successful 17 December long-duration test firing of its liquid-fuelled Aerojet-supplied AJ26 rocket engine. A pair of liquid oxygen/kerosene-fuelled AJ26s will power the first stage of its Taurus II space launch vehicle - and carry its Cygnus cargo vehicle to the International Space Station, possibly before the close of 2011.

The AJ26 engine test ran for 55s at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, during which the engine was purposely stressed to 109% - about 370,000lb (1,645kN) - of its baseline thrust level. Orbital also tested engine start-up, propellant valve commanding, the gimballed thrust vector control and shutdown sequencing, all with positive results according to preliminary data. (12/23)

Testing on Virgin Galactic SS2 is Ahead of Schedule (Source: AIA)
Scaled Composites says testing on Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo is going better than expected and even if bad weather prevents an additional glide test by year's end, the program is ahead of schedule. Virgin Galactic says it is on target to become the world's first commercial space line, with routine operations from Spaceport America, N.M., set for 2012. (12/24)

China Matches U.S. Space Launches for First Time (Source: WIRED)
Outwardly, it looked like just another big space launch — and those happen about once a week, from spaceports all around the world. But Friday’s blast-off of a rocket, carrying a Chinese GPS-style navigation satellite, from the Xi Chang Satellite Launch Center was different. It set a record for successful Chinese launches in one year: 15. The launch represented another important milestone. For the first time since the chilliest days of the Cold War, another country has matched the United States in sheer number of rocket launches. (12/23)

Colorado Community Makes Long-Shot Bid to Attract NASA Park (Source: Loveland Reporter-Herald)
Loveland is on the northern edge of a zone being scoped by NASA for a million-square-foot research and manufacturing center, and city officials are hoping the Agilent Technologies Inc. campus might be a candidate. But as they wage a quiet campaign to attract the space agency’s interest, they acknowledge that their gambit will be a long shot. NASA on Dec. 13 signed the Space Act Agreement with the Colorado Association for Manufacturing Technology, an agency that advises and consults with state manufacturers. (12/23)

$8 Million Earmark for Ames Hangar Restoration Evaporates (Source: Mercury News)
Just a month after money to restore Moffett Field's Hangar One had been found, it's gone again. A good chunk of the funds that preservationists and officials hoped to use to restore the hangar after its toxic siding is removed had been tucked into a massive spending bill that Congress ditched last week.

NASA announced last month it would commit $20 million to put new siding on the hangar but was also counting on an $8 million congressional earmark -- reduced from $10 million in an original proposal -- submitted by Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, to supplement the work. The earmark was part of a $1.1 trillion funding bill that failed last week in the face of Republican opposition to earmarks. (12/20)

Sierra Nevada, Orbital, Aerojet and PWR Reps Join California Space Authority Board (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Nine key space leaders have been elected to the Board of Directors of the California Space Authority, a statewide non-profit organization. Of that total, four are new Board members while five are returning to the Board of Directors. A three-year term of office will begin for the elected Board members starting January 2011.

The new Board members are Mark Pieczynski of Orbital Sciences Corp., Julie Van Kleeck of Aerojet, Ron Ramos of Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, and Lisa Matthews of Sierra Nevada Corp. Returning Board members are Julie Sattler of Lockheed Martin, Al Hoffman of Boeing, Randall Garber of AT Kearney, Alan Jones of ATK and Tim Bennett of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. (12/23)

Tracking Santa -- An Interview with the Head Researcher (Source: DOE)
Every year since 1998, the Department of Energy's Los Alamos lab has been using state of the art technology to track Santa Claus as he circles the globe the night before Christmas. Click here to read an interview with Santa Tracker Head Researcher (and Cibola Flight Experiment Project Leader) Diane Roussel-Dupre to get a little more insight into the program. (12/23)

Space Junk Rivals Weapons as a Major Threat (Source:
What began as a minor trash problem in space has now developed into a full-blown threat. A recent space security report put the problem of debris on equal footing with weapons as a threat to the future use of space. Hundreds of thousands of pieces of space junk — including broken satellites, discarded rocket stages and lost spacewalker tools — now crowd the corridors of Earth orbit.

These objects could do serious damage to working spacecraft if they were to hit them, and might even pose a risk to people and property on the ground if they fall back to Earth and are large enough to survive re-entering the atmosphere. The new Space Security 2010 report released by the Space Security Index, an international research consortium, represented space debris as a primary issue. Similar recognition of the orbital trash threat also emerged in the U.S. national space policy unveiled by President Obama in June 2010. (12/23)

Santa Looks to Final Rendezvous With NASA's Space Shuttles (Source: NASA KSC)
Santa Claus is expected to make an unforgettable flyby of NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida this Christmas Eve to see the three space shuttles as they are prepared for their final missions. NASA granted the jolly ol' elf and his nine reindeer permission to fly over various Kennedy sites, including the Shuttle Landing Facility, the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), and orbiter processing facilities (OPF) where Discovery, Endeavour and Atlantis are being readied for launch. (12/23)

Virgin’s Will Whitehorn to Retire, Whitesides to Ascend (Source: NewSpace Journal)
Virgin Galactic president Will Whitehorn will retire from the company next month and be replaced by current CEO George Whitesides. Whitehorn, who has been working for the Virgin Group in various capacities since 1987, has been president of Virgin Galactic since 2004, when the company announced plans to license the SpaceShipOne technology and work with its developer, Scaled Composites, to build SpaceShipTwo. (12/23)

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