December 3, 2010

A Successful Mission, But Air Force Won't Say More (Source: USA Today)
It's a bird, it's a plane, it's an unmanned and highly secretive Air Force X-37B and it landed at Vandenberg AFB in California after what we are told was a successful mission. What we were not told was what the mission was all about. "Today's landing culminates a successful mission based on close teamwork between the 30th Space Wing, Boeing and the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office," said an Air Force official. Brian Weeden, a former Air Force space guy, rejects ideas the X-37B is some kind of 21st-century space weapon. Think space "big brother," a global spy platform in the sky, Weeden told in May, shortly after the ship was launched. (12/3)

A Week's Warning of Asteroid Strike Would Be Simple, Scientist Says (Source:
An early warning system that could give Earth a week's notice or more before a space rock destroyed a city would cost only $1 million per observatory, its leading proponent suggests. Given current technologies, this lead time would not be enough to mount a mission to deflect the incoming object, but it could be enough to evacuate the area under threat. (12/3)

President Obama Nominates Former Astronaut to Commerce Post (Source: White House)
Kathryn D. Sullivan, PhD, is nominated for Assistant Secretary of Commerce (Observation and Prediction) in the U.S. Department of Commerce. Sullivan is the director of the Battelle Center for Mathematics and Science Education Policy in the John Glenn School of Public Affairs at Ohio State University. She previously provided three years' service as Chief Scientist at NOAA. She was one of the first six women selected to join the NASA astronaut corps in 1978 and holds the distinction of being the first American woman to walk in space. (12/3)

Florida 2010 Launch Manifest Shrinks Again (Source: SPACErePORT)
The rescheduling of Discovery's final launch to February puts another dent in the Cape's launch manifest for 2010. At the beginning of the year, Florida’s 2010 launch schedule included 14 missions for Atlas, Delta, Falcon, and Space Shuttle vehicles. However, we’re now on track for completing only 11 missions before the end of 2010. Thus far, the Cape Canaveral Spaceport has hosted 10 launches (three Atlas, three Delta, one Falcon, three Space Shuttles). Launches that have formally slipped into 2011 include two Space Shuttle missions and an Atlas GPS mission. The final remaining 2010 launch is a Falcon-9, currently scheduled for Dec. 7. (12/3)

Florida's 2011 Launch Manifest Remains Small, None Commercial (Source: SPACErePORT)
The unofficial worldwide launch schedule maintained by currently shows only 10 launches for 2011 at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport (including the Discovery mission that has moved from December to February). There probably are more launches on the Air Force's official range schedule, and I'll update my list when I can get my hands on it, but for now here's the rundown for 2011: three Space Shuttle missions (assuming funding comes through for STS-135); three Atlas-5 launches; one Delta-4 launch; one Delta-2 launch; and two Falcon-9 launches.

As was the case in 2010, none of the 2011 launches on this manifest are carrying commercial payloads, another sign that the U.S. rocket fleet still cannot effectively compete against Russian, European, Ukrainian, Chinese, and Indian launch vehicles. The Cape's reliance on government-funded launches, and its inability to capture a share of the commercial launch market, has been troubling for state and federal officials hoping to retain and diversify the Cape's launch industry workforce.

In addition to the Atlas, Delta, Falcon, and Space Shuttle launches, there's potential in 2011 for some other launch systems to set up operations at the Cape, including suborbital vehicles under development by Masten Space Systems. And then there's the Minotaur family of vehicles, which could come to Florida under the Air Force's "Spaceports-3" program. Longer-term, companies like XCOR Aerospace, Taurus-2, and programs like a NASA heavy-lift rocket, Air Force fly-back booster program, and even some foreign launch vehicle programs are looking at the Cape for future operations. (12/3)

Falcon-9 to Re-Attempt Static Fire on Saturday Following Abort (Source:
As part of a full launch dress rehearsal at Launch Complex 40, Cape Canaveral, SpaceX conducted a static fire of their Falcon-9 launch vehicle, in preparation for the first Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) launch of the Dragon spacecraft. However, the static fire was aborted between one and two seconds due to high chamber readings on Engine 6 of the nine-engine rocket. Another attempt will be made on Saturday. (12/3)

NASA Ships Deploy for Falcon-9 Stage Recovery (Source:
Preparations for the first SpaceX COTS-1 launch are utilizing assets normally used for the space shuttle, including the two recovery ships used to return the Solid Rocket Boosters. "Liberty will head out to sea [Friday] to support SpaceX, and Freedom Star will head out [Saturday] to support Space X with retrieval operations,” noted the latest Shuttle Standup/Integration report. SpaceX hopes to retrieve, refurbish and re-use the rocket's nine Merlin engines. (12/3)

Coming Soon: a US Decision on Supporting a Space “Code of Conduct” (Source: Space Politics)
The US government will make a decision soon on whether to support a proposed “Code of Conduct” for space operations. Frank Rose, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Space and Defense Policy, said the administration was considering the “Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities” proposed by the EU two years ago. The code, designed to promote peaceful, safe uses of space, includes provisions requiring nations to establish procedures to avoid collisions and the production of space debris, including refraining from “any intentional action which will or might bring about, directly or indirectly, the damage or destruction of outer space objects.

One obstacle to this approach has been an effort by China and Russia to propose instead a treaty banning weapons in space, an accord known by the acronym PPWT, something the US has opposed in part because such a treaty would be unverifiable. Rose said he had discussions with Russian officials earlier this year about their support for a code of conduct, but PPWT remains a stumbling block. “We were very much open this year to cosponsoring a [UN] resolution with Russia” on the subject, “and we came very, very close.” However, “unfortunately, they wanted a reference to their PPWT treaty in the resolution.” (12/3)

Supported by Space Florida, Avera Motors Reaches Milestone (Source: Space Florida)
Avera Motors reached a significant milestone in its groundbreaking automotive technology development. The first prototype vehicle - a two-door sports coupe expected to get more than 60 miles per gallon through its ultra-efficient engine, made its grand debut to a select group of community leaders in Brevard County. As we announced in June, Space Florida has been working with Avera Motors on the financing and development of this vehicle - the beginning of a line of automobiles that will change the face of automotive manufacturing as we know it.

Avera is based on the Space Coast and the frame and engine developments of its new vehicle prototype have direct ties to NASA and other aerospace technologies. Additionally, Mainstream Engineering, who spun off Avera Motors in 2009, has a long-standing relationship with NASA and DOD, which has resulted in the development of numerous innovative space applications over the years, and which are reflected in the Avera’s design heritage. If Avera selects Florida for its long-term manufacturing operations, it is expected to employ approximately 1,200 Floridians by 2015. (12/3)

Mica: Partially Developed NextGen Plan Risks U.S. Aviation Leadership (Source: AIA)
The $15 billion NextGen air traffic management system could be delayed by technological and financial hurdles, including a lack of incentives for airlines to upgrade their avionics, according to a GAO study. "Absent decisions in these key areas, it is unclear how or whether FAA can achieve its plans for implementing NextGen capabilities," said the report released by Rep. John Mica, R-FL, the presumed incoming chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Editor's Note: NextGen plans also include the accommodation of space launch vehicles through the National Airspace System, flying to and from multiple FAA-licensed spaceports in the U.S. (12/3)

Eutelsat Orders Replacement for Failed W3B Satellite (Source: Space News)
Satellite fleet operator Eutelsat on Dec. 3 announced it has ordered a satellite to replace the W3B spacecraft lost Oct. 28 in a still-unexplained propulsion leak. The new satellite, called W3D, will be built by the same contracting team, led by Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy, which built the W3B. Paris-based Eutelsat said W3D will be built in 24 months, making it ready for service in early 2013. A launch-vehicle selection was not announced. (12/3)

Boeing Wrestling With Antenna Glitch on SkyTerra 1 (Source: Space News)
The SkyTerra 1 mobile communications satellite launched Nov. 14 for startup wireless broadband provider LightSquared has been unable to fully deploy its large reflector antenna, which is the key enabler for the company’s planned U.S. broadband network. The antenna was built by Harris Corp. on Florida's Space Coast.

Satellite prime contractor Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems, assisted by Harris Corp., has assembled a team to analyze what has happened and to determine whether the antenna unit can be manipulated in some way to permit full deployment. Ground teams remain hopeful that the antenna, which when deployed measures 22 meters in diameter and is the largest commercial reflector of its kind ever launched, might be gently “shaken” by ground commands to solve the problem. (12/3)

Discovery's Final Launch Postponed Until February (Sources: SpaceFlightNow, MSNBC)
Launch of space shuttle Discovery is being postponed until next year due to the ongoing efforts to understand and resolve the structural cracks on the external fuel tank. Launch of STS-133 will occur no earlier than Feb 3, with the launch window extending until Feb. 10. This also moves STS-134 from Feb. to April. NASA will use the next two months to conduct extensive testing both on the shuttle and ground articles for the STS-133 mission. Extending shuttle operations costs $150 million for each month. (12/3)

Moonlanding for Croatia in 2012 (Source: Croatian Times)
Croatia is expected to make its mark on the Moon by the end of 2012 when Astronomical Society Vidulini from Istria plans to launch its space exploration vehicle - rover "Histrohod." The robotic vehicle is the brainchild of Zeljko Mogorosa who has been working on its prototype for the past two years. "Histrohod" is expected to land at the same spot where Apollo 17 – the latest manned mission to the Moon – landed in 1972. Through a group of mobile devices, "Histrohod" will send televised segments down to Earth. "This is a big challenge for our society and we are extremely proud that our association and our small Istria will become a part of space exploration," said the Society’s president Marino Rumpic. (12/3)

X-37B Military Spaceplane Lands at Vandenberg (Sources: Launch Alert, Hobby Space)
The U.S. Air Force's first unmanned re-entry spacecraft landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base at 1:16 a.m. PST on Friday. The X-37B, named Orbital Test Vehicle 1 (OTV-1), conducted on-orbit experiments for more than 220 days during its maiden voyage. It fired its orbital maneuver engine in low-earth orbit to perform an autonomous reentry before landing. Click here for some video. (12/3)

Root Cause of Shuttle External Tank Cracks Still Not Clear (Source: CBS News)
NASA managers and engineers met Thursday to discuss the potential root cause of cracks in the shuttle Discovery's external tank, what additional tests might be needed and what, if any, modifications might be required before another launch attempt can be made. Despite around-the-clock work to assess the problem, engineers still do not understand what caused cracks in structural ribs, or stringers, during fueling for a Nov. 5 launch attempt, a critical element in the development of an acceptable flight rationale, or engineering justification, for making another launch attempt. (12/3)

Germany to Focus on European Space Missions, Abandon National Moon Plans (Source: DW-World)
Despite a tight budget, Germany aims to increase investment in space science and technology to fuel innovation and growth through the auspices of the European Space Agency rather than its own national space program. The German government said this week it would step up public investments in space science from its current 1.2 billion euros ($1.6 billion) annually to 1.4 billion euros by 2014. (12/3)

NASA Studies Scaled-Up Falcon, Merlin (Source: Aviation Week)
SpaceX will respond to NASA’s heavy-lift launch vehicle study with concepts that can carry 150 tons to orbit and cost no more than $300 million per launch. Outlining SpaceX’s approach to the contract—-one of 13 trade-study awards made by NASA in early November to look at innovative launch vehicle concepts and propulsion technologies-—CEO Elon Musk says only plans that embrace economic, political and technical solutions will work.

Several approaches are being considered, including a super-heavy vehicle combining three Falcon 9 Heavy cores for a combined total of 27 main engines. However, a less costly option could include a launcher using scaled-up Merlin engines and a Falcon 9 first stage. “You could distill it down to one Falcon 9 Heavy and maybe one larger diameter core around 20 ft., and maybe three engines on that with thrust-to-weight ratios of 5:1 and make it a scaled-up Merlin and a scale-up of a Falcon 9 first stage to create that core. The only uncertainty you’re dealing with is scaling up,” says Musk. (12/3)

California's Mono Lake Bacteria Seen as Model for Life in Space (Source: San Francisco Chronicle)
An enterprising young scientist reported Thursday that in the briny mud of Mono Lake, where strange life-forms abound, she has discovered a strain of bacteria bizarrely different from anything ever known on Earth. Felisa Wolfe-Simon, 33, a research fellow at the U.S. Geological Survey's regional laboratories in Menlo Park, found a peculiar microbe that thrives and reproduces based on the highly poisonous element arsenic, a life-form, she says, whose existence could change the way space biologists seek life on distant planetary systems. (12/3)

Shuttle-Era Parts, Supplies Go on Auction Block (Source: Florida Today)
Astrotech Corp. will auction off shuttle-era space supplies and spare parts Saturday to create room for a new tenant who will fill the building where once cargo was prepared for launch into space. The company hopes to sell about 600 items that were used to prepare cargo modules for shipment on the shuttle. The 50,000-square-foot building just outside the southern gates of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station will then provide rental income to sustain the company as the spacindustry shifts to focus on commercial ventures.

"The shuttle program is going away, so the module program is going away," Don Moore, Astrotech mission manager, said. "But we're not going away, not yet." The company's 28 employees will continue to prepare satellites for launch in Astrotech's nine-building Titusville campus. But first up is the 1 p.m. auction of stuff that, although much of it was used for and in space, has plenty of terrestrial value, too. (12/3)

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