December 8, 2010

Editorial: SpaceX Succeeds; Will Congress Notice? (Source: AOL News)
SpaceX's success should finally put to rest doubts in Congress about President Obama's plan to rely on private spaceflight to service the International Space Station, but based on history, it probably won't. Although SpaceX has a growing professional staff of more than a thousand people, it has been absurdly denigrated by people like Sen. Richard Shelby, R-AL, and other defenders of the now-canceled NASA Constellation program, as "hobbyists in a garage," like the "Astronaut Farmer."

Had the flight failed, we can be sure Shelby would have been first with the I-told-you-so. When SpaceX succeeded in June, all Shelby could manage was a petty and churlish response: "Belated progress for one so-called commercial provider must not be confused with progress for our nation's human space flight program... As a nation, we cannot place our future space flight on one fledgling company's definition of success." At this point, I'd say that the program's success is obvious to all, and it may be time to send the senator's office another bag of apples, and ask how he likes them this time. (12/8)

Objectives Achieved, SpaceX Looks to Next Mission (Sources: AOL News, Space Policy Online)
All objectives of Wednesday's Falcon-9/Dragon mission were achieved. This clears the way for the next COTS demonstration flight in the next few months, which will demonstrate the ability to perform a mission of longer duration, with the addition of solar panels (Wednesday's flight had batteries only), and to perform a rendezvous and match orbits with the ISS.

Then there will be a follow-on demonstration to actually dock to the ISS, which will essentially certify the vehicle for cargo delivery and return. In recent months, the company has been negotiating with NASA to combine these two flights into a single demonstration, accelerating program milestones, and today's success increases the probability of that.

Musk said the schedule risk for achieving the first operational mission to the ISS in 2011 - part of NASA's Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) effort - would be lower if the company only had to focus its comparatively small workforce on two missions in 2011 rather than three. (12/8)

Dragon Versus Orion (Source: Space Policy Online)
During a post-mission news conference, Elon Musk also talked about how his Dragon spacecraft is more capable than Lockheed Martin's Orion and much less expensive. "Anything Orion can do, Dragon can do, and ... some things that Dragon can do, Orion can't do," he said. He cited Dragon's heat shield as an example of where it is better than Orion, notably with regard to Mars missions. He hopes NASA will let Dragon compete with Orion for such missions. (12/8)

Dragon Floats, Falcon Doesn't (Source: SPACErePORT)
The successful reentry and recovery of the Dragon capsule from the Pacific Ocean is great news for SpaceX, NASA, the FAA, and Florida. All of NASA's COTS objectives were achieved with the mission, but one of SpaceX's desired outcomes was not. SpaceX had hoped to recover the Falcon-9 first stage and its nine Merlin engines from the Atlantic Ocean, potentially allowing for the engines' refurbishment and reuse, which could reduce the cost for future launches by millions of dollars. As with the previous Falcon-9 launch, Wednesday's first-stage recovery effort did not succeed. SpaceX says it hopes to learn from these failed recovery attempts for upcoming missions. (12/8)

Found: The Most Fanciful New Planet Ever (Source: TIME)
It's easy to go just a little nuts when you're studying exoplanets. Spend enough time investigating the exotic chemistry, composition and environments of newly discovered worlds orbiting distant stars and you can start to believe anything's possible. Little, however, can match the fairy-tale possibilities of WASP-12b.

For one thing, there's the heavy concentration of carbon in its atmosphere. For another, there's the potential for methane-loving life. Oh, and did we mention that vast stretches of land could be made of diamonds? O.K., few scientists — actually, no scientists — believe that those precise conditions prevail on WASP-12b. But new findings about the planet's atmosphere do suggest that such an environment is entirely possible on other worlds — perhaps even in WASP-12b's own solar system. (12/8)

Kazakh Space Agency Seeks Extra Funding For New Baikonur Launch Pad (Source: Space Daily)
Kazakhstan's national space agency, Kazcosmos, has requested more funding for the joint Russian-Kazakh project to build a new launch pad at the Baikonur spaceport. In late December 2004, Russia and Kazakhstan signed the deal to build a new launch pad, named Baiterek, to send into space Angara carrier rockets capable of delivering 26 metric tons of payload to low-Earth orbits. The project is being implemented on a parity basis.

"Today a problem emerged in implementing this project - we have trouble with repaying a budgeting loan, the grace period of which expired in November," the agency's chief, Talgat Musabayev, told Prime Minister Karim Masimov. Musabayev requested the premier to convene a special meeting "to address the future funding of the Baiterek [launch] complex." Russia and Kazakhstan have reportedly each allocated $223 million for the Baiterek construction.

Russia pays an estimated annual fee of $115 million for the use of the space center, which currently has the world's busiest launch schedule. Baikonur currently has 15 launch pads for launching both manned and unmanned space vehicles. It supports several generations of Russian spacecraft: Soyuz, Proton, Tsyklon, Dnepr, Zenit and Buran. (12/7)

STSS Demonstration Satellites Detect ICBM Test Launch (Source: Space Daily)
The Space Tracking and Surveillance System (STSS) Demonstration program satellites, built by Northrop Grumman and Raytheon, detected the test launch of a Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) Sept. 17 and tracked it through the boost and post-boost phases for the first time. The single reentry test vehicle from the missile traveled approximately 5,300 miles to a pre-determined point about 200 miles southwest of Guam. (12/8)

16 Florida Projects Selected by NASA for Phase-1 SBIR and STTR Grants (Source: NASA)
NASA has selected 450 proposals for negotiation of Phase 1 SBIR contracts with a total value of approximately $45 million. Another 45 proposals were selected for Phase 1 STTR contracts with a total value of approximately $4.5 million. The SBIR contracts will be awarded to 309 small, high technology firms in 37 states. The STTR contracts will be awarded to 41 small high technology firms in 16 states. As part of the STTR program, the firms will partner with 41 universities or research institutions in 22 states. 16 of the projects are based in Florida. Click here to see the list. (12/8)

Evidence for ET is Mounting Daily, But Not Proven (Source: San Francisco Chronicle)
Lately, a handful of new discoveries make it seem more likely that we are not alone — that there is life somewhere else in the universe. In the past several days, scientists have reported there are three times as many stars as they previously thought. Another group of researchers discovered a microbe can live on arsenic, expanding our understanding of how life can thrive under the harshest environments. And earlier this year, astronomers for the first time said they'd found a potentially habitable planet.

"The evidence is just getting stronger and stronger," said Carl Pilcher, director of NASA's Astrobiology Institute, which studies the origins, evolution and possibilities of life in the universe. "I think anybody looking at this evidence is going to say, 'There's got to be life out there.'" (12/8)

SpaceX Passes Crucial Tests with Falcon-9 / Dragon Mission (Source: SpaceX)
SpaceX successfully launched its Dragon spacecraft into low-Earth orbit atop a Falcon-9 rocket on Wednesday from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. The Dragon spacecraft orbited the Earth at speeds greater than 17,000 miles per hour, reentered the Earth’s atmosphere, and landed in the Pacific Ocean shortly after 2:00 PM EST.

This marks the first time a commercial company has successfully recovered a spacecraft reentering from low-Earth orbit. It is a feat performed by only six nations or government agencies. It is also the first flight under NASA’s COTS program to develop commercial supply services to the International Space Station. After the Space Shuttle retires, SpaceX will fly at least 12 missions to carry cargo to and from the Space Station as part of the Commercial Resupply Services contract for NASA. The Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft were designed to one day carry astronauts. (12/8)

1st Stage of Taurus-2 Arrives at Virginia Spaceport (Source: Spaceports Blog)
The 90-foot-long first stage of Orbital Sciences' Taurus-2 rocket has arrived at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia after a journey that began Oct. 8 in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, continued across the Atlantic Ocean to Wilmington and finally traveled Delmarva's highways to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. A team of Ukrainian rocket engineers arrived at Wallops Flight Facility last month in advance of the rocket stage and will be working there on the Taurus-2 project. Click here to view the rocket stage. (12/7)

Editorial: Gov.-Elect Scott Should Back Strong Space and Energy Policies (Source: Florida Today)
Gov.-elect Rick Scott stopped Tuesday in Brevard County, and we're glad he came. The Space Coast needs jobs. Scott talked about ways to increase employment during a visit to Harris Corp. in Melbourne, part of a statewide tour to address the economy. Scott's campaign was devoid of specifics on many key issues, including his position on space and a comprehensive energy policy that could help create the 700,000 jobs in the next seven years that Scott says is his goal.

Both have significant potential to reduce Brevard's 11.9 percent unemployment rate, a figure that's going to get much worse when thousands of shuttle program workers lose their jobs next year. Scott can't afford to dither and should champion a strong space policy in next year's Legislature, building on the $31 million investment lawmakers made last year. (12/8)

NASA Budget Funds Third Shuttle Launch (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
For weeks, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and other lawmakers have warned that budget hawks in Congress were looking to slash NASA's funding next year -- a move that would imperil plans to add a third space shuttle flight to the two remaining missions. But with Congress on the verge of passing its 2011 budget, those fears haven't materialized. Draft legislation shows that NASA is set to get all but $90 million of the $19 billion proposed by President Obama.

The legislation increases NASA's current funding by about $186 million, although the total could change as congressional leaders battle over spending priorities in the waning days of the 111th Congress. "Maintaining funds for the additional 'launch on need' shuttle mission that we fought so hard for earlier this year is great news for the Space Coast. This final mission will help the transition for our highly skilled workforce at Kennedy Space Center while providing critical supplies needed to extend the life of International Space Station," said U.S. Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D-FL) said. (12/8)

SpaceX Launches Falcon 9 with Debut Dragon on COTS Demo (Source:
The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft has launched on its maiden flight on Wednesday, beginning a series of demonstration missions as part of NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. The Dragon C1 spacecraft is expected to be deorbited during its second orbit. If a problem prevents reentry on the second orbit, it can be waved off until the third orbit. While in orbit the Dragon will maneuver to test its propulsion system.

About two hours and thirty-two minutes after launch, the spacecraft will jettison its trunk section, and fire its Draco thrusters to deorbit. The deorbit burn will last six minutes, and will be followed 20 minutes later by entry interface. Eleven minutes after entering the atmosphere, with the spacecraft at an altitude of 13.7 kilometers, the drogue parachutes will deploy to begin slowing the spacecraft down.

The main parachutes will be deployed a minute later, as the spacecraft passes through an altitude of three kilometers. Three hours and 19 minutes after launch Dragon C1 will land in the Pacific Ocean. The target landing site is about 800 kilometers off the coast of Mexico. (12/8)

Eligibility for National Emergency Grant Program Expands (Source: Brevard Workforce)
Aerospace workers from 16 additional aerospace companies are now eligible for Brevard Workforce’s training/education grant program, which can assist you in preparing for your future employment as NASA transitions. In order for you to access these programs, which could include educational and training scholarships, and/or participation in a paid On-the-Job Training (OJT) opportunity, you must meet certain criteria. Click here for details. (12/8)

The New – Suborbital – Frontier (Source: ESA)
ESA is looking for new ways to conduct interesting research in space, on Earth – and in between. A number of commercial suborbital vehicles are being considered in Europe, and ESA is looking at the possibilities they might offer for microgravity research. If you think you could help, then we would be pleased to hear from you. The main drivers for this new kind of vehicle are tourism and other commercial uses, but the craft may also offer a platform for scientific studies and to prepare experiments for the International Space Station (ISS).

Several commercial suborbital spacecraft are being developed by industrial consortia supported by private investors, and ESA is now asking for more information. ESA is issuing this ‘Request for Information on Commercial Suborbital Human Flight Vehicles’ to gather information about craft in development in order to analyze the characteristics and possibilities of these emerging projects. (12/7)

Virgin Galactic's Spaceplanes Could Replace Space Shuttle (Source: FOX News)
While Virgin Galactic's public sights are set on offering suborbital space tourist treks on its SpaceShipTwo passenger ships, the company is already quietly eyeing the next step: orbital space travel. But how Virgin Galactic plans to take the major step of reaching orbit — and when it plans to do so — remain to be seen. While suborbital spaceflight is no cakewalk, achieving orbital space travel is much more difficult.

Staying in space for a full orbit requires a significant velocity boost above that required for suborbital trips. Such an increase in speed, of course, requires a corresponding increase in energy, which means the craft will have to carry a lot more fuel. This extra fuel would push the spacecraft's weight up significantly, thus requiring even greater thrust to get off the ground. Click here to read the article. (12/9)

New Mexico Spaceport Officials OK Reduced Budget (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
Spaceport America officials OK'd a reduced project budget representing a roughly $2 million reduction in spending, which will take the overall projection for the construction to about $209 million, said Spaceport Authority Director Rick Homans. Homans said original estimates about new bond revenue were "off" and the budget was adjusted to reflect that.

The new bonds, issued this year, were a result of extra bonding capacity from two sales taxes, in Doña Ana and Sierra counties, that are helping to pay for spaceport construction. In addition, the board signed off on an operating budget for the coming year that's a 10-percent reduction from the current year. The Spaceport Authority had initially considered a budget expansion, but didn't seek it after all, he said. Homans said the proposed budget is about $1.1 million. (12/7)

Japanese Spacecraft Fails to Enter Venus Orbit (Source: MSNBC)
Japanese scientists say a probe sent on a two-year mission to Venus has failed to enter orbit and may have flown past the planet. The probe, called Akatsuki, which means dawn, appears to have not fired its engines enough to inject it into the proper orbit after it passed near Venus. Japan's space agency, called JAXA, said it still had communication with the probe. (12/7)

Manx Students Complete Space Management Qualification (Source:
Three students from the Isle of Man are among the first to complete an Executive MBA in Space Management. The program, offered by the International Space University in Strasbourg, France, consisted of six modules over 18 months. Each of the modules were undertaken in different locations and these included Space Policy and Space Law at George Washington University in Washington DC and Space Commerce and Economics at the International Business School in the Isle of Man. (12/7)

What Would a Black Hole Really Look Like? (Source: Daily Mail)
What would you see if you went right up to a black hole? This computer generated image highlighting how strange things would look. The black hole has such strong gravity that light is noticeably bent towards it - causing some very unusual visual distortions. Every star in the normal frame has at least two bright images - one on each side of the black hole. Near the black hole, you can see the whole sky - light from every direction is bent around and comes back to you. Click here. (12/8)

Details of NASA's International Space Station Disposal Plan Revealed (Source:
The International Space Station (ISS) has received a life extension through at least 2020, but eventually it will have to be decommissioned. So how to you deep-six a $100 billion space station the size of a U.S. football field? NASA's answer: Very carefully. As part of its environmental impact responsibilities, NASA planners have begun delving into how to bring down the space station, dumping the huge facility into select, but remote, ocean waters in one fell swoop.

The result promises to be an ultra fiery follow-up to the U.S. Skylab experimental lab re-entry in 1979 and the intentional downing of Russia's Mir space station in 2001. Meanwhile, other experts are starting to advocate scavenging pieces of station hardware for other duties in space. "When an end to the station's useful life appears on the horizon, I truly hope NASA will figure out with its partners what parts might be recycled or repurpose," said astronaut Tom Jones. (12/8)

White House Asks Congress for More Weather Satellite Money (Source: Space News)
The White House is asking Congress to significantly boost funding in 2011 for a planned civilian weather satellite system as lawmakers draft a budget measure that would hold spending on most other federal programs to 2010 levels, according to government and industry sources. (12/8)

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