January 12, 2011

Russia to Launch Ocean Satellite in March (Source: RIA Novosti)
Russia will launch an oceanography satellite in March to keep track of a vast amount of data that will help improve weather, climate and ocean forecasts, a Russian scientist said. "It will be a kind of an orbital 'radio receiver' listening to Earth," said Viktor Savorsky, acting laboratory head at the Institute of Radio and Electronic Technology affiliated with the Russian Academy of Sciences, which developed the satellite equipment. (1/12)

NASA Radar Reveals Features on Asteroid (Source: NASA JPL)
Radar imaging at NASA's Goldstone Solar System Radar in the California desert on Dec. 11 and 12, 2010, revealed defining characteristics of recently discovered asteroid 2010 JL33. Data from the radar reveal 2010 JL33 to be an irregular, elongated object roughly 1.8 kilometers (1.1 miles) wide that rotates once every nine hours. The asteroid's most conspicuous feature is a large concavity that may be an impact crater. (1/12)

Astrium's Space Tourism Jet Work Continues (Source: BBC)
The European project to develop a space jet for fare-paying passengers is still very much alive, says EADS Astrium. The plane, which would make short hops above the atmosphere, was announced in 2007 and then almost immediately put on hold because of the global downturn.

But Astrium, Europe's largest space company, says internal development work continues and it will spend a further 10m euros (£9m) on the concept in 2011. "We continue to mature the concept, maintaining the minimum team, in order that when we find the relevant partnership we are ready and have progressed sufficiently."

The Astrium vehicle would be about the size of a business jet and would take off from a standard runway, using normal aircraft engines to climb to about 12km. It would then ignite a liquid oxygen-methane rocket to push the vehicle to about 100km. At this altitude, the five passengers onboard could experience a few minutes of weightlessness before strapping themselves back in their seats for the return flight to the ground. (1/12)

KSC Builds NASA's Greenest Facility (Source: NASA KSC)
Kennedy Space Center is inviting media to cover the ribbon-cutting ceremony for NASA's greenest building, the Propellants North Administrative and Maintenance Facility, on Jan. 20. Propellants North consists of two buildings, one to store cryogenic fuel transfer equipment and one to house personnel who support fueling spacecraft. The recently rebuilt buildings will be NASA's first carbon neutral facility, which means it will produce enough energy on site from renewable sources to offset what it requires to operate.

The facility also will reach for the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED) Platinum status, which is the highest LEED rating. In addition to its environmentally friendly features, such as a rainwater harvesting system for non-potable water irrigation and restroom use and more than 300 high-efficient solar panels on the roof, Propellants North has some very KSC-specific touches. These include reusing deconstructed windows and framing from the historic Launch Control Center and landscaping mulch made from recycled crushed crawlerway rocks. (1/12)

Space Adventures Flights to ISS: Three Seats Available Beginning in 2013 (Source: Space Adventures)
Space Adventures has signed an agreement with the Federal Space Agency of the Russian Federation (FSA) and Rocket Space Corporation Energia (RSC Energia) to commercially offer three seats on the Soyuz spacecraft bound for the International Space Station (ISS), beginning in 2013. These seats will be made available through the increase of Soyuz production, from four to five spacecraft per year. Each flight will be short duration, approximately 10 days, and will contribute to the increase of launch capacity to the ISS. (1/12)

2010 Summary, 2011 Forecast (Moon and Back)
Seventy-four orbital launches were conducted in 2010. Twenty-three of these were internationally-competed commercial launches. Four of the 74 were unsuccessful flights involving the Russian Proton, the Indian GSLV (twice), and the South Korean KSLV-1. None of the failed flights were commercial. In 2010, there were four commercial orbital launches in the U.S. out of a total 15. Since 2000, the number of U.S. commercial orbital launches has fluctuated from five to 10 per year. The medium- to heavy-class U.S. launch industry has been focused mainly on marketing to the U.S. Government.

Generally speaking, the demand for orbital launches is expected to be relatively flat for the next few years, despite the introduction of new vehicles. However, 2011 is a year of wild cards and firsts. SpaceX will begin operations with Falcon 1, Falcon 9, and Dragon. Orbital will introduce its Taurus II and Cygnus. Arianespace will introduce Soyuz 2 and Vega. In March 2011, NASA will announce the second round of winners for the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program, $200 million in funding designed to be used to develop commercial vehicles capable of carrying people to ISS. This second round would allow SpaceX, Orbital, Sierra Nevada Corporation, Boeing, and others to continue work on in-space passenger transport vehicles. (1/12)

ITT Splitting into Three Separate Companies (Source: Space News)
ITT Corp. plans to split itself into three separate, publicly traded businesses including a defense company that will continue to be a major builder of satellite payloads. ITT’s current Defense and Information Solutions business includes the Geospatial Solutions unit that builds satellite instruments for navigation, imaging and environmental monitoring. The unit, created by last year’s merger of the company’s Space Systems and Night Vision equipment divisions, also produces imagery processing software.

Following the spinoff, the Defense and Information Solutions unit will be renamed but will continue to be focused primarily on the U.S. Department of Defense, with some commercial customers. The company will have pro forma annual revenue of $5.8 billion. The other two companies to be created by the breakup will be focused on water technology and “highly engineered industrial products and high tech solutions,” ITT said. (1/12)

Astrium Looking for U.S. Earth Observation Firms To Acquire (Source: Space News)
The head of Europe’s Astrium space hardware and services provider said his company is hunting for Earth observation services acquisition targets in the United States. Astrium Chief Executive Francois Auque said bolstering the Astrium Services division’s Earth observation profile to sell imagery in the United States is a priority, and that Astrium is confident its parent company, EADS, will give it the resources needed to expand. (1/12)

NASA Must Study Space Sex, Scientist Says (Source: FOX News)
Forget the mile-high club. Who's joined the million-mile high club? NASA has always been silent on the subject of sex in space -- which makes people all the more curious. How would it work? Has anyone done it before? Can a child be conceived in zero-G? With few animal tests and (virtually no human testing), there’s been next to no scientific analysis of the issue.

Until now. The Journal of Cosmology has published a special issue detailing the mission to Mars, which touches all the bases. In a chapter titled “Sex on Mars,” Dr. Rhawn Joseph from the Brain Research Laboratory in California discusses everything from the social conditions that would push astronauts to have sex to the possibility of the first child being born on another planet. Click here. (1/12)

NASA: Shuttle Cracking Finally Understood (Source: WFTV)
NASA finally knows what caused the cracking in space shuttle Discovery's fuel tank, a potentially dangerous problem that likely existed on the previous flight. A batch of the material used for some of the 21-foot support struts, through heating, ended up more brittle. In addition, weaknesses were introduced during assembly of the pieces. The bad batch of material likely ended up on the fuel tank that launched Atlantis last May. Every indication is that the tank performed normally, even if cracks were present.

The tank currently being prepared for Atlantis also has struts made of the suspect material and will need to be repaired. Engineers believe Endeavour's tank is unaffected, but extra tests are likely, which would push that mission into mid- to late April. Cracks occurred in five of the 108 aluminum alloy struts in the center of the tank, which holds instruments. The damaged struts have been patched. Technicians will reinforce the remaining struts as a safety precaution, using thin 6-inch strips of aluminum. (1/11)

Bigelow: Space Flight and Connecting the Dots (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
Robert Bigelow founded Bigelow Aerospace in 1999. He is a native of Las Vegas and made his fortune from his construction and real estate development companies, as well Budget Suites of America. Mr. Bigelow has two uninhabited orbiting space modules called Genesis 1 and 2 whose day-to-day activities you can view on www.bigelowaerospace.com. He launched those space modules in 2006 and 2007 on a Dnepr rocket from Russia. He is now planning to build much larger habitable Sundancer and BA-330 habitable space stations.

He plans to use an "Orion Lite," seven-person crew capsule to transport his customers to the space stations. Mr. Bigelow plans to launch these habitable spacecraft in 2014, with operations to start in 2015. Mr. Bigelow is examining the implications of China planning now to occupy and then essentially own the moon. Ownership of the moon has been dealt with in treaties; the most relevant for our discussion was the treaty of 1967, which Mr. Bigelow printed out for me. He is thinking about the moon and beyond. (1/11)

Excalibur Almaz: Fledgling Space Firm Will Use Old Soviet Gear (Source: New Scientist)
It is a second chance for two relics of the cold war. Shipped from Russia, a pair of Soviet space station modules arrived in the Isle of Man last week, home to the fledgling private space firm Excalibur Almaz. The firm eventually plans to use the modules to provide extra room and supplies for the tourists and researchers it hopes to ferry into space. Using decades-old equipment may seem like an odd move for a brand new space company but former astronaut Leroy Chiao, who oversees technical operations for the firm, says the spacecraft are more valuable than new vehicles because they have been extensively tested.

The modules, which have never been launched, were built as part of Almaz, a Soviet military program that sent astronauts into orbit to take reconnaissance photographs of Earth. But Excalibur has also bought four reusable Almaz spacecraft, including one that was flown twice, which might be used much sooner. The spaceships will need to be refurbished and modernized. However, Excalibur will attempt to preserve many of their "workhorse" components, including the heat shield, parachute system, solid rocket motors, and an escape system that can jettison a crew to safety if a rocket malfunctions. (1/12)

Apollo 12 Playboy Stowaway to be Auctioned (Source: Discovery)
And now, from the Department Of Launching Stuff Into Space Without Permission, comes a racy tale of the fourth member of Apollo 12 who flew to the moon and back in 1969: Playboy Playmate August 1967, DeDe Lind. Of course, Lind didn't personally stow away on the Command Module Yankee Clipper, but in the spirit of high jinx, a topless picture of her from a 1969 calendar was affixed to the inside of a spacecraft locker prior to launch (cropped version pictured top), unbeknown to the Apollo crew.

While orbiting the moon, monitoring Apollo 12 astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean as they explored the lunar surface below, third crew member Richard Gordon might have been feeling a little lonely. So it was a pleasant surprise to find DeDe's picture, a mission memento he has treasured for over 40 years, stuck to the back of a cue card with Velcro.

"This cue card, which flew with me to the moon, has been in my sole possession and part of my personal space collection since my return from the moon in 1969 aboard America's second lunar landing mission, and it remains one of the all-time greatest Apollo era astronaut 'Gotcha's!" Gordon describes in paperwork accompanying the calendar page for an upcoming auction. (1/12)

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