January 21, 2011

Should NASA Deliver Bad News to Astronauts in Space? (Source: St. Pete Times)
Astronaut Daniel Tani was orbiting 200 miles above Earth when he learned his mother had died in a car accident. So he sent a video message for the funeral. Astronaut Vladimir Dezhurov was on board the Russian space station Mir when he learned of his mother's death. He was despondent for days. And on Jan. 8, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly was commanding the International Space Station when he learned someone in Arizona had shot his sister-in-law, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Losses, both gentle and tragic, are a little-discussed challenge of space travel that will become increasingly important if NASA moves ahead with plans to send astronauts on longer-than-ever journeys, such as a trip to an asteroid or Mars. On long space missions, astronauts may hear the news that makes people feel most alone -- such as losing a parent -- at the very time they are most alone. NASA has already found itself in a predicament: Do you tell astronauts of the disasters down below, or keep quiet? Click here for the article. (1/21)

Next Giant Leap Gets $1 Million Grant To Build Hopping Moon Landers (Source: TechCrunch)
Next Giant Leap -— a Colorado startup that’s making robots that will land and hop around on the surfaces of other planets in order to gather data, detect resources valuable to humans, and more —- attained a $1 million grant from the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, to advance their technology and pursue the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize in 2012. Draper is a non-profit in Cambridge, Massachusetts that develops advanced technology, and assists and invests in others’ innovation for space, air, land and sea exploration. (1/21)

NASA in Huntsville Confirms First Solar Sail is Now Circling Earth (Source: Huntsville Times)
The good news keeps coming for NanoSail-D. NASA has confirmed that a team based in Huntsville has successfully deployed the first solar sail in low-Earth orbit. The sail deployed Thursday night, hours after NASA was able to confirm that the nanosatellite carrying it had itself deployed from the larger satellite that carried NanoSail-D into space. The 100-square-foot polymer sail should be visible from Earth during passes over the planet before it re-enters the atmosphere, principal investigator Dean Alhorn said Friday. Re-entry should happen sometime between 70 and 120 days. (1/21)

Chinese Astronaut Performs Well in Mars-500 Project (Source: Xinhua)
A Chinese participant has performed well in the Mars-500 project, a simulated space flight to Mars, the project's chief said. Boris Morukov, who is also deputy director of the Medical and Biological Studies Institute of the Russian Academy of Science, said on the 233rd day of the experiment that the Chinese participant, Wang Yue, has displayed a strong sense of teamwork and perseverance while conducting his research. (1/21)

Pentagon Focused on Steady Satellite Production (Source: Space News)
With all of the U.S. Defense Department’s essential space systems now in the midst of recapitalization and little discretionary funding available, the military is now focused on stabilizing satellite production lines to keep costs in check. Though there are no new major satellite development contract awards on tap for this year, the U.S. Air Force does plan to initiate multiple competitions to develop pieces of its next-generation data fusion and command-and-control architecture at the Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. (1/21)

ESA Budget Rises to $4B as 14 Nations Boost Contributions (Source: Space News)
Fourteen of the European Space Agency’s (ESA)18 member nations have agreed to raise their contributions for 2011 despite public debt concerns that have reached near-crisis levels in some of them. As a result, the agency has been given an overall 7 percent budget increase, to 2.975 billion euros ($4 billion). The additional money could provide a financial cushion in the event unplanned bills arrive ahead of its member governments’ scheduled payments, officials said. (1/21)

LightSquared Pushing Deadlines, Asking FCC To Ease Rules (Source: Space News)
The hedge fund-backed company planning a multibillion-dollar U.S. mobile broadband network using satellite and terrestrial links appears at risk of falling behind the already tight schedule that it guaranteed to U.S. regulators. LightSquared, whose announced financial backing remains almost exclusively in the hands of Harbinger Capital Partners, has missed a self-imposed deadline of late 2010 to begin reorganizing the satellite L-band spectrum over North America. Spectrum reorganization is necessary for LightSquared’s wireless broadband network to perform as planned. (1/21)

Spacewalking: Astronauts Need More Than the Right Stuff (Source: Space.com)
The replacement of an astronaut scheduled to make a spacewalk on NASA's next space shuttle mission and the plan for a Russian spacewalk outside the International Space Station today (Jan. 21) have put a spotlight on the physical challenges of working outside in space. Astronaut Tim Kopra was slated to be the lead spacewalker on the shuttle Discovery's STS-133 mission, set to launch Feb. 24. After he was injured in a bicycle accident last week, NASA replaced Kopra on the crew with astronaut Steve Bowen, who will take the spacewalk instead.

Astronaut Peggy Whitson, chief of NASA's astronaut office, said that finding someone to fill Kopra's role was "complicated, because it's probably one of the hardest positions to fill." That's because taking a spacewalk isn't a mere float in the park. It's some of the hardest physical labor astronauts encounter in their jobs. Most spacewalks are more akin to marathons than sprints. Russian cosmonauts Dmitry Kondratyev and Oleg Skripochka, for instance, spent roughly six hours on a Friday spacewalk to install a new TV camera and do other maintenance work on the exterior of the International Space Station. (1/21)

NASA, Orbital Ready Glory Launch from California (Source: Aviation Week)
Soon to join the “A-train” constellation of Earth-observation spacecraft is a $424 million mission to continue measuring the solar energy reaching Earth’s atmosphere and track natural and man-made aerosols to gauge their impact on climate. Orbital Sciences Corp. is preparing to launch the 1,158-lb. Glory spacecraft for NASA on Feb. 23 on an Orbital-built Taurus XL 3110 rocket flying from launch complex 576-E at Vandenberg AFB. Orbital also built the spacecraft, using a LEOStar bus recycled from the Vegetation Canopy Lidar mission that NASA canceled in 2000. (1/21)

Fleecing of America: NASA Spending Millions on Canceled Rocket (Source: CNBC)
Last fall, President Obama canceled most of the $12 billion Constellation program, an ambitious plan launched by his predecessor to fund a replacement for the retiring Space Shuttle and to get Americans back to the moon. Even though the program is now dead, language inserted in the 2010 federal budget forbids NASA from canceling any Constellation contracts until there is a 2011 budget—and there is still no 2011 budget.

NASA, like the rest of the government, is being funded by a continuing resolution, which extends the 2010 budget—and its restrictions—through the end of March. "As a result, NASA is in the difficult position of having to fund elements of a program that have been canceled," according to the space agency's own Inspector General's (IG) report.

After the Orlando Sentinel brought the wasteful spending to light, NASA's IG launched an investigation. The article concludes that without "immediate action" from Congress, NASA will spend $215 million on useless contracts through the end of March—a number that will grow to more than $575 million without a solution by the end of September. (1/21)

"Insourcing" of Federal Jobs Could Hurt Contractors (Source: AIA)
As the Obama administration works to pull back on the outsourcing of government jobs that can be performed by federal employees, contractors that currently pick up such work are concerned. Pratt & Whitney's service of military jet engines, for example, brought the company $400 million in 2009, but the company stands to lose much of that income, which, according to one official, would "have a very large financial impact on us and put several hundred jobs at risk." (1/21)

Rockwell Collins' Quarterly Profit Improves (Source: AIA)
Aircraft cockpit systems supplier Rockwell Collins posted improved earnings on Thursday, with a net income of $151 million, or 96 cents a share, compared with $121 million, or 76 cents a share in the same quarter a year ago. The company said its sales to plane makers and sales revenue boosted sales, and the company's outlook for plane orders is strong. (1/21)

Canada Joins Space Debris Coordination Group (Source: NASA)
The Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC) has accepted the Canadian Space Agency as the twelfth member of the renown organization. The IADC is the preeminent international body devoted to research across the entire spectrum of orbital debris issues, including environment characterization, modeling, protection, and mitigation.

The IADC was formally established in 1993 with four founding members: NASA, the Russian Space Agency, the European Space Agency, and a combined delegation from the three space agencies of Japan, since consolidated into the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Between 1996 and 2000, the space agencies seven other nations joined the IADC: China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom. (1/20)

Delta Launch Delayed to Avoid Orbital Collision (Source: SPACErePORT)
At just over two hours prior to its planned liftoff from Vandenberg Air Force Base, the Air Force adjusted the Delta-4 rocket's launch time by two-and-a-half minutes to avoid a potential collision or interference with another orbiting object. The collision avoidance measure (termed a COLA) is becoming more of a factor in range operations (and future FAA space traffic management operations), beyond the traditional requirements for weather, vehicle tracking/telemetry, command-destruct, and downrange clearance. (1/21)

Hughes Reportedly up for Sale (Sources: Space News, Reuters)
According to Reuters, satellite ground equipment and broadband service provider Hughes Communications is up for sale and has already received preliminary bids from both private-equity and satellite-services firms. Hughes, which is majority-owned by the private-equity firm Apollo, has hired Barclays Capital to advise it on the transaction, according to sources cited in the story. (1/21)

NASA Paves Way for Commercial Space Exploration (Source: PBS)
PBS's the.Sci covers STEM topics such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and puts them in context with current events. These stories explain how things work, who make them happen, and why they are relevant to teens. In this segment, NASA's Phil McAlister, CSF's Brett Alexander and others discuss how NASA is supporting commercial space and whether commercial space companies will be ready to meet NASA's needs. Click here. (1/21)

Two Suns? Twin Stars Could Be Visible From Earth By 2012 (Source: Huffington Post)
Earth could be getting a second sun, at least temporarily. Betelgeuse, one of the night sky's brightest stars, is losing mass, indicating it is collapsing. It could run out of fuel and go super-nova at any time. When that happens, for at least a few weeks, we'd see a second sun, Carter says. There may also be no night during that timeframe. The Star Wars-esque scenario could happen by 2012, Carter says... or it could take longer. The explosion could also cause a neutron star or result in the formation of a black hole 1300 light years from Earth. (1/21)

Don't Panic! Betelgeuse Won't Explode in 2012 (Source: Discovery)
Betelgeuse is a dying star. It's reached the end of the line and currently in the terminal throes of shedding vast bubbles of gas into space. Betelgeuse is a red supergiant star and it's so massive that it will detonate as a supernova. With all this drama happening 640 light-years away in the constellation of Orion, there's little wonder that this tumultuous star is easy headline bait.

Betelgeuse is a celebrity amongst stars and no stranger to astronomers' zoom lenses. And like any celebrity, news can break at any time, for any reason. One recent newsflash: The star is gonna blow! Soon! Possibly around 2012! I checked out the source of this breaking story to find... well, not much. There's no scoop here, move along. (1/21)

Wayne Hale Nails NASA's Biggest Spaceflight Problem (Source: Houston Chronicle)
As usual, former space shuttle program manager Wayne Hale hits the mark when it comes to NASA: "I wish we could pick a plan and stick to it long enough to get it to work. Orbital Space Plane was a good plan, it could have worked. X-33/Venture Star was a good plan, it could have worked. X-38 was a GREAT idea that was just on the cusp of working. Even Constellation was a good plan, it could have worked... Those programs, those vehicles, could have worked. Any one of them. And we would be years down the road, and money ahead.

"But we always stop. Meanwhile, I have noticed that there is a debate going on about what kind of big rocket to build. There are a lot of bewildering and emotionally intense discussion about the use of solids, hydrogen versus kerosene, and the diameter of the core vehicle stage. I tell you at this point, I don't care. I don't have an opinion. Just pick one. And see it through." (1/21)

Minotaur Plan Gets First Step (Source: Florida Today)
With a $30,000 award from the Air Force, Space Florida will begin working out the details of a plan to launch to orbit small satellites aboard 60-foot Minotaur rockets from Cape Canaveral. The agency this year plans the demonstration launch of a different rocket, developed by Masten Space Systems of Mojave, Calif., which Space Florida officials hope could prove the possibility of additional launches from Florida in the wake of the space shuttle's retirement and the loss of thousands of jobs. (1/21)

SpaceX Plans 17 More Flights Before Launching Humans (Source: Aviation Week)
SpaceX says it will launch its Falcon 9 rocket at least 17 more times before it is ready to fly humans, with nine of those flights carrying the Dragon capsule. SpaceX says it needs to make only three modifications to the Dragon capsule it flew and recovered last month to be ready to deliver crewmembers to the station." (1/21)

Spy Satellite Launch Shakes Up California (Source: ABC News)
The U.S. launched a classified spy satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California -- and for a top-secret launch, the government was actually pretty open about it. The satellite -- publicly designated NROL-49 -- was mounted atop a 230 foot tall Delta IV Heavy.

It is currently the tallest rocket in America's fleet of launchers, and when it leaves a launch pad, generating two million pounds of thrust, it is hard to miss. It was the largest rocket ever launched from the West Coast. The Saturn V moon rockets and the space shuttles were built to generate more thrust, but they only launched from Florida. Click here for CSA's photos. (1/21)

Of NASA and Tragedy (Source: Examiner)
Given the current state of the world we live in, and given the fact that astronauts can spend as long as six months on orbit, it was only a matter of time before a tragedy, be it intimately personal – or completely national occur while astronauts were in space on a mission. Over the past decade, events have transpired on the ground that have both indirectly and directly impacted crews on orbit. NASA, for its part, has done everything it can do to prepare crews for life in space – dealing with tragedies is factored into every flight.

When terrorists conducted the worst attack on American soil in U.S. history – there was a single astronaut orbiting high above on the International Space Station (ISS), left helpless to do anything but watch and photograph as his nation came under attack. Frank Culbertson, then commander of the orbiting outpost, spoke afterward of his sense of isolation as the country dealt with this tragedy. (1/21)

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