January 26, 2011

Chasing the Dream of Human Spaceflight (Source: BBC)
Form follows function, they say. And if a machine works like a dream, perhaps it ought to look like one as well. Right? I have no data to support this hypothesis but it seems to hold, from iPhones to Ferraris. I'm sure you can find examples to the contrary. But consider Sierra Nevada Corporation's (SNC) proposed Dream Chaser vehicle. It looks like a spacecraft ought to look.

This is one of the key US commercial human spaceflight projects now in development. The Dream Chaser already has quite a bit of heritage. The design calls on a concept initially studied by NASA about 20 years ago called the HL-20. SNC's vehicle would launch vertically atop a rocket like the Atlas 5. It would carry a crew of seven.

Missions might include crew rotation and cargo re-supply at the International Space Station, but there would be other destinations and duties for an adaptable vehicle like this as well. Sierra Nevada Corporation was given the biggest award ($20m) last February in NASA's "seed fund" program to develop a private crewship capability. Click here to read the article. (1/26)

Space.com Editor Talks Space Policy on FOX News (Source: FOX News)
Space.com Editor Dave Brody explained efforts to privatize space travel, and gave his opinion on the nation's current direction in space, during a FOX News interview. Click here to view the interview. (1/26)

Mock Mars Mission Crew Prepares to 'Land' on Red Planet (Source: Space.com)
A 520-day mock mission to Mars is nearing its halfway point, with its crew of volunteers preparing for a simulated "landing" on the Red Planet next month. The Mars500 mission — a joint experiment by Russia, the European Space Agency and China — "launched" last June, and its six crewmembers have now spent more than 230 days locked in a windowless spaceship simulator in Moscow.

The six men are due to "land" on Mars on Feb. 12, according to a Jan. 21 report by the Associated Press. The crewmembers will spend two days pretending to explore the planet's surface, and then they'll head back to Earth. (1/26)

International Space Station Could Get Private Inflatable Room (Source: Space.com)
The International Space Station could get a new inflatable module supplied by the private American company Bigelow Aerospace, sources say. NASA is apparently in discussions with Bigelow to acquire a Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, called BEAM for short, to enhance use of the International Space Station (ISS). (1/26)

Japan's IKAROS Solar Sail Mission Extended for a Year (Source: Science)
Success is paying off for Japan's IKAROS solar sail mission: The team behind the spacecraft confirmed today that it flawlessly completed all the performance tests set for it during its planned 6-month life. As a reward, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has extended the mission to March 2012.

Launched 21 May along with JAXA's ill-fated Akatsuki Venus probe, IKAROS (the Interplanetary Kite-Craft Accelerated by Radiation of the Sun) successfully used centrifugal force to unfurl its 20 meter diagonal, 0.0075 milimeter thick polyimide sail and relied on the pressure of photons streaming from the sun for acceleration. Controllers tweaked the craft's attitude by turning liquid crystal devices on and off to vary the reflectance (and thus the photon pressure) across the sail.

While sailing, the craft's suite of scientific instruments caught gamma ray bursts, collected data on space dust, and participated in very long baseline interferometry observations of celestial objects. With the extended lease on life, the team will try new navigational tricks, such as varying the sail's angle toward the sun and changing the craft's trajectory. (1/26)

Arianespace Shareholders Agree To Offset Consortium’s Losses (Source: Space News)
The Arianespace commercial launch consortium has won approval of its shareholders to recapitalize the company to compensate for two years of losses totaling 135 million euros ($184 million). The shareholders, led by the French space agency CNES and Ariane 5 prime contractor Astrium Space Transportation, will not be paying that amount in cash, however.

Taking account of an apparently exceptional cash reserve of 55 million euros at Evry, France-based Arianespace, the company’s shareholders ordered that these funds be used to offset the amount of cash the company was soliciting. As a result, the shareholders were obliged to write checks for a total of 80 million euros. CNES' Financial Director said the French government paid more than 27 million euros from a separate account that was not part of the CNES budget.

In addition to taking a 34 percent stake in the recapitalization of Arianespace to mop up the company’s red ink over two years, the French government is pushing its fellow European Space Agency (ESA) nations to allot 120 million euros in 2011, and an identical sum in 2012, to bolster Arianespace’s finances. (1/26)

Physicist Explains Why Parallel Universes May Exist (Source: NPR)
Our universe might be really, really big — but finite. Or it might be infinitely big. Both cases, says physicist Brian Greene, are possibilities, but if the latter is true, so is another posit: There are only so many ways matter can arrange itself within that infinite universe. Eventually, matter has to repeat itself and arrange itself in similar ways. So if the universe is infinitely large, it is also home to infinite parallel universes.

Does that sound confusing? Try this: Think of the universe like a deck of cards. "Now, if you shuffle that deck, there's just so many orderings that can happen," Greene says. "If you shuffle that deck enough times, the orders will have to repeat. Similarly, with an infinite universe and only a finite number of complexions of matter, the way in which matter arranges itself has to repeat." (1/26)

Pentagon, NASA Talking Interstellar Travel (Source: AOL News)
President Barack Obama may have scrapped plans to return the moon, but now the Pentagon and NASA are working to create an organization that could one day take mankind to the stars and beyond. NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a research arm of the Pentagon, held an invitation-only meeting earlier this month in San Francisco.

The meeting, which included an eclectic mix of science fiction writers, scientists and entrepreneurs, was designed to kick off something called the 100-Year Starship Study, which is looking at way to enable interstellar travel. Just don't expect a space ship anytime soon. The goal of the project, insist attendees and DARPA, is not to build an Enterprise-style starship, but to lay the groundwork for a self-sustaining organization or even a business that would invest the time and money to make such technology possible. (1/26)

Launches planned at Poker Flat Research Range (Source: Newsminer.com)
Scientists at Poker Flat Research Range plan to launch two rockets for experiments sometime between today and Feb. 15. The NASA sounding rockets will aid researchers from the University of Colorado and Virginia Tech University. Launches depend on favorable weather. Colorado scientists hope to use the launch to capture an image of star-forming regions within the Whirlpool Galaxy. The Virginia Tech experiment will measure the ozone-destroying molecule nitric oxide from about 30 to 100 miles above the ground.

Instruments from both missions will be retrieved by helicopter. The public isn’t allowed to view launches from the range, located 30 miles north of Fairbanks, but they may be seen from outside vantage points, including parts of Fairbanks. (1/26)

Report: U.S. Students Remain Behind in Science, Math (Source: AIA)
A new report from the National Academies indicates that American students still don't compare well with their peers around the world when it comes to science and math. The report on national standardized test scores of fourth-, eighth- and 12th-graders in 47 states showed basic proficiency in scientific information, but more spotty achievement in regard to the application of that knowledge. (1/26)

Brazil Ignites Telescope Race (Source: Nature)
To astronomers, Cerro Armazones in Chile's Atacama Desert practically screams for an observatory. Above it is the same dry, stable air that gives the Very Large Telescope (VLT), 20 kilometers away at Cerro Paranal, one of the world's best views of the heavens. But at 3,064 meters, more than 400 meters higher than Paranal, Armazones should make an even better perch for an extraordinary telescope. (1/26)

Roscosmos Tallies Cost of December’s Proton Launch Failure (Source: Space News)
The December failure of a Proton rocket carrying three Russian Glonass navigation satellites cost the Russian government 2.5 billion rubles ($84 million), the head of the Russian space agency said. Perminov said the satellites destroyed in the December failure were not fully insured. But he suggested that Russian authorities are willing to insure government satellite launches. The Dec. 5 failure was blamed on a fueling blunder that caused the Proton to launch with an excessive amount of propellant in the rocket’s recently modified Block DM upper stage. (1/26)

State of the Union: Heavy on Science but Ignores NASA (Source: Houston Chronicle)
During his State of the Union speech on Tuesday night President Obama went all in on scientific research and education. I think he's exactly right that innovation drives economic gain (he is in good company among economists). With biomedical research comes better medicine. We must keep our edge in information technology. And clean energy is important not only for the environment, but to meet the planet's growing energy demands.

Is anyone else tired of hearing about the success of NASA in the past? It's great and all, but it's increasingly non-relevant to kids today. I want to hear about the great things NASA is going to do in the future. According to Rep. Ralph Hall: "I am disappointed that the President used this moment only to reflect on NASA's history, rather than promoting a strong vision for the future of space exploration."

I agree. Please tell people watching the speech why NASA has relevance beyond making anecdotal references to achievements half a century gone by. The omission suggests NASA is not at all relevant. It's all the more glaring an omission considering that Congresswoman Giffords was such a champion for NASA in Congress. (1/26)

Boeing Sees 2011 Profit Shrinking (Source: AP)
Boeing's 2011 profit will be hurt by delays to its new 787 and higher pension expenses. The company also said its fourth-quarter profit fell 8 percent to $1.16 billion. Revenue dropped 8 percent to $16.55 billion. Half of Boeing's revenue is from defense and space-related work. (1/26)

Russian Astronomers Predict Apophis-Earth Collision in 2036 (Source: RIA Novosti)
Russian astronomers have predicted that asteroid Apophis may strike Earth on April 13, 2036. "Apophis will approach Earth at a distance of 37,000-38,000 kilometers on April 13, 2029. Its likely collision with Earth may occur on April 13, 2036," Professor Leonid Sokolov of the St. Petersburg State University said. The asteroid would likely disintegrate into smaller parts and smaller collisions with Earth could occur in the following years. (1/26)

Rubio: NASA Needs to Remain Top Priority (Source: Florida Today)
Sen. Marco Rubio disagreed today with many of President Barack Obama's spending strategies to overcome the lingering recession, but said that NASA remains a top priority. The Florida Republican questioned any new spending on projects such as high-speed rail because of the country's growing debt. With a vote pending in March on raising the national debt ceiling, Rubio said he wouldn't vote for a temporary extension without reducing spending.

But Rubio said NASA remains a funding priority because of military, national-security and economic benefits from the research and missions. "It's a tremendous national interest for us," Rubio said. "Anything you invest in NASA is money that you are using that has the byproduct effect of creating spinoff opportunities in the private sector."

Rubio said the space program must be supported and that Florida should remain a launch center. "Launching rockets into space is not something we do for fun," Rubio said. "It's something we do because it's important from a military capability, from a national-security capability, and also a commercial and economic capability." While supporting commercial rockets, Rubio said the country has a national-security interest in developing its own rockets. (1/26)

Commission Seeks Study on Chinese Space Developments (Source: Spaceports Blog)
The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission invites submission of proposals to provide a one-time unclassified report on the development of the national space program of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and the potential impacts on future U.S. economic and national security. Proposal submissions are due Feb. 9. Click here for information. (1/26)

SpaceTEC Chief Featured on Radio Interview (Source: CNN iReport)
Dr. Al Koller is the Principal Investigator at SpaceTEC, the National Resource Center For Aerospace Technical Education, providing the only national performance-based certifications for aerospace technicians in the United States. In the face of increasing competition in the job market, obtaining nationally recognized professional certifications has become a focus for many new graduates and transitioning aerospace workers. Click here to hear an interview with Dr. Koller. (1/26)

Congressman Posey’s Statement on the State of the Union Address (Source: Rep. Posey)
“It was a good speech but the real test will come in a few weeks when we see if the President’s budget plan matches up with what was said tonight,” said Congressman Posey... "The President’s proposed freeze acknowledges that spending has been Washington’s biggest problem. Unfortunately, a spending freeze will lock in the record spending levels of the past two years which are unsustainable. We need to place every expenditure under the microscope and cut the excesses so that Washington will begin to live within its means." (1/26)

When a 25-percent Cut is Getting Off Easy (Source: Space Politics)
Lost in yesterday’s hubbub about the State of the Union address was the introduction of legislation to radically cut spending by new Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). Paul’s plan would cut $500 billion in discretionary spending in FY-2011 by making major cuts in most agencies and zeroing out some. In the case of NASA, he would cut the agency’s budget by 25 percent, to $13.375 billion, according to a summary he released with the bill.

"With the presence of private industries involved in space exploration and even space tourism, it is time for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to step aside and allow innovation to flourish. Looking at ways to reduce NASA’s spending is long overdue. In addition, NASA has consistently been flagged by organizations like Citizens Against Government Waste, which most recently highlighted NASA’s multibillion-dollar Constellation program."

The agency does pretty well compared to other organizations. Sen. Paul would cut NOAA’s budget by 36 percent, claiming the agency “has become bloated and its breadth and scope has broadened”. The NSF would be cut by 62 percent under Paul’s plan, under his belief that “research in science is best conducted by private industry for economic purposes,” and he would eliminate the Department of Energy. (1/26)

Enter the Dragon (Source: Slate)
In 1957, the Soviets beat the Americans into space by launching the world's first orbiting satellite. For Americans, the so-called "Sputnik moment" was a wake-up call that pushed the United States to increase investment in technology and science education. Months later, the United States launched the Explorer 1 satellite, and the space race was on. Children were encouraged to study math and science, and American know-how helped the U.S. meet the challenge.

But the space program has slowed down dramatically since then and in early December, President Obama talked of the need for a new "Sputnik moment" to revitalize America's once-leading role in technology. Ironically, that moment happened two days later, but with lamentably little media coverage. On Dec. 8, an American company, SpaceX, founded by an immigrant and financed mostly by private U.S. investors, successfully launched sthe Dragon spacecraft into orbit and then recovered it from a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

The message is not just that STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education is necessary, but also that this achievement by a private company cost just a fraction of NASA's budget in money and time. Governments are great at funding and carrying out research, but competitive private companies motivated by profit and glory tend to be more efficient and speedier in applying the results. (1/26)

Vostochny Cosmodrome: Space Haven of 21 Century (Source: Voice of Russia)
"Russia is launching the construction of a new Vostochny Cosmodrome, a planned spaceport in the Amur Oblast, in the Far East," the head of Roskosmos said. The new hi-tech space haven is to have two launch pads, an airport and a developed industry. The site is to become a new city with its transport and infrastructural facilities. The first launch pad is planned to be put into operation in 2015 together with the first blast-offs of unmanned spacecraft. (1/25)

Is India Star-Crossed in Asian Space Race? (Source: BBC)
After gaining in recent years on China in the Asian space race, how seriously have recent high-profile misfires set back India's reach for the stars? On Christmas Day at India's Cape Canaveral - the Satish Dhawan Space Center - scientists could only watch in horror as the rocket bearing the nation's hopes for space travel veered off course 47 seconds after lift-off.

Ground control pressed the destruct button and moments later the unmanned Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) was engulfed by a ball of flame. As India's most expensive firework rained into the Bay of Bengal, scientists were left ruing their second consecutive failure of the rocket. On 15 April last year another GSLV ended up in the ocean when it malfunctioned 304 seconds after take off.

Delhi and Beijing's Moon missions have gained fresh impetus since last year's Nasa budget cuts, which dashed US hopes of a lunar return by 2020 - more than half a century after the Americans' first visit. India has been playing catch-up on China in the race, a less shrill replay of the one between America and the USSR in the 1960s. Beijing stole a march in 2003 by becoming only the third nation to fly a man into space - after the US and the old Soviet Union. (1/25)

Has NASA Lost its Way? (Source: Smart Planet)
In his 2011 State of the Union address, President Obama implored the nation to rise, together, to “our generation’s Sputnik moment,” referring to the broad challenges presented by a competitive global economy, a faltered domestic economy, and his governments plans for a solution-–from increased emphasis on science education to investment in clean energy.

Comparing America’s response to these issues to its storied mobilization after the successful launch of Sputnik is apt, and emotionally effective. But it’s also poorly timed, as America’s space program wallows in an era of unprecedented uncertainty. That there was just one mention of NASA in the 6800 word speech–-a quip about how the agency didn’t yet exist when Sputnik reached orbit-–is telling. (1/26)

Challenger: A Major Malfunction, Obviously (Source: Gadsden Times)
It took just 73 seconds for an entire generation of Americans to realize anew that technology can fail and so can human systems. Twenty-five years ago, the two combined to produce at the time the worst disaster in American space history. It was Jan. 28, 1986, when the space shuttle Challenger shocked us by doing the technologically possible but psychologically improbable — it simply blew up.

The NASA voice cryptically confirmed what anyone couldn’t quite comprehend while watching on television – a confusing swirl of smoke and flames from wildly separating solid rocket boosters: “Obviously a major malfunction.” That failure might not have happened had NASA launch officials followed the owner’s manual that said a shuttle isn’t safe to launch in sub-freezing temperatures. (1/26)

NASA Ames Looking for Solutions to Internal Mistrust and Agency Animosity (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
NASA Ames Research Center held an All Hands meeting last Wednesday, revealing a surprisingly honest assessment of its own weaknesses – both internally and within the the NASA family. The associated All Hands report cites trust issues between its employees and senior managers, complains about animosity from NASA HQ and other centers, whilst announcing steps to find solutions to the issues. Click here to read the article. (1/26)

No comments: