January 29, 2011

Stennis Testing of Taurus-2 Commercial Engine Flies High (Source: NASA)
You see a lot of smiles around the E-1 Test Stand at John C. Stennis Space Center these days. Engineers involved in testing Aerojet's AJ26 rocket engine for Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Taurus-2 space launch vehicle have good reason to smile. In fact, they have several good reasons given that the partnership between NASA, Orbital and Aerojet is off to such an impressive start. Two successful tests of an AJ26 engine that will power the first stage of Orbital's Taurus-2 rocket recently wrapped up at Stennis. The two tests were so successful that Orbital engineers decided a planned third test was unnecessary. (1/29)

Asteroid Once Seen As Danger Offers Chance For Close Study (Source: International Business Times)
An asteroid that once was seen as a danger to the Earth may soon be a once-in-a-century opportunity to get a close look at one - and learn more about the ones that really are a hazard. The asteroid is called Apophis. It's a near-Earth asteroid that is a type called a chondrite, essentially a stony body that has a high silicate content and few metals. It is about 330 meters across, and it's due to pass the Earth in 2029.

Apophis was first found in 2004. At first it was a cause of concern because it looked like it was might hit the Earth on the 2029 pass. An asteroid that big is large enough to do a lot of damage if it hits. The crater would be on the order of 3 kilometers wide, twice as large as Meteor Crater in Arizona. Destruction would be widespread. The blast would be equivalent to a large nuclear bomb. (1/29)

For $200,000, George Whitesides Will Send You Into Space (Source: Venture Beat)
They call it New Space, a commercial effort to send people into space as tourists. Entrepreneurs are creating startups that are flying tourists into space, for a fee. One of the companies doing so is Virgin Galactic, a startup funded by billionaire Richard Branson of the Virgin Group.

We caught up with George Whitesides, chief executive of Virgin Galactic, at the recent Digital Life Design conference in Munich. He thinks that as early as next year he can send you up into space and experience weightlessness and see the Earth from a unique point of view. Click here to see the video interview. (1/29)

Researchers Seek Standardized Protocol For Talking To Extraterrestrials (Source: Popular Science)
Since the first binary code sent from Puerto Rico in 1974, our messages to aliens have been increasingly complicated and cryptic, possibly so much that extraterrestrials won’t get what we’re saying. A trio of astrophysicists from the US and France hope to change that by building an extraterrestrial messaging protocol, so any spacebound communiqué could be easily understood.

A METI protocol — messaging to extraterrestrial intelligence — would include several factors, including signal encoding, message length and message content, according to Dimitra Atri, an astronomer at the University of Kansas, and his colleagues. They suggest using two specific wavelengths for transmission: 1.42 GHz or 4.46 GHz, which are commonly observed in nature and relatively easy to capture, in case the ETs only have “modest technical capabilities.” They also recommend establishing a dedicated transmission beacon to conduct regular broadcasts. (1/29)

Indian Official Questions Motivation for "Entity List" Removal (Source: Outlook India)
The impact of the removal would be clear when those laws would be stipulated, Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister Dr V K Saraswat said, adding, "We cannot say whether it will help us or it will maintain the same situation." Saraswat said the purpose of the control regime was basically to deny the technology to the country's programs and projects which were on the anvil at that point of time.

"But as a country we gained, because we accelerated our program of developing those items and products that had been denied to us," he said. It was the market forces in the US and Europe that had driven the removal of the control regime as otherwise countries not observing these regimes would benefit and the US economy would not, he said. "Hence the removal is driven by economy, by market force. No ethics is involved," he said. (1/29)

Kehler Succeeds Chilton as Strategic Command Chief (Source: DOD)
Air Force Gen. Kevin P. Chilton has passed the flag of U.S. Strategic Command to Air Force Gen. C. Robert Kehler, giving the nation’s nuclear deterrent mission a new commander. Chilton, a pilot who served 10 years with NASA and flew three space shuttle missions, retired after 34 years of service. Kehler assumed command after serving as the commander of Air Force Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates presided over the ceremony. Outside the hangar where the ceremony took place were aircraft important in the command. From B-52 and B-2 bombers, to F-15 Eagles, to U-2 reconnaissance planes, the aircraft served as a backdrop to honor Chilton’s career from the Air Force Academy class of 1976 to orbit to today. (1/29)

USAF Extends Space Fence Study Contracts 18 Months (Source: Space News)
Raytheon and Lockheed Martin were each awarded $107 million Air Force contracts to spend the next 18 months continuing preliminary design work for a network of space surveillance radars. The U.S. currently operates a series of radar sites that stretch across southern portion of the nation from east to west, collectively known as the Space Fence. The Air Force since 2006 has been studying options for replacing the Space Fence with a system capable of tracking a greater number of smaller objects in low and medium Earth orbit. It is possible that all of the new radar sites will be located outside of the continental U.S. (1/29)

Germany Nears ISS Extension Agreement (Source: Aviation Week)
German space agency DLR has approved a program plan for 2011 featuring new in-orbit servicing, broadband technology and methane-monitoring missions, as well as additional funding for the International Space Station (ISS), the Ariane 5 launch system and a European relay satellite system. The plan reflects the priorities of a new strategic space plan, unveiled late last year, and Germany’s commitment to increase financial support for space activities. This year’s budget will make around €1.25 billion ($1.7 billion) available for space spending, up from €1.2 billion last year. (1/29)

NASA Prepares For Risks In Private Space Travel (Source: NPR)
...NASA would also be under scrutiny, even if it didn't own the spacecraft carrying its astronauts, says Ed Mango, who heads the space transportation planning office at Kennedy Space Center. Mango says that by around 2015 or 2016, it's possible that astronauts could be riding on the outer space version of rental cars — spacecraft designed and owned not by NASA but by private companies. Even if that happens, though, "the responsibility for the mission is still ultimately accountable to NASA," Mango says. "And if the vehicle does not fly right, then we will be held accountable for what has happened."

So NASA has been preparing a list of safety standards that a private spaceship would have to meet before any NASA astronaut climbs onboard. Some space industry watchers have criticized a draft of these standards as being too onerous. Mango says government officials are also discussing what might need to be done to ensure that a commercial space company could financially survive the aftermath of a disaster, if NASA had come to depend on its launch services for astronauts. (1/29)

Florida Defense Contractors Group Lists State Policy Priorities (Source: FLDC)
The Florida League of Defense Contractors (FLDC) has identified three state policy issues as their priorities for 2011 action during the upcoming Florida Legislative Session and beyond. Click here to see their list. (1/29)

Colorado Senators Ask Obama To Keep NASA a Priority (Source: Space Policy Online)
Colorado Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, both Democrats, wrote a letter to President Obama calling for him to "keep NASA a priority" despite the difficult budgetary situation. The letter basically asks the President to include funds in his FY2012 budget request to implement the 2010 NASA Authorization Act. The Senators specifically mention their support for the Orion spacecraft and commercial crew and cargo, but interestingly omit the new Space Launch System (heavy lift launch vehicle) that is also required under the law.

Acknowledging that NASA funding "impacts thousands of Colorado jobs," they say the Act "codifies a plan ... that will help keep America at the forefront of space exploration." Despite the "austere budgetary times," they ask him to "keep NASA a priority so we do not cede our leadership position in space." Click here to download the letter. (1/29)

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