February 27, 2011

Endeavour Ready to Leave Hangar in Preparation for Final Flight (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
The shuttle Endeavour will take its first steps toward space Monday when the ship moves a quarter-mile from its processing hangar to the Vehicle Assembly Building to join a burnt orange fuel tank and twin solid rocket boosters. Endeavour is scheduled to back out of Orbiter Processing Facility bay No. 2 Monday morning on a 76-wheel transporter.

The 100-ton space plane has been inside the hangar since landing on its last mission in February 2010. After being thoroughly inspected and geared up for another mission, the orbiter's payload bay doors were closed in November. Endeavour was precisely weighed and workers measured its center-of-gravity Feb. 14, then technicians mounted the ship atop the transporter Feb. 15. Endeavour's landing gear was retracted in preparation for rollover Feb. 16. (2/27)

Hawaii Telescope Establishes Near-Earth Asteroid Discovery Record (Source: Space Daily)
The Pan-STARRS PS1 telescope on Haleakala, Maui, discovered 19 near-Earth asteroids on the night of January 29, the most asteroids discovered by one telescope on a single night. "This record number of discoveries shows that PS1 is the world's most powerful telescope for this kind of study," said Nick Kaiser, head of the Pan-STARRS project. "NASA and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory's support of this project illustrates how seriously they are taking the threat from near-Earth asteroids." (2/27)

The Beer has Landed: Astronauts4Hire Completes Space Beer Microgravity Test (Source: Astronauts4Hire)
Astronauts4Hire has completed its inaugural paid contract to test the world’s first beer designed for consumption in space. The experiment, which marks humanity’s first formal study on alcohol absorption in microgravity, took place aboard a parabolic trajectory microgravity flight out of Cape Canaveral, Florida operated by Zero Gravity Corporation (ZERO-G). Yesterday’s flight was the first in a series of microgravity flights qualifying the beer recipe for consumption in space, funded in part by sales of the beverage on Earth. (2/27)

Lynx Gets a Makeover (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Wind tunnel tests have led to some tweaks in XCOR’s Lynx vehicle. The vehicle's nose is a bit rounder. And there is also an optional payload shroud on top of fuselage which will be used to launch small satellites into orbit. Click here to see the photos. (2/27)

Amateur Rocketry Challenge: Get Paid to Launch Your Rocket Above 100,000 Feet (Source: Rocketry Planet)
Can you really get paid to launch your rocket above 100,000 feet? You can if you take up John Carmack of Armadillo Aerospace on his recent offer. Earlier this week, the gamer-turned-aerospace developer posted an offer of $5,000 for the first rocket to exceed 100,000 feet above launch altitude that could provide a GPS serial log of the flight with at least one report above the magic number. The rocket would also have to be recovered intact within 24 hours of the launch.

Paul Breed and Robin Snelson are kicking in an additional $2000 and $1000, respectively, bringing the prize up to $8,000. Carmack has also indicated that the rocket can be balloon launched but it still must gain 100k feet [30.48 kilometers] under rocket propulsion from the point it leaves the launch platform. Click here for information. (2/27)

Exotic Superfluid Found in Ultra-Dense Stellar Corpse (Source: WIRED)
The ultra-dense meains of the galaxy’s youngest supernova are full of bizarre quantum matter. Two new studies show for the first time that the core of the neutron star Cassiopeia A, is a superfluid, a friction-free state of matter that normally only exists in ultra-cold laboratory settings. “The interior of neutron stars is one of the best kept secrets of the universe,” said astrophysicist Dany Page. “It looks like we broke one of them.” Click here to read the article. (2/27)

Human Spaceflight's Future May Lie in Orbiting Hotel, Other Ventures (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
With NASA's future in disarray, the next advance in human spaceflight may rest with a businessman more familiar with wake-up calls than rocket launches. Hotelier Robert Bigelow, owner of Budget Suites of America, wants to expand his hospitality empire and open a new space station by 2016 that could lodge up to a dozen guests.

Though the idea sounds far-fetched, Bigelow already has put two prototypes into orbit and is in talks with NASA about attaching one of his modules to the International Space Station. "This will be the time when we see which countries are the ones that have the power to take control of mankind's future," wrote Bigelow recently.

The venture has supporters talking about the dawn of a new commercial space age. But working against Bigelow — besides the laws of physics — are decades of broken promises from space entrepreneurs and the elusiveness of making a profit beyond Earth's gravity. This time around, however, the stakes are much higher. Click here to view the article. (2/27)

Russia to Launch Two More GLONASS Satellites in 2011 (Source: Interfax)
Russia will launch two more navigation satellites this year in addition to one launched on Saturday, the chief of the country's Plesetsk spaceport said. Maj. Gen. Oleg Maidanovich, who was talking to reporters after a GLONASS-K satellite went to orbit from Plesetsk, was referring to GLONASS-M satellites to be carried into space by Soyuz 21-B rockets with Fregat upper stages. (2/27)

Shuttle Discovery Docks with Space Station for 13th and Final Time (Source: CNN)
Some 220 miles above the Earth's surface, the shuttle Discovery docked Saturday afternoon with the International Space Station for the last time. Due to problems lining up with each other, the shuttle's "hard-mating" with the permanent orbiter threatened to push the six-man crew off schedule. The hook-up was finished around 3 p.m., yet NASA's Mission Control noted a possibility that the installation of an express logistics carrier would not be completed until Sunday, one day later than planned. (2/27)

European Space Concepts Enter Competition (Source: BBC)
The European Space Agency (Esa) has selected four new mission concepts to compete for a launch opportunity at the start of the 2020s. The mission ideas cover a broad range of disciplines, from investigations of black holes and general relativity to a near-Earth asteroid sample-return and studies of planets orbiting far-away stars. The concepts have rather impenetrable names right now - Loft, STE-Quest, MarcoPolo-R, and Echo - but that will change for the one eventually selected. (2/27)

Last Flights Reminds Us How Much Houston Will Miss the Shuttle Program (Source: Houston Chronicle)
Houstonians have had front-row seats to the saga of manned space exploration since President John F. Kennedy told a Rice stadium crowd in 1962 that America was going to the moon. His successor, President Lyndon B. Johnson, cemented the city's role in that effort by securing for the region what would become the Johnson Space Center in Clear Lake.

The magnificent launch of the oldest space shuttle, Discovery, on its 39th and likely last flight Friday was a bittersweet reminder that an era of NASA missions planned and controlled from JSC is waning, and the future of the program, and Houston's role in it, is uncertain. Only two more shuttle flights are scheduled before the fleet is mothballed in museums. (2/27)

Launches May End, But Space Coast Still Entices (Source: InForum.com)
Unless a sexy new program, such as commercial space travel or something Mars-bound, comes along, the Kennedy Space Center likely will make the transition from a living part of history to a museum. But it will make a heck of a museum. Before my lunch with an astronaut, I wandered among America’s earliest rockets, tall as buildings and well kept, even if they seemed borrowed from a 1950s movie set through modern eyes.

Later that afternoon, I headed out on the two-hour “Discover KSC” tour on a bus of about 40 filled seats and a tour guide. We set out from the visitors center and into the heart of Kennedy Space Center, where the Vehicle Assembly Building adorned with an American flag and NASA logo loomed. That’s where shuttles have been mated with their fuel tanks and solid-fuel rockets.

The next day I joined an even longer tour of adjacent Cape Canaveral. That tour brought us into the control room that sent the first American rocket into space. It brought us to the control room that controlled Shepard’s launch. It brought us to the exact spot where Apollo 1 caught fire; they asked us to remove our hats for that one. The Cape Canaveral tour was nothing but history, which seemed encouraging for the future of the Space Coast. Even after the end of the shuttle program, anyone with a sense of space history will still find something there. (2/27)

Just Another Asteroid Hurtling Toward Earth (Source: Boston Globe)
Hollywood hype aside, close encounters of a rocky kind are fairly common. But they’re fascinating to local scientists who want to learn how it all began, and maybe fend off armageddon. At 4:33 a.m. on a recent Friday, Timothy Spahr was startled awake by a beep from his cellphone: A text message alerted him that a rocky object was hurtling toward Earth. He told his wife it was “some asteroid thing’’ and went to check his computer.

In Hollywood, this would be the opening scene to a doomsday movie. But for Spahr, director of the Minor Planet Center at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, it is just another day. About once a month, an object on a potential crash course with Earth disturbs his slumber. They almost always miss — and this time was no different. The asteroid was just a few feet across and on track to miss by about 11,000 miles. He sent a note to contacts at NASA and posted information about it online. (2/27)

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