February 28, 2011

White Sands Suborbital Launch Planned on Mar. 2 (Source: Launch Alert)
Observers across part of the American Southwest may enjoy a light show on the morning of March 2nd thanks to the scheduled launch of a missile from New Mexico. The Juno target missile is scheduled to lift-off from Fort Wingate near Gallup between 6:30 and 7:30 a.m. Mountain Time* and fly across the state to White Sands. (2/28)

Braun: 10 Years for Heavy-Lift (Source: PhysOrg.com)
Once the US space shuttle program closes, it will be about a decade before America can make a new vehicle for sending astronauts to space, NASA's chief technologist predicts. When the longtime centerpiece of US spaceflight shutters later this year, NASA will focus on experiments at the International Space Station (ISS) and on partnerships with private industry to build new spacecraft, Robert Braun said.

But with spending squeezed and NASA at odds with lawmakers over a 2016 timeframe for building a new heavy-lift rocket and crew vehicle to replace the 30-year-old shuttle program, Braun said that developing the future mode of travel could take longer than Congress, or the US public, may want to hear. "Let's call it -- think about it as a decade if you want to put a time stamp to it," said Braun, who gathered along with a host of veteran astronauts, politicians and space enthusiasts at Kennedy Space Center on Thursday to witness the final blastoff for the Discovery space shuttle. (2/28)

Robotics Shutdown Briefly Strands Astronaut (Source: AP)
A robotic system shutdown interrupted Monday's spacewalk outside the International Space Station, leaving an astronaut stuck with an 800-pound pump in his hands for nearly a half-hour. Good thing it was weightless. Spacewalker Stephen Bowen was in no danger, but it didn't sound pleasant. Mission Control asked if he was comfortable. "I'm fine as long as it's not too much longer," Bowen radioed. "How much longer?"

Bowen was perched on a small platform at the end of the 58-foot robotic arm, used to carry spacewalking astronauts where they need to go. The problem arose at the two-hour mark when a work station controlling the robot arm shut down. The astronauts operating the arm inside the space station rushed to another computer station and got it working again. It took a while to get the second station working. For nearly a half-hour, the arm was motionless, with Bowen stuck gripping the 5-by-4-foot broken cooling pump.

Despite the snag, Bowen and Drew managed to complete all their major chores, including prep work for installing a new storage room at the station. They even had time for an education experiment. In a bit of space trivia, Drew became the world's 200th spacewalker when he emerged from the 220-mile-high complex. The first was Soviet cosmonaut Alexi Leonov in 1965. He and Bowen will go back out Wednesday for one final spacewalk. (2/28)

Space Tourism May Mean One Giant Leap for Researchers (Source: New York Times)
If all goes as planned, within a couple of years, tourists will be rocketing into space aboard a Virgin Galactic space plane — paying $200,000 for about four minutes of weightlessness — before coming back down for a landing on a New Mexico runway. Sitting in the next seat could be a scientist working on a research experiment. Science, perhaps even more than tourism, could turn out to be big business for Virgin and other companies that are aiming to provide short rides above the 62-mile altitude that marks the official entry into outer space, eventually on a daily basis.

A $200,000 ticket is prohibitively expensive except for a small slice of the wealthy, but compared with the millions of dollars that government agencies like NASA typically spend to get experiments into space, “it’s revolutionary,” said S. Alan Stern, an associate vice president of the Southwest Research Institute’s space sciences and engineering division in Boulder, Colo. He is a spirited evangelist for the science possibilities of what is known in aerospace circles as suborbital travel. Just as important as the lower cost, scientists will be able to get their experiments to space more quickly and more often, Dr. Stern said. (2/28)

XCOR Announces Global Network (Source: Space Daily)
XCOR Aerospace announced its initial team of suborbital payload integration specialists who will begin taking orders and facilitating experiment development and integration for commercial, educational and government suborbital research missions aboard XCOR's Lynx reusable suborbital launch vehicle. Capable of up to four flights per day, the Lynx is expected to provide three to four minutes of micro-gravity and/or exposure to the harsh environment of space and the opportunity to investigate largely unknown regions of our upper atmosphere critical to environmental studies.

These pioneering payload integrators represent both large, established companies and start-up space entities run by seasoned executives and fresh new entrepreneurs from places like Asia, Europe, North America, and South Africa. XCOR will be adding additional specialist firms to the network in the coming months. (2/28)

Space Elevator: Science Fact Or Science Fiction (Source: Space Daily)
A space elevator is a concept that promises to permit launching spacecraft into orbit without the use of a launch vehicle. In theory, it is a structure that can transport objects from the Earth's surface upward and into space. Although many elevator variants have been proposed, they all involve traveling vertically along a fixed cable or ribbon made of super-strength materials under non-rocket power.

Physics tells us that this structure must extend from a point on the equator up to, and well beyond, the geostationary orbit. At the end of the cable or ribbon there must be a counter-mass to insure sufficient tension forces through centrifugal acceleration, due to the Earth's rotation. Heights of up to 65,000 km have been suggested. The space elevator has been proposed as a launching mechanism for geostationary satellites and for spacecraft traveling beyond Earth.

Space elevator physics seems straightforward. None of the basic laws of mechanics seems to be violated. And, this concept seems to be a great motivator for innovative thinking, especially in universities and among advanced thinkers. But, if physical principles are satisfied, is the space elevator fact or fiction? Click here to read the article. (2/28)

Oklahoma Bill Restoring Aerospace Engineering Tax Incentives Passes Committee (Source: OK Aerospace Alliance)
The State Chamber of Oklahoma recently formed its first aerospace committee with a purpose to take a statewide leadership role in the protection and growth of the aerospace industry in Oklahoma. House Bill 1008 passed the House Revenue and Taxation Committee by a vote of 8-1. The bill will now move to the full House of Representatives for consideration. An almost identical bill, Senate Bill 3, has already cleared the Senate Finance Committee and is set for a vote in the full Senate in the coming days. (2/28)

India Budget 2011: Over 35% Hike for Department of Space (Source: Outlook India)
Budget for India's Space strides was today hiked by little over one third of its last year's allocation with the human space flight and Chandrayaan-II cornering handsome amounts. The Human Space Flight program of ISRO was allocated Rs 98.81 crore as against the token amount of Rs 14.71 crore last year, while the sequel to India's maiden moon mission got Rs 80 crore as against Rs 25 crore the previous year. (2/28)

Scott Picks New Enterprise Florida Leader: Gray Swoope (Source: EOG)
Florida Gov. Rick Scott is recommending Gray Swoope, currently Gov. Haley Barbour’s chief of economic development in Mississippi, to take over a new state agency and Enterprise Florida. According to a letter sent by Scott to Enterprise Florida Vice Chairman Hal Melton, the governor reiterated his plan to create a Department of Commerce, which would include economic development, workforce training and community development.

He said he wanted to maintain the private investment in Enterprise Florida, but said the same person would lead the group as well as the Department of Commerce. His choice for that job is Swoope, who is the executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority. Scott, clearly impressed with Swoope’s credentials, said Swoope helped convince companies like Toyota and GE Aviation to build facilities in Mississippi." (2/28)

Shuttle Debris, Explained (Source: PBS)
Three minutes and 51 seconds after Discovery blasted off on Friday, NASA's video feed showed what looked like a piece of flying debris breaking from the shuttle. It's believed that the debris was a piece of foam near the upper area of the hydrogen tank, popped off by a process known as "cryopumping." During launch, trapped air underneath the foam expands, sometimes forcing chunks of foam to break free.

Here's how it works. Ambient air gets sucked into cracks in the foam and then condenses or freezes, said John Honeycutt, external tank project manager for NASA. As fuel heats up, that trapped nitrogen and oxygen can turn back into a gas, expanding too quickly for the foam to handle, popping it off. "So it's like a balloon blowing up," Honeycutt said. "You've got a volume in there that gets overpressurized, and the weak link is the foam, and it pops the foam."

The event occurred beyond the time frame during which impacts can cause serious damage. The time between launch and 135 seconds into flight is known as "aerodynamically sensitive transport time." During that time, the atmosphere is still strong enough to do damage to the shuttle during transport. This event occurred well after that window. (2/28)

DigitalGlobe Reports Fourth Quarter and Full Year 2010 Results (Source: MarketWire)
DigitalGlobe, a provider of commercial high-resolution earth imagery products and services, reported financial results for the fourth quarter and year ended December 31, 2010. Fourth quarter 2010 revenue was $83.6 million, an increase of 14.7% compared with the same period last year. Fourth quarter 2010 net income was $1.3 million, compared with net income of $13.8 million for the same period last year. (2/28)

US Astronauts to 'Bottle' Space for Japan (Source: AFP)
Two American astronauts began on Monday the first of two spacewalks to install a permanent spare closet on the orbiting International Space Station and also to bottle some outer space for Japan. The unusual project is part of a team effort with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, JAXA, to open up a metal cylinder that has been signed by other astronauts, and bring it back for public display. The so-called "Message in a Bottle" experiment, in which they will "expose a metal canister to capture the vacuum of space," is planned for the end of the six-hour spacewalk, NASA said. (2/28)

Thales Alenia Space To Build Up German Base (Source: Aviation Week)
Thales will redeploy space-related activities at Thales Alenia Space (TAS) to enable the Franco-Italian space contractor to establish a significant presence in Germany. Chairman/CEO Luc Vigneron said the company will transfer undisclosed equipment activities to TAS so it can build up an industrial base in Germany that will allow it to bid more effectively for German and European institutional awards. The activity will “just be a kernel initially,” he says, “but will grow over time.” TAS already has a sizable industrial footprint in France, Italy, Spain and Belgium, but not in Germany, which is Europe’s second-biggest space spender. (2/28)

The Big Question: Should NASA Plan a One-Way Mission to Mars? (Source: Houston Chronicle)
I spoke to a University of Houston undergraduate communications class this afternoon (taught by Dwight Silverman), and toward the end I asked if anyone was excited about human spaceflight. In a class of 15 to 20 kids, not one raised his or her hand. They were excited about things like medical research and artificial intelligence.

Recently I wrote that NASA needs to take some risks if it's going to make great leaps in exploration, and I also believe the "great leap" within our grasp is putting humans on Mars. In a budget-constrained world, given the challenges posed by radiation and launching with enough propellant to blast back off Mars once we get there, it's becoming increasingly obvious that if we're going to go to Mars in the next half-century, it probably will be a one-way mission. So far the space agency has shown very little interest in the idea. (2/28)

50 Billion Alien Planets May Inhabit Our Milky Way Galaxy (Source: Space.com)
Our galaxy could be home to a whopping 50 billion planets, say scientists working on NASA's Kepler planet-hunting telescope. While Kepler hasn't found nearly that many planets — to date it's counted 1,235 candidate planets — that cosmic tally is researchers' best guess, extrapolated from preliminary data. The Kepler spacecraft, which launched in March 2009, is the world's most sophisticated observatory dedicated to studying alien planets.

Kepler scientists presented an update on the spacecraft's findings this month at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C. "I am really delighted to find that we are seeing so many candidates," said William Borucki, Kepler's principal investigator. "It means there's a very rich ocean of planets out there to explore." (2/28)

Grappling With a MAD Space Future (Source: The Diplomat)
Its new space strategy calls for the US to reach out to allies in Asia. But will differences with China undermine progress? While the United States once dominated military space activities, in recent years a number of factors have combined to make space less hospitable to its national security interests and Washington more willing to reach out to potential partners—including those in Asia.

One complicating factor for the United States has been growing congestion resulting from foreign satellites, orbital debris, and radiofrequency interference. Another has been the spread of offensive space capabilities and activities, which has placed more space targets under threat. But a third is the reality that US space dominance has simply been eroded—dozens of governments, companies, and other actors now launch and operate satellites, while the United States itself is making fewer satellites.

It’s with these developments in mind that the United States is looking to transform its space policy in partnership with the private sector, foreign governments, and intergovernmental organizations, a strategy highlighted in the National Security Space Strategy (NSSS) released this month. (2/28)

Anderson Named to Lead New Mexico Spaceport (Source: Albuquerque Business Journal)
The New Mexico Spaceport Authority has named Christine Anderson as executive director of Spaceport America in southern New Mexico. Anderson served for 30 years in civilian positions with the U.S. Air Force, including several executive stints at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque. Before retiring, Anderson was a member of the Senior Executive Service, the civilian equivalent of the military rank of general.

Anderson was the founding director of the Space Vehicles Directorate at Kirtland’s Air Force Research Laboratory. She served as director of the Space Technology Directorate at the Air Force Phillips Laboratory, also at Kirtland, and as director of the Military Satellite Communications Joint Program Office at the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles, where she oversaw management of a $50 billion portfolio of assets.

Anderson earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of Maryland. She completed the National Security Leadership Program at Johns Hopkins University and the Senior Management in Government Program at Harvard University. She is a Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. (2/28)

FAA's Proposed FY-12 Budget Includes FAA Tech Center (FY-11 Unknown) (Source: SPACErePORT)
The FAA's proposed budget for FY-12 includes $26.63 million for the Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST). Within that total is some level of (ideally second-year) funding for a proposed Commercial Spaceflight Technical Center (Tech Center) that would be located at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. Here are some excerpts from the budget document:

"On August 15, 2010, the Presidential Task Force on Space Industry Workforce and Economic Development recommended that the FAA establish a Commercial Spaceflight Technical Center at the NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Technical Center will provide safety and technical support for future commercial space launch activities and support the continued development of safety processes, standards, and regulations for commercial spaceflight. Our FY 2012 request allows us to hire 50 personnel (25 FTE) for the Technical Center in FY 2012 with the remaining 25 FTE annualized in FY 2013."

"The demand for FAA services has never been so complex or comprehensive. As NASA retires the space shuttles, it will begin to utilize commercial space transportation systems to access the International Space Station (ISS) and to develop commercial human spaceflight systems. This change increases the workload of FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation. The FAA’s FY 2012 budget request therefore supports a commercial spaceflight technical center at Kennedy Space Center." (2/28)

FAA Views Spaceflight Among Challenges for NextGen (Source: SPACErePORT)
The FAA's budget document for FY-12 describes spaceflight requirements in multiple sections. Notably, the section describing NextGen challenges says this about spaceflight: "Enhancing safety, security, and environmental performance must remain the center of our planning as we improve the current NAS and accommodate new elements with the proliferation of very light jets,
unmanned aircraft systems, and commercial space flight."

"The [FAA budget] request includes base funding of $15.4 million plus programmatic increases of $11.23 million and 32 FTE to develop and implement additional safety processes and requirements specifically for commercial human spaceflight and space traffic management as well as incentivize advancements in low-cost access to space. Key outputs of the request include a projected 6 license and permit applications, 40 launch or reentry operations inspections, 8 launch site inspections, 5 environmental assessments, plus new rulemaking products and the Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation." (2/28)

Editorial: Farewell to Shuttle; is ULA Next? (Source: Decatur Daily)
The shuttle's legacy is far from perfect. ...The successes of the shuttle era owe much to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. The next chapter of American space flight is hard to see through the clouds of political controversy. Marshall and its many employees in the Decatur area have a vested interest in a continuation of the program that remains in-house. Ares I was the rocket proposed during former President George W. Bush's administration as a shuttle replacement. President Barack Obama changed the national trajectory.

Obama's idea should raise concerns. Competition is great, but the profit motive translates into cost-cutting. As anyone affected by the BP oil spill will attest, that's not always a good thing. On the other hand, NASA is perpetually dogged by inadequate funding, a situation that increases the risk for its astronauts.

One thing we know is that Obama's vision of the private sector servicing the International Space Station is likely to benefit Decatur. The nation's most reliable heavy-lift rockets are manufactured at Decatur's United Launch Alliance plant. ULA is in the process of modifying the rockets for manned flight. Will the next chapter of U.S. space flight be a revised version of the NASA shuttle or a modification of ULA's successful rockets? Astronaut safety, not politics, should decide the issue. (2/28)

FAA 2012 Budget Proposal Includes Space Access Prize (Source: Space Politics)
Speaking at the Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference in Orlando, George Nield, the FAA associate administrator for commercial space transportation, announced that the FAA’s 2012 budget request includes $5 million for a space access prize. “We plan to work with both NASA and the DOD to discuss how best to implement this program, but I think our initiative has a lot of potential to benefit this crowd, so please stay tuned.” Here's an excerpt from the budget:

"In addition, $5 million is requested to establish a program for incentivizing advancements in space transportation by non-governmental organizations. The Low Cost Access to Space Incentive would provide a $5 million award designed to jump-start the creation of an entirely new market segment, with immediate benefits to private industry, NASA, the Department of Defense, and academia. Consistent with the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010, FAA shall consult widely both within and outside the Federal Government, in defining the scope and criteria for the competition. This program also supports the President’s Directive for “agencies to increase their ability to promote and harness innovation by using policy tools such as prizes and challenges.” (2/28)

Aspiring Students 'Shoot for the Stars' With Experiment for Space Launch (Source: UCF)
Three University of Central Florida undergraduate students are getting the opportunity of a lifetime -- building an experiment that is scheduled to launch into space in late 2011 or 2012. “It was a bit intimidating at first,” said Josh Steele, a computer engineering major from Jensen Beach, who’s building an experiment that will help test theories about how planets form. Steele and two other undergraduates are working with graduate student Laura Seward and recent graduate Nico Brown to build the experiment. UCF Associate Professor Joshua Colwell is leading the project, which was one of three selected nationally to fly aboard Blue Origin’s space vehicle New Shepard. (2/28)

Extraordinary Close-Up Reveals Sponge-Like Surface of Saturn Moon (Source: Daily Mail)
For all the world, it looks like a sponge in extreme close-up in a darkened room. One of 62 confirmed moons circling the ringed planet, Hyperion is dotted with huge, deep craters that have astronomers buzzing. Their main question is simple - what lies at the bottom of these strange craters? A NASA spokesman said: 'Nobody's sure. To help find out, the robot Cassini spacecraft is orbiting Saturn and swooped past the sponge-textured moon.' Click here to see a photo. (2/28)

Eagle Lands Gently on Hapless Pair Who Lifted Neil Armstrong Signature (Source: Boston Herald)
Two men trying to land a big payday on the name of American hero Neil Armstrong were given probation by a judge who ruled they’ve suffered enough already. Thomas Chapman and Paul Brickman were each sentenced to two years’ probation for trying to auction online a signed customs declaration Chapman stole from the notoriously autograph-shy Apollo 11 commander last March while employed as a U.S. Customs agent at Logan International Airport.

Because Armstrong’s identity wasn’t stolen and Chapman’s hijinks cost him a job he’d held for 20 years, assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Fisher told Stearns the feds weren’t pressing for prison time for the lifelong friends. Fisher said Armstrong, 80, the first man to walk on the moon, “understands the gravity of the situation, but is in allegiance with our recommendation.” A contrite Chapman, 50, of Malden, said he has asked God for forgiveness and was simply honored to meet the world’s most famous astronaut. “I didn’t want to ask him for his autograph,” he said. “The only thing I had was this form.” (2/28)

How Does Space Beer Taste? It's Out of This World (Source: Perth Now)
WE might not have our own space program yet, but we sure as hell have our priorities right. Two Australian companies have developed the very first space beer. With the impending explosion of the space tourism industry — expected to take off as early as next year — Saber Astronautics Australia teamed up with the Four Pines Brewing Company to develop the very first beer that can be consumed safely in space. Jaron Mitchell, the founder of Four Pines, said the creation of space beer was an event for the history books. (2/28)

Russia Deputy PM Blasts 'Childish' Space Agency (Source: AFP)
Russian space agency Roskosmos has committed "childish" errors and failed to build enough spacecraft, the government said Monday in an unprecedented rebuke to the Russian equivalent of NASA. Russia's powerful Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov issued the dressing down at a meeting with Roskosmos's leadership after two satellite launches ended in partial or complete failure in the last three months.

In December three Glonass navigation satellites ended up plummeting into the Pacific off the US state of Hawaii after launch due to what officials concluded was a simple fuel miscalculation. And this month Russia put its new Geo-IK-2 military satellite into the wrong orbit, rendering it useless for defence purposes.

"Any repeat of the mistakes of the recent past -- and I am referring to the loss of the Glonass satellites and the partial Geo-IK failure -- is of course unacceptable," he warned, quoted by Russian news agencies. Meanwhile, Ivanov said that Roskosmos had failed meet its goals in the production of spacecraft and rockets, saying that in 2010 it produced only five out of the 11 spacecraft it was supposed to make. (2/28)

SwRI Makes Deposits on Virgin Galactic Flights (Source: Virgin Galactic)
Virgin Galactic’s signed contract with the Southwest Research Institute is the first such agreement to fly scientists into space (over 100 kilometers or 328,000 feet above the Earth), enabling valuable microgravity, biology, climate and astronomy research.

As part of the contract, SwRI has made full deposits for two researchers to fly on Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft, with the intent to make similar arrangements for an additional six seats for a total value of $1.6 million. As well as flying its own researchers, who will carry scientific experiments developed by its in-house technical staff, SwRI also aims to assist American researchers who do not have direct spaceflight experience to develop and fly their payloads and personnel on suborbital missions. (2/28)

Suborbital Back Out of the Shadows (Source: Space Review)
In the last couple years commercial suborbital spaceflight has been overshadowed by growing interest in, and debate about, commercial orbital human spaceflight. Jeff Foust reports that vehicle developments and growing customer interest could soon thrust suborbital back into the spotlight. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1790/1 to view the article. (2/28)

When Will our Martian Future Get Here? (Source: Space Review)
The grand human expeditions into the solar system predicted decades ago have failed to come to pass, like any number of other predictions about life in the 21st century. Andre Bormanis wonders if the future of space exploration will, in fact, be more virtual as those technologies become increasingly capable. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1789/1 to view the article. (2/28)

Russia, Revolutions, and the Red Planet (Source: Space Review)
The concept of using rovers to explore the surface of Mars has been successfully demonstrated by NASA, but it wasn't that long ago that the agency had no plans for such missions. Lou Friedman recalls how it was Russian interest, carried on even as the Soviet Union collapsed, that influenced present-day Martian exploration. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1788/1 to view the article. (2/28)

Tough Little Spinner (Source: Space Review)
Communications satellites, inelegant boxy contraptions today, were once spinning drum-shaped spacecraft. Dwayne Day describes one such spinner that lives on ot this day, owned by an obscure satellite operator. Visit
http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1787/1 to view the article. (2/28)

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