March 14, 2011

Intelsat Signs Up for Satellite Refueling Service (Source: Space News)
Satellite fleet operator Intelsat has agreed to be the inaugural customer for a novel system to refuel satellites in orbit being developed by MDA Corp. of Canada, agreeing to purchase one-half of the 2,000 kilograms of fuel that the spacecraft would carry into orbit for other satellites, industry officials said March 14. Intelsat’s investment in the 1,000 kilograms of fuel is intended to add between two and four years of additional life to four or five otherwise healthy Intelsat satellites in geostationary orbit.

MDA has been working on the technology for several years but has declined to make the needed capital investment, estimated at $300 million or more, until it had an anchor customer. One official said that if the MDA spacecraft performs as planned, Intelsat will be paying a total of some $200 million to MDA. This assumes that four or five satellites are given around 200 kilograms each of fuel.

The maiden flight of the vehicle would be on an International Launch Services Proton rocket, industry officials said. It remained unclear who retains liability in the event the mission in orbit goes bad and the MDA vehicle damages a satellite, possibly leaving debris in geostationary orbit. (3/14)

NASA to Ship Another $753 Million to Russia for Crew Transport (Source: Parabolic Arc)
NASA has signed a $753 million modification to the current International Space Station contract with the Russian Federal Space Agency for crew transportation, rescue and related services from 2014 through June 2016. The firm-fixed price modification covers comprehensive Soyuz support, including all necessary training and preparation for launch, flight operations, landing and crew rescue of long-duration missions for 12 individual space station crew members. (3/14)

Desert Airport/Spaceport Becomes Home to New Breed of Space Entrepreneurs (Source: National Defense)
Robert Rice, airport operations director at the Mojave Air and Space Port, drove down a runway and pointed to the steel skeleton of a 68,000-square-foot building where spaceships designed to send tourists into sub-orbit will be constructed. "We call this our field of dreams — build it and they will come. Well, finally they did,” he said.

The “field of dreams” is actually a runway constructed six years ago with all its infrastructure — sewer, water, power lines — built underneath. “They” is The Spaceship Company — a joint venture of billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites that will build a fleet of motherships that will launch smaller rocket planes about 60 miles above Earth. Branson’s venture is just one of many companies, large and small, that have come to this one-time World War II Marine Corps aviation base to pursue their dreams of space travel. (3/14)

It’s Not All Bad News: the Health of the U.S. Space Industrial Base (Source: National Defense)
Craig Cooning, vice president and general manager of Boeing space and intelligence systems, showed off the factory where some of the nation’s most secretive spy satellites are built. The facility, which began its life as a car factory, then an aircraft plant for legendary aviation pioneer Howard Hughes, now produces satellites for a variety of customers.

Its enormous equipment is designed to replicate the harsh space environment. Giant shake tables and sonic blasters ensure spacecraft can survive the rigors of being launched. A massive thermal vacuum chamber subjects them to temperatures ranging from plus or minus 125 degrees Celsius. The facility employs about 5,500 workers.

Traveling northeast about 100 miles, at the Mojave Air and Space Port, Roderick and Randa Milliron are developing a multistage rocket called the Neptune that they believe will take micro-satellites that weigh about 1.65 pounds into orbit. They are working in a “temporary” building constructed by the Marine Corps’ aviation branch during World War II. Their company, Interorbital Systems, has five full-time employees, plus a roster of other experts they call in when needed. Click here to read the article. (3/14)

Research Finds Asteroid Itokawa is an Ancient Rock (Source:
A preliminary analysis of asteroid samples returned last year by Japan's Hayabusa probe show evidence the dust grains have a similar composition to stony meteorites that commonly fall to Earth. Hayabusa returned to Earth last June with a fiery plunge into the Australia outback. The seven-year robotic mission surveyed asteroid Itokawa, a potato-shaped rock about the size of a city block.

The initial research also shows the samples inspected so far contain no organic molecules. Scientists also say the analysis confirms the rocks at Itokawa were formed 4.6 billion years ago at the dawn of the solar system. Researchers believe Itokawa itself was formed when several existing smaller bodies accreted into a larger asteroid. Scientists describe such asteroids as "rubble pile" objects. (3/14)

Russia Delays Launch of Soyuz Capsule to Space Station (Source:
Russia's Federal Space Agency has delayed the launch of its next Soyuz space capsule bound for the International Space Station after detecting a failure in one of the spaceship's systems. The Soyuz TMA-21 spacecraft was slated to blast off on March 29 (EDT), but now must wait until the faulty part has been fixed, Russian space officials said today (March 14). "Taking into account the necessity to run additional analysis of the glitch, Soyuz TMA-21 launch is postponed," officials said. (3/14)

NASA Celebrates Women's Contributions To Science And Exploration (Source: NASA)
NASA will debut its new Women@NASA website during a Women's History Month event at the agency's Headquarters on March 16. Approximately 200 local students from elementary through high school level will attend and learn about the significant and varied roles women have played in the agency's history. NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver will host the event. The featured guest will be Valerie B. Jarrett, senior advisor and assistant to the president for intergovernmental affairs and public engagement, and chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls. (3/14)

Wallops Economic Value Study Released (Source:
Local economic and academic partners recently completed an Economic Value Study of the some of the business and government operations at Wallops Island. This study was commissioned by the Eastern Shore Defense Alliance with support from Accomack County. Operations studied included those conducted by the Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC), Lockheed Martin, NASA Wallops Flighty Facility, NASA Visitor Center, NOAA, Northrop Grumman, Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, and VT Griffin/Wallops Institutional Consolidated Contract (WICC).

To estimate the economic value of some of the business and government operations at Wallops Island, the IMPLAN software platform (by the Minnesota IMPLAN Group, Inc) was utilized. The "Total Economic Value" to Accomack County was found to be $77.79 million, and $188.28 million for the entire Eastern Shore. Employment impacts were found to be 1,206 for Accomack and 2,341 for the Eastern Shore.

The study demonstrated that the economic value of the various entities at Wallops Island extends beyond Accomack County. In addition to the economic value estimated by this study, NASA’s increased activities in preparation for the Taurus II re-supply missions to the International Space Station will add greatly to the overall regional economic value. These additional activities are estimated to represent hundreds more jobs and tens of millions of dollars of total economic value. (3/14)

Embry-Riddle Alumnus Astronaut Ron Garan to Spend Six Months on Space Station (Source: ERAU)
Following the recent return of Embry-Riddle alumni astronauts Alvin Drew and Nicole Stott from their STS-133 space shuttle mission to the International Space Station (ISS), another Embry-Riddle alumnus prepares for his own journey to the station, where he’ll spend six months as a flight engineer. Four Embry-Riddle astronauts will visit ISS in 2011.

Astronaut Ronald Garan Jr. and two Russian cosmonauts are scheduled for a March 29, 2011, launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan onboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Upon arrival at the space station, Garan will serve as a member of Expeditions 27 and 28. He previously visited the ISS in 2008 as a mission specialist with the STS-124 space shuttle mission, during which he performed three spacewalks. (3/14)

Hall: The Future Value of NASA Depends on Priorities (Source: The Hill)
Last year, Congress approved a plan to ensure a balanced portfolio of science and exploration at NASA. This plan created a roadmap that would give U.S. astronauts access to the International Space Station while developing capabilities to travel beyond low Earth orbit. Unfortunately, this administration seems to be ignoring clear Congressional intent.

Congress passed and the President signed the NASA Authorization Act of 2010. The bill directed NASA to give priority to the development of a Space Launch System (SLS) and Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) to replace the Shuttle. It authorized NASA to “help determine the most effective and efficient means of advancing the development of commercial crew services.” NASA’s FY12 request flips the relative priority, seeking a 70 percent increase for commercial crew ($850 million versus $500 million authorization); and a 31 percent decrease for the SLS and MPCV ($2.8 billion versus $4 billion authorization). (3/14)

Ayn Rand, Author of 'Atlas Shrugged,' on NASA's Apollo Program (Source: Yahoo)
With the first installment of the film of Ayn Rand's signature novel, "Atlas Shrugged," slated to be released to theaters on April 15, it is useful to remember there was one government program that this mighty foe of tyranny looked upon with awe. In an essay published in September 1969, Rand celebrated the launch of Apollo 11, which she witnessed about two months earlier.

"That we had seen a demonstration of man at his best, no one could doubt — this was the cause of the event's attraction and of the stunned numbed state in which it left us. And no one could doubt that we had seen an achievement of man in his capacity as a rational being — an achievement of reason, of logic, of mathematics, of total dedication to the absolutism of reality."

It was one of the great paradoxes of Rand's life that, albeit a champion of the rights of the individual over the collective, she could see such beauty in an enterprise that was run by a government, cost billions of dollars, and consumed countless man hours. Not for her the crabby, hectoring tone that some people today make when they look back upon the Apollo program. She had it right. (3/13)

Treaty Seeks to Make Space a Weapons-Free Zone (Source: AIA)
A new space-based weapons treaty invites all United Nations member nations to sign off on a plan to keep space a weapons-free zone. The Outer Space Security and Development Treaty of 2011, developed by Carol Rosin, founder of the Institute for Security and Cooperation in Outer Space, asks all "cosmic cultures" to create a plan to "assure and verify that space is and will remain a neutral realm from which all classes of space-based weapons are banned in perpetuity." (3/14)

Competition is Not Exactly Rocket Science (Source: Pacific Coast Business Times)
We all sense vaguely that taxpayer dollars are squandered when there is too little competition among government contractors. Every now and then, we can put a tidy and exact dollar figure on the waste — and this month, the figure is $424 million. That is how much we taxpayers spent on NASA’s Glory satellite before it was lost on March 4. The satellite launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base aboard a Taurus XL rocket. It was meant to study how the sun and tiny atmospheric particles called aerosols affect the Earth’s climate.

Officials suspect Glory met its demise near the splash zone of NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory satellite, another climate-studying payload launched from Vandenberg in 2009 that crashed into the South Pacific. That earlier satellite was launched aboard the same rocket as the Glory, made by the same company and defective in the same way. We should be asking tough questions of Orbital Sciences about why its (taxpayer funded) tests and evaluations between the two crashes proved useless.

But if you look at the history of the rocket business, we have only ourselves to blame. Founded in 1982, Orbital is a relative upstart. In launching satellites, it has only one real competitor, Lockheed Martin. It didn’t used to be that way. Once, McDonnell Douglas provided effective competition, sending Delta II’s up from Vandenberg. But after the firm was bought by Boeing in 1997, U.S. regulators allowed Boeing and Lockheed to merge their launch vehicle businesses. That was a mistake, and we just paid $424 million for it. (3/14)

SpaceX Could Compete with Orbital Sciences at Vandenberg (Source: Pacific Coast Business Times)
There is hope on the horizon. Officials at the California Space Center, a set of office suites on Vandenberg set to break ground this year, has said they’ve heard interest from startup SpaceX. SpaceX is on a mission to disrupt the rocket business, which hasn’t changed a whole lot since we landed on the moon in 1969. We believe this is precisely the kind of hungry, youthful entrepreneurship needed to shake up the space business and better serve taxpayers. (3/14)

NASA Studies Laser For Removing Space Junk (Source: Technology Review)
A cheap ground-based laser could put space junk out of harm's way, according to a NASA study. In 1978, the NASA scientist Donald Kessler predicted that a collision between two pieces of space junk could trigger a cascade of further impacts, creating dangerously large amounts of debris. Kessler pointed out that when the rate at which debris forms is faster than the rate at which it de-orbits, then the Earth would become surrounded by permanent belts of junk, a scenario now known as the Kessler syndrome.

By some estimates, the Kessler syndrome has already become a reality. Today, ESA's Envisat is regularly threatened by potential impacts. Over 60 percent of them can be traced back to the Iridium/Cosmos collision or the Fengyun incident. Researchers at NASA Ames have developed an idea is to zap individual pieces of junk with a ground-based laser, thereby slowing them down so that they eventually de-orbit. Focused onto a piece of junk for an hour or two every day, they calculate that a 5 KW laser could do the trick and that such a device could tackle up to ten objects a day. (3/14)

Will Laser-Powered Space Elevator Become a Reality Soon? (Source: Intl. Business Times)
Could the ambitious project of developing a laser-powered space elevator turn science fiction into reality? Scientists say such an elevator could enable inexpensive and complete expansion of society into space. They have been seriously considering space elevators as a far-out space transportation system for the next century, which could make travel to geostationary earth orbit a daily event. Beyond earth, space elevators on the moon and Mars open new economic opportunities and expand humanity's reach ever so slightly into the solar system.

Editor's Note: The moon doesn't spin like the Earth does. I'm guessing this means an elevator system would not be feasible there. Am I wrong? (3/14)

Spaceport America Timeline Still Intact After Staff Changes (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
Overall construction at the spaceport's first phase is between 70 and 80 percent finished, a spaceport staff member said last week. The largest outstanding project, a $32.5 million terminal-hangar facility being built by Summit Construction, is about 77 percent complete, according to spaceport officials. A second phase and round of contracts includes plans for a visitors center, paved southern road to the spaceport and a vertical launch area.

Also, the spaceport authority is shifting toward the operations aspect of the spaceport. The agency is soliciting bid proposals from companies that would provide services, such as fire rescue, janitorial work and mission planning. Proposals are due May 18, according to spaceport staff. Anderson said she's still sorting out priorities, but establishing the operations will be an important part of her job. (3/14)

Soyuz TMA-M Ballistic Return Possible (Source: Interfax)
The first modernized manned spaceship Soyuz TMA-M may have a ballistic landing on Wednesday, NASA said. Soyuz TMA-M commander Alexander Kaleri will test angular speed sensors after the ship undocks from the International Space Station (ISS). The other crewmembers of Soyuz TMA-M are Oleg Skripochka and Scott Kelly. If a problem occurs, the astronauts may experience G8 to G10 in the ballistic return, NASA said.

Astronauts experience G3 to G4 in the case of a regular return. NASA explained the planned check of angular speed sensors with the failure of the landing capsule's analog signal processing system, which happened on October 9, 2010, on the second day of Soyuz TMA-M's flight to the ISS. As a result, data from angular speed sensors stopped being displayed on the Neptun-ME console. In February Kaleri installed new angular speed sensors. (3/14)

Fatal Injury at Space Shuttle Launch Pad (Source: NASA)
At about 7:40 a.m. EDT on Monday, a United Space Alliance worker fell at NASA Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pad 39A. NASA emergency medical personnel responded, but they were unable to revive the man. All work at Launch Pad 39A has been suspended and counseling and other employee assistance are being provided to workers. Right now our focus is on our workers and for the family of the USA employee. The incident is under investigation. (3/14)

SpaceX and SES Announce Satellite Launch Agreement (Source: SpaceX)
As the Satellite 2011 conference kicked off in Washington, D.C., Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) and SES (Euronext Paris and Luxembourg Stock Exchange: SESG) today announced an agreement to launch an SES satellite using the Falcon 9 rocket. The deal marks what will be the first geostationary satellite launch using SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. The firm launch agreement with SpaceX also includes an option for a second SES launch. The SES-8 satellite is scheduled to launch in the first quarter of 2013 from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. (3/14)

Getting Down to the Nuts and Bolts of Suborbital Research (Source: Space Review)
Interest is using the new generation of commercial suborbital vehicles for scientific research has surged in the last couple of years. Jeff Foust reports that, at a recent conference, the focus of the discussion had shifted to more practical matters like training and payload interfaces. Visit to view the article. (3/14)

Soyuz Landing Tests New Systems and Old Secrecy Habits (Source: Space Review)
Later this week a new variant of the Soyuz spacecraft will undock from the ISS and return to Earth. James Oberg notes that concerns about technical glitches with the Soyuz have also raised concerns about the openness of the ISS partners. Visit to view the article. (3/14)

A Chance of a Lifetime: the Missions to Comet Halley (Source: Space Review)
Twenty-five years ago today the Giotto spacecraft flew past the nucleus of Comet Halley, part of an international armada of spacecraft sent to study the comet. Andrew LePage examines the Soviet, Japanese, and European spacecraft sent on a one-in-a-lifetime mission. Visit to view the article. (3/14)

American Leadership in Space: Leadership Through Capability (Source: Space Review)
What does it mean for the United States to be a leader in space? Christopher Stone argues that such leadership must come from maintaining the country's edge in spaceflight capabilities instead of relying on others. Visit to view the article. (3/14)

Why Commercial Human Spaceflight Will Be safer, Less Expensive, and Necessary (Source: Space Review)
Development of commercial crew transportation systems has been one of the biggest hot-button topics in spaceflight today. Owen Garriott and Alan Stern make the case for why such systems are vital to America's future in space. Visit to view the article. (3/14)

Houston Fights to be Final Home of Space Shuttle (Source: KHOU)
An online, grassroots campaign to make Houston the final home of one of the three space shuttles has upped the ante among the cities vying to become their permanent homes. The campaign, Bring The Shuttle Home, has sent more than 46,000 letters of support to the president. "Why would it not come to Houston?" asked Richard Allen, chief executive officer and president of Space Center Houston. "We're the home of Mission Control. We're the home of astronaut training." (3/14)

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