March 19, 2011

Globalstar Takes Delivery of Six Satellites for May Launch (Source: Globalstar)
Globalstar has taken delivery of six new second-generation satellites at the Baikonur spaceport. Technicians from Arianespace and Thales Alenia have begun pre-launch testing and integration in preparation for a scheduled liftoff in May. Globalstar expects to conduct two additional launches of six satellites per launch, also from Baikonur, with all three remaining launches utilizing the highly reliable Soyuz launch vehicle. (3/19)

Cosmonaut Crashed Into Earth 'Crying In Rage' (Source: NPR)
So there's a cosmonaut up in space, circling the globe, convinced he will never make it back to Earth; he's on the phone with Alexsei Kosygin — then a high official of the Soviet Union — who is crying because he, too, thinks the cosmonaut will die. The space vehicle is shoddily constructed, running dangerously low on fuel; its parachutes — though no one knows this — won't work and the cosmonaut, Vladimir Komarov, is about to, literally, crash full speed into Earth, his body turning molten on impact.

As he heads to his doom, U.S. listening posts in Turkey hear him crying in rage, "cursing the people who had put him inside a botched spaceship." In 1967, both Kosygin and Yuri Gagarin were assigned to the same Earth-orbiting mission, and both knew the space capsule was not safe to fly. Komarov told friends he knew he would probably die. But he wouldn't back out because he didn't want Gagarin to die. Gagarin would have been his replacement.

The plan was to launch a capsule, the Soyuz 1, with Komarov inside. The next day, a second vehicle would take off, with two additional cosmonauts; the two vehicles would meet, dock, Komarov would crawl from one vehicle to the other, exchanging places with a colleague, and come home in the second ship. Click here to read the article. (3/19)

Houston Fears Snub on Shuttle (Source: Houston Chronicle)
Houston may be the home of astronauts, mission control and the space shuttle program itself, but the city likely faces an increasingly uphill battle to obtain an orbiter for public display once NASA retires the shuttle fleet. Although Houston and Florida's launch complex at Kennedy Space Center can claim the strongest ties to the space shuttle program, and both have submitted bids to put an orbiter on public display, Texas politicians and businessmen are beginning to believe their state may get shut out.

"Am I concerned? Yes," said Richard E. Allen Jr., chief executive of Space Center Houston, the official visitor's center for Johnson Space Center, which is seeking a shuttle. "It's hard for me to contemplate that one wouldn't come here. But if the selection is based on something other than merit that could take away the advantage we would have being the home of the shuttle program." A single paragraph in the armed service's 656-page budget called for funds "for preparation and delivery" of the retired shuttle to the museum, near the Wright Brothers' base of operations in Dayton. (3/19)

Illinois Senators Ask NASA to Pick Adler for Shuttle (Source: Washington Examiner)
U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk are asking NASA to choose Chicago's Adler Planetarium to house a retired space shuttle. Kirk and Durbin say Adler is the country's first planetarium and draws more than 5 million guests each year. (3/19)

For the Satellite Industry, Lines Blur Between Military and Commercial Markets (Sources: National Defense)
The U.S. military’s hunger for bandwidth usually means guaranteed big profits for the satellite communications industry. But times are changing. Military customers are demanding more services at lower costs. Competition is driving down prices. And commercial space companies are coming up with “disruptive” technologies that may threaten status quo incumbents.

The Pentagon plans to spend tens of billions of dollars in the next five years on space programs, but there are not many new satellite procurements, said Stephen O’Neill, president of Boeing Satellite Systems International. “That causes many of us here to focus on where the revenue will come next,” he said. (3/19)

Satellites Stack Up Over Japan: Chinese Satellites Fall into Line, Too (Source: New Pacific Institute)
The UN Platform for Space–based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response (UN-SPIDER) confirms that China quickly deployed a pair of smaller earth observation satellites — China’s Huan Jing (HJ)-1-A and B – as part of the broader multinational response to this disaster, and that China’s National Committee for Disaster Reduction (NCDR), and the National Disaster Reduction Center of China (NDRCC) wasted no time in doing so.

At least one of these Chinese satellites acquired imagery approximately two days after Japan had activated the International Charter ‘Space and Major Disasters‘ on March 11. The Japanese government certainly welcomed the arrival of a massive flotilla of government and private sector satellites from China, Taiwan, the U.S., and Europe. The fact that Japan’s small fleet of surveillance satellites is recovering from the loss of a Japanese radar satellite last summer only reinforces the important role that the Charter – now entering its second decade – is playing in this instance. (3/19)

Pentagon Seeing Sharp Price Increases for Commercial Satcom (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Defense Department in recent months has seen price increases as great as 300 percent for commercial satellite communications capacity as it transitions to a new contract vehicle for buying these services, government and industry officials said March 15. Military customers experienced “sticker shock” as task orders for bandwidth and managed network services expired and were replaced with new orders — reflecting current market prices. (3/18

Panel Blames W3B Failure on Misaligned Propellant Tube (Source: Space News)
A four-month investigation into the loss of Eutelsat’s W3B telecommunications satellite less than 24 hours after launch last October has concluded that the failure was caused by a sudden, catastrophic leak in a single propellant tube connected to one of the satellite’s 16 thruster motors, industry officials said.

Conclusions about what happened on a satellite that cannot be recovered are never 100 percent certain, especially in a case like W3B, which represented one of the more mysterious losses in recent years. The board further concluded that the assembly glitch was at least indirectly caused by the decision of prime contractor Thales Alenia Space to replace a so-called ITAR-free thruster with a standard unit.

W3B was originally intended for launch aboard a Chinese Long March rocket. Because the U.S. government forbids U.S. satellite components from being exported to China, satellites launched there must use non-U.S. hardware in order to be beyond the reach of ITAR. Contractors intend to verify that the W3C satellite, a W3B twin now planned for launch this summer aboard a Chinese Long March rocket, has no similar issues. (3/18)

Sat Pics Flowed Within Hour of Quake (Source: DOD Buzz)
Within an hour of the great quake striking Japan, the companies that supply commercial satellite pictures to the intelligence community and the Pentagon had dropped everything and begun providing images of stricken areas. Geoeye and DigitialGlobe stopped shooting images for commercial clients and “began emergency collection” of images which were then pumped in almost real time through a computing cloud and on to the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency’s special web portal set up for such purposes. (3/18)

Editorial: Huntsville a Logical Choice for National Solar Observatory (Source: Huntsville Times)
Huntsville would be a good fit for the proposed National Solar Observatory to study "space weather." It will be high summer when the city learns if it made the cut. The University of Alabama in Huntsville is leading a team to bring this nationally acclaimed solar study program to Cummings Research Park.

If chosen, the solar laboratory would bring 70 top scientists and engineers and an annual budget of $20 million to help improve the predictions of space weather. Such predictions are vital elements for America's defense capabilities and NASA's space exploration activities. Better science could also lead to a broader understanding about solar flares, which can cause power "brownouts" at electrical generation plants, impair satellite communication, endanger air travelers and influence weather on Earth. (3/18)

U.S. Budget Crunch May Boost Hosted Payloads (Source: Aviation Week)
Satellite operators who have faced an uphill battle trying to sell space on their platforms to government customers believe the new wave of congressional budget-cutters may give their hosted-payload business a boost—once the dust settles. While the idea of piggybacking specialized government and commercial applications hardware on satcom and other commercial spacecraft is not new, governments are only beginning to overcome their inertia and adopt the approach as a way to stretch their space budgets. (3/18)

Canadian University Pushes Small Satellites (Source: Winnipeg Free Press)
The University of Toronto is hoping to cash in on the growing demand for micro-space technology by selling more of the small satellites it makes at its flight laboratory. The mini-satellites — the size of a suitcase or even smaller — have already been sold to countries like Norway, Australia and Poland. They start at $600,000 and can fetch more than $3 million.

Project manager Grant Bonin says the lab at the university's Institute of Aerospace Studies is building more small satellites than any other organization in Canada. "They're cheaper and faster than big spacecraft," Bonin told about 70 delegates at the annual conference of the Canadian Space Commerce Association. (3/18)

Canada Explores Expanded Space Operations (With SpaceX) (Source: Winnipeg Free Press)
Arctic sovereignty was the main topic of discussion during a video conference with Maj. Marc Fricker, a lecturer at Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario. "We're claiming that all of this [Arctic] acreage is ours and yet we'd be very hard-pressed to survey it, let alone protect it," he said. The big word at the agency is "sovereignty" — which translates into keeping an eye on the Canadian North, and using space assets to do this is a big consideration.

A keynote speaker was Joshua Brost, the business development manager for SpaceX, talked about the California-based company's Falcon 9 rocket. Brost said that to his knowledge, SpaceX had not been talking to other countries that may be interested in using the Dragon capsule for their astronauts. The CSA is using the Falcon rocket to launch one of its satellites.

Fricker said the Canadian military's space defense program wanted to have its own access to space and did not want to continue to rely on the Americans or the Russians. He told the conference that "we are interested in building our own rocket'" and even gave a brief glimpse of a concept vehicle during his power-point presentation. The Canadian space sector involves more than 200 firms which employ about 7,500 people in all. (3/18)

Artificially Intelligent Rockets Could Slash Launch Costs (Source: TechNewsDaily)
Researchers in Japan hope to make rocket launches a smoother, less expensive process by equipping the next generation of launch vehicles with artificial intelligence (AI). In this instance, AI equates to greater automation and the ability for the vehicle to better perform self-checkups, both pre- and post-launch. Once proven safe and reliable, an AI system could even assume some on-the-fly control of a rocket's guidance and operations.

"So far, rockets are merely automatic. They are not artificially intelligent," said Yasuhiro Morita, a professor at Institute of Space and Astronautical Science at JAXA, Japan's aerospace organization. Morita is also the project manager for the Epsilon launch vehicle, the rocket JAXA plans to take big steps with toward autonomy over the next few years. The rocket is slated for a 2013 maiden voyage, although there is no word if the recent devastating earthquake and tsunami might delay the project. (3/18)

'Antrix Led to India Revenue Loss (Source: Business Standard)
The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), the government auditor, has rapped Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), under the Department of Space (DoS), for giving undue agency commissions to Antrix Corporation for selling satellite data. This has resulted in a revenue loss of Rs 1.44 crore to 1.92 crore to the department, CAG has said. Antrix is the commercial arm of Isro. Further, Antrix is yet to pay (since July 2009) an amount of Rs 93 lakh to the department. (3/18)

The Best and Worst of the Etsy/NASA Crafts Contest (Source: The Atlantic)
Last fall, NASA announced that they would be partnering with a surprisingly low-tech ally, the Brooklyn-based crafts website Etsy, to honor the end of the shuttle missions with an alternate form of space craft, a contest to determine the best handmade item that references stars, planets astronauts, satellites, or really anything in the night sky. Click here to see examples of the craft work. (3/18)

NASA’s Trip to Mars is Mission Improbable (Source: Financial Times)
Planetary scientists have issued their official wish list for unmanned space missions to explore the solar system over the next decade. Top priority of the report from the US National Academy of Sciences is robotic exploration of Mars. The second mission on the list is a visit to Jupiter’s icy moon Europa and its subsurface ocean – seen as one of the most promising environments in the solar system for supporting life.

Third priority would be a mission to investigate the the outer planet Uranus, one of the least understood large bodies in the solar system. Whether these turn out to be a practical guide for NASA to plan future missions – or a fantasy list – depends on how much money the agency receives from the US Congress for space science. Latest signals from Washington are not encouraging. The report was prepared on the basis of NASA’s 2011 budget, which has still not been enacted as a result of the Obama administration’s fiscal standoff with Congress. (3/18)

Two Stars Caught Fusing Into One (Source: Science News)
For stellar astronomers, “the two shall become one flesh” just took on a whole new meaning. Scientists have directly observed for the first time the merger of two closely orbiting stars. Experts have suggested for decades that such stars — which whirl so close to each other that their outer layers actually touch — should ultimately commingle. The researchers’ claim of catching the stars in the act is “not just plausible; it's compelling,” says Robert Williams of the Space Telescope Science Institute, who was not involved in the study. (3/18)

Boeing CEO Got $19.7 Million in 2010 (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Boeing Co. Chairman and Chief Executive Jim McNerney received $19.7 million in total compensation in 2010, according to a proxy statement filed Friday. In the filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Boeing said Mr. McNerney received a $4.4 million bonus on top of his $1.9 million base salary. In 2009, his bonus was $4.5 million, and his total compensation was $19.4 million. (3/18)

Japan Quake May Have Shortened Earth Days, Moved Axis (Source: NASA)
The March 11, magnitude 9.0 earthquake in Japan may have shortened the length of each Earth day and shifted its axis. But don't worry—you won't notice the difference. Using a USGS estimate for how the fault responsible for the earthquake slipped, research scientist Richard Gross of NASA JPL applied a complex model to perform a preliminary theoretical calculation of how the Japan earthquake-—the fifth largest since 1900—-affected Earth's rotation.

His calculations indicate that by changing the distribution of Earth's mass, the Japanese earthquake should have caused Earth to rotate a bit faster, shortening the length of the day by about 1.8 microseconds (a microsecond is one millionth of a second). The calculations also show the Japan quake should have shifted the position of Earth's figure axis (the axis about which Earth's mass is balanced) by about 17 centimeters (6.5 inches). (3/18)

Taurus XL Failure Investigation Could Delay TacSat-4 Launch (Source: Space News)
The Naval Research Laboratory this month shipped an experimental TacSat-4 satellite to the Kodiak Launch Complex in Alaska in preparation for launch as early as May 5. However, the launch date could be affected by an investigation into the March 4 launch failure of a Taurus XL rocket, said an NRL official. The Minotaur 4 vehicle that will carry TacSat-4 to orbit shares some hardware in common with the Taurus XL; both vehicles are built by Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp. (3/18)

Loral Bests Orbital for Contract to Build Satellite (Source: Space News)
Satellite fleet operator SingTel Optus of Australia has selected Loral to build the SingTel Optus 10 telecommunications satellite following a competition in which Loral bested Orbital Sciences by offering an unusually light version of Loral’s LS 1300 satellite design. Officials said SingTel Optus 10 is expected to weigh around 3,200 kilograms at launch, which is far less than the usual product produced by Loral.

The company specializes in building large, high-power satellites for mobile communications to handsets, consumer broadband and direct-to-home television. These spacecraft typically weigh 5,000 kilograms or more. Orbital Sciences has found a niche at the other end of the commercial market, for satellites weighing around 3,000 kilograms. Loral and Orbital thus rarely meet head-to-head in final rounds of satellite competitions. (3/18)

SpaceX Moving to Crew Capability with Dragon (Source: Aviation Week, Hobby Space)
SpaceX hopes to get around $250 million in CCDev funding from NASA to help pay for development of its hypergolic liquid-fueled pusher-style launch abort system (LAS) for the Dragon capsule. SpaceX opted for the pusher because it saves weight over a pull-off tower and the shield needed to protect the capsule from the tower’s plume during an abort.

Only 60% of the Dragon’s nominal 2,700-lb. fuel load would be required for an abort, raising the possibility of a propulsive landing after parachuting to dry land in the manner of Russia’s Soyuz vehicle. On a nominal flight, of course, all of the fuel could be used for maneuvering in orbit. While the LAS is the “pacing item” in the company’s CCDev-2 proposal, it is also beginning to work out the crew accommodation that would be required for the ISS missions. (3/18)

Satellite Operators Boost Launcher Competition (Sources: Aviation Week, Hobby Space)
As part of its deal with SpaceX, SES is requiring that the launch company demonstrate a new fairing that will fit its satellite, and to fly at least once with uprated Merlin engines that will meet its requirements. SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell says the modified engines will generate 125,000-135,000 lb. thrust, up from 115,000 lb. for the original.

Changes in the design that also eliminate the need for off-site plating services contributed to the boost in engine performance, she says. The in-house approach is one way SpaceX is working to hold down its costs and pass savings along to customers, Shotwell adds, noting that the company has started spinning its own tank domes in-house this month. (3/18)

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