March 22, 2011

Deconstructing LC-39B (Source: CollectSpace)
Construction crews at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida began Monday dismantling Launch Pad 39B's FSS — the 267-foot Fixed Service Structure that previously supported three swing arms. The deconstruction of the pad's towering structures, which first got underway last September when crews literally tore into the rotating service structure, is being done to reconfigure the pad for future use. (3/22)

Chavez: Life On Mars Ended By Capitalism (Source: Reuters)
Capitalism may be to blame for the lack of life on the planet Mars, Venezuela's socialist President Hugo Chavez said on Tuesday. "I have always said, heard, that it would not be strange that there had been civilization on Mars, but maybe capitalism arrived there, imperialism arrived and finished off the planet," Chavez said in speech to mark World Water Day. Chavez, who also holds capitalism responsible for many of the world's problems, warned that water supplies on Earth were drying up. (3/22)

NASA Ushers In New Space Exploration Era At Wallops (Source: NASA)
NASA ushered in a new era of space exploration at its Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Tuesday with a ribbon cutting ceremony opening the new Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF). The HIF will support medium-class mission capabilities. The first customer to use the facility will be Orbital Sciences Corp. with its Taurus II launch vehicle. Wallops, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport and Orbital have been working together to bring the Taurus II vehicle to the launch pad this coming fall under tough mission schedules. That effort is impressive and a model we should emulate whenever possible," said Charlie Bolden. (3/22)

China Starts Seeking Space Cooperation (Source: DOD Buzz)
One of China’s top space executives is scheduled to come to the US and speak next month at the National Space Symposium, the nation’s premier space conference. The speaker will be Lei Fanpei, vice president of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. Lei may be the highest ranking Chinese space industry representative to speak before an American audience.

Lei’s appearance appears part of a trend by China to shed what had been the oppressive and often counter-productive secrecy surrounding most aspects of the Chinese space enterprise, whether civilian or military. “It signals that while certain members of Congress want to continue to ignore China as a space player, other than providing a rationale for certain DOD programs, U.S. industry sees the Chinese aerospace industry advancing, working with other countries, and increasingly becoming part of the globalized aerospace industry," said Joan Johnson-Freese. (3/22)

Mining Plans Pose Threat to South African Astronomy Site (Source: Nature News)
South Africa's commitment to hosting the world's most sensitive radio-telescope array is being tested by a request from oil giant Shell to drill for natural gas in the remote region that would house the facility. South Africa is competing with Australia to be the home of the $2.1 billion Square Kilometer Array (SKA), a collection of around 3,000 antennas with a total collecting area of 1 km2.

The big worry for the SKA is radio-frequency interference, says Adrian Tiplady, site-characterization manager at SKA South Africa. "The primary risk is electromagnetic interference generated from heavy industrial equipment, such as that associated with mining equipment, and any radio communication equipment associated with the mining activity," he says. "Seismic activity would also have an impact, but only within a closer proximity." (3/22)

Step 1 in Astronauts-to-Asteroid Mission: Pick the Right Space Rock (Source:
Any NASA mission that sends a crew of astronauts to visit an asteroid will be fraught with challenges and risks, but the first step for any such endeavor is to understand exactly which near-Earth objects may warrant a human visitation. Asteroid specialists, space scientists, astronauts, and NASA mission tackled that question and others during a recent workshop called "Target NEO: Providing a Resilient NEO Accessibility Program for Human Exploration Beyond Low Earth Orbit."

Finding an appropriate target asteroid for astronauts, the experts found, is the most urgent task for any space rock mission. While more than 7,000 near-Earth objects are known, the numbers and physical makeup of space rocks that are accessible by piloted flight is highly uncertain. "Right now we only have a few targets in our catalog. We need a lot more to provide us with maximum mission flexibility," former NASA astronaut Tom Jones said. "It’s time to get on with this search."

Jones, a planetary scientist, views asteroids as "natural steppingstones" in space exploration, providing a sustainable, flexible direction to pursue in the next couple of decades. NASA's current goal of sending astronauts on an asteroid-bound mission by 2025 is one of the core ideas in the space exploration vision laid out by President Barack Obama last year. It represents a major shift from NASA's earlier plan, which was aimed at returning astronauts to the moon. (3/22)

Space Debris Threat Needs International Response, Military Official Says (Source:
The U.S. needs to team up with other countries and the private sector to track the huge volume of potentially dangerous space debris circling the Earth, according to Lt. Gen. Susan Helms, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command's Joint Functional Component Command for Space. More than 22,000 pieces of space junk are being tracked today as they zip around our planet, posing a collision threat to valuable satellites and other spacecraft.

But there's far too much of the stuff for the U.S. government to keep track of on its own, so cooperation is required to improve the country's space situational awareness (SSA) capabilities, Helms said. "We must partner with other nations and enterprises to achieve mutually beneficial goals, and at the top of our priorities is the development of comprehensive SSA," she said. (3/22)

Europe Makes Do Without NASA (Source: Nature News)
The European Space Agency (ESA) is pushing ahead without NASA support for its next big science mission, as the on­going US budget crunch and competing priorities impose serious constraints on the US space agency (see Nature 471, 278; 2011). ESA last week told leaders of three large, or 'L-class', missions that are competing for funding to revise their proposals by leaving out the substantial US contribution that had previously been assumed.

"The decision was made very reluctantly," says David Southwood, director of science and robotic exploration at ESA. "NASA could not meet our timetable to launch." NASA still hopes to contribute in smaller ways to ESA's L-class mission, but it faces shortfalls with a flagship program of its own. (3/22)

New Estimate for Alien Earths: 2 Billion in Our Galaxy Alone (Source:
Roughly one out of every 37 to one out of every 70 sunlike stars in the sky might harbor an alien Earth, a new study reveals. These findings hint that billions of Earthlike planets might exist in our galaxy, researchers added. These new calculations are based in data from the Kepler space telescope, which in February wowed the globe by revealing more than 1,200 possible alien worlds, including 68 potentially Earth-size planets.

Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., focused on roughly Earth-size planets within the habitable zones of their stars — that is, orbits where liquid water can exist on the surfaces of those worlds. After the researchers analyzed the four months of data in this initial batch of readings from Kepler, they determined that 1.4 to 2.7 percent of all sunlike stars are expected to have Earthlike planets — ones that are between 0.8 and two times Earth's diameter and within the habitable zones of their stars. (3/22)

XCOR and ULA Partner on Rocket Engine Project (Source: XCOR)
United Launch Alliance (ULA) and XCOR Aerospace conducted a successful hot-fire demonstrations of a lighter-weight, lower-cost approach to liquid-fueled rocket-engine vacuum nozzles. The new nozzle technology, which uses aluminum alloys and innovative manufacturing techniques, is projected to be less costly and save hundreds of pounds of mass compared to nozzles in use today in typical large upper-stage rocket engine systems.

Based on this initial success, ULA today announced a larger follow-on program with XCOR to develop a liquid oxygen (LOX)/LH2 engine. The multi-year project’s main objective is to produce a flight-ready LOX/LH2 upper-stage engine in the 25,000 to 30,000 lbf thrust class that costs significantly less to produce and is easier to operate and integrate than competing engine technologies. If successful, the effort will lead to significantly lower-cost and more-capable commercial and US government space flights delivered by ULA. (3/22)

Editorial: Education, Culture are Important Elements in Attracting Space Industry (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
Last week I met Christine Anderson, the recently appointed executive director of Spaceport America. She is wonderful to talk with, excited about the challenge ahead of her, and importantly, had moved to New Mexico by choice. She chose New Mexico because of its beauty, the art community, and the Western lifestyle.

I discussed [with another colleague] what Spaceport America could possibly do for Las Cruces that Werner Von Braun and the space industry did for Huntsville. [The book the Rise of the Creative Class] examines the potential for communities to focus on their arts, culture and public education programs as they recruit interesting and dynamic individuals who will contribute to the overall excellence of a community. Arts and cultural programs are essential for people who are educated and want to enjoy a full community life while raising their children.

When Von Braun left New Mexico for Huntsville, he said the commitment by the community leaders to increase investment in the arts including the creation of a symphony, and to increase funding for public education contributed to his decision to move to Huntsville. (3/22)

Russian Investigators Probe Roscosmos Workers on Glonass Loss (Source: RIA Novosti)
The Russian Investigative Committee said on Tuesday it is probing workers at Russia's Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos, for negligence that may have caused the loss of three Glonass-M satellites in December. The satellites, meant to conclude the formation of Russia's Glonass navigation system, were lost when a Proton-M carrier rocket veered off course and crashed in the Pacific Ocean.

"According to a preliminary investigation, Roscosmos workers equipped the carrier rocket with a new booster, which had not been thoroughly tested," Roscosmos spokesman Vladimir Markin said. "The booster malfunctioned during the flight and deviated from the designated trajectory. The incident led to the loss of the satellites and cost the state 4.3 billion rubles ($152.2 million)." (3/22)

Vandenberg Air Force Base: The West Coast Counterpart to Cape Canaveral (Source: Santa Maria Times)
Once cattle grazed here. Today it is the home of some of the most sophisticated technology in the world. Vandenberg Air Force Base, America’s Western Spaceport, occupies 99,000 acres in western Santa Barbara County, stretching for more than 30 miles from near Guadalupe to north of Point Conception.

The West Coast counterpart to Cape Canaveral, Vandenberg has unofficially recorded 1,908 launches through early March, starting with a Thor ballistic missile in December 1958. Site of the old Jesus Maria land grant, several smaller ranches occupied the remote area when the government took it over in 1941 for an Army base. Early in 1942, armored and infantry troops began training at what became known as Camp Cooke. The camp also held German and Italian POWs. Click here to read the article. (3/22)

Space Shuttle Stowaway Is a Commie Mole (Source: Wall Street Journal)
When astronaut Andrew Feustel blasts off for the International Space Station in April, he'll be taking along a special friend: a Czech toy called Krtek the Little Mole. The Little Mole—actually, an eight-inch plush version engineered to meet NASA specifications—will be making one giant step for Czech pop culture during a two-week voyage to the International Space Station.

Krtek, pronounced KUR-tek, was created in the 1950s by Czech animator Zdenek Miler and quickly became a children's cartoon favorite, spreading across the Communist world, from Eastern Europe to Cuba, Vietnam and China. By the late 1960s, Krtek, which his big eyes, a red nose and three strands of hair sprouting from the top of his head—had vaulted over the Iron Curtain to Western Europe, and animated films featuring the Little Mole became a major source of hard-currency earnings for Czechoslovakia. (3/22)

Posey to Host Entrepreneur Summit in Brevard County on May 17 (Source: Rep. Posey)
Congressman Bill Posey (R-FL) will host another Entrepreneur Summit in Brevard County to continue efforts to bring together various entrepreneurs from across the 15th Congressional District to showcase their innovative technologies to the public and potential investors. The Entrepreneur Summit will take place in the Hartley Room at the Denius Student Center of the Florida Institute of Technology on May 17. Applications can be obtained by contacting Pamela Gillespie with Congressman Bill Posey’s Office at 321-632-1776. (3/22)

Tumlinson: Kill the Congressional Launch Vehicle (Source: Space News)
It is good to see some in the NASA leadership embrace new transportation systems to/from Earth orbit that are financially responsible, create jobs, and show faith in the concept of the “Made in the U.S.A.” It is sad to see others in NASA, old aerospace and their pals in Congress (including so-called fiscally conservative Republicans) are pushing hard for billions to be spent on projects that are being canceled, supporting the Russians, and placing huge down payments on giant socialist spaceships we aren’t even sure we need — and that if we did would be better and much more cheaply developed commercially.

The main battle right now is over what some call the Heavy-lift Launch Vehicle (HLV), wherein NASA would design and cost-plus contractors would build a new version of the Saturn 5 to carry mythical someday payloads between 70 and 130 tons into orbit to support old Apollo-style “carry your house on your back” exploration missions (the size depends on who you talk to and which day of the week they are asked).

[This would] waste billions on dead-end jobs, set up the government to compete with the private sector and create a cost-heavy, unsustainable program that eventually will collapse, leaving flags and footprints and few museum pieces behind as its legacy — if anything gets built at all. Kill the Congressional Launch Vehicle. Let’s do this right — and open the frontier. Editor's Note: Tumlinson is a consultant to the Virginia spaceport effort, which would not benefit from a government HLV but could flourish without it. (3/22)

Florida Teams Compete in Great Moonbuggy Race (Sources: Space Daily, SPACErePORT)
NASA's 18th annual NASA Great Moonbuggy Race, set for April 1-2 in Huntsville, challenges high school and college teams to design, build and race lightweight, human-powered rovers - "moonbuggies" - which address many of the same engineering challenges dealt with by Apollo-era lunar rover developers in the late 1960s. Teams include U.S. high school, college and university students from 22 states and Puerto Rico; and international challengers from six countries.

Each Moonbuggy will be human powered and carry two students, one female and one male, over a half-mile simulated lunar terrain course including "craters", rocks, "lava" ridges, inclines and "lunar" soil. The top three winning teams in each division (one high school division and one college division) will be those having the shortest total times in assembling their moonbuggies and traversing the terrain course.

A total of eighty-four teams will compete, including five from Florida colleges and high schools. The Florida teams included two from Jupiter High School, two from the University of Central Florida, and one from North Florida Community College. Click here for a list of all the teams, and information on the event. (3/22)

Tallahassee Update: Space Bills Moving Forward (SPACErePORT)
A collection of space-focused bills are currently winding their way through the legislative process in Tallahassee. The most significant is the Space Business Incentives Act (HB-873 and SB-1224), which will be considered by a key House committee this week and is awaiting its second hearing assignment in the Senate. Also moving forward in the House are an R&D Tax Credit (HB-671) and an Aerospace Jobs & Tuition Tax Credit (HB-143), both of which have yet to be heard in the Senate.

A Spaceflight Informed Consent bill (SB-652) will be considered in the Senate this week but not the House. Meanwhile, Space Florida's budget differs significantly in the two chambers. The House budget includes only $7.8 million (non-recurring General Revenue) for Space Florida, while the Senate includes $10.1 million (recurring General Revenue). (Gov. Scott requests $10.04 million for Space Florida in his budget proposal.)

There's also an effort underway to amend a transportation bill to include spaceport infrastructure alongside airport, seaport and rail infrastructure. The bill would focus the state's future transportation infrastructure spending on projects that support economic development. (3/22)

Gates Orders Job Cuts as Part of Pentagon Savings Plan (Source: AIA)
Defense Secretary Robert Gates sent a memo March 14 ordering the Pentagon to cut hundreds of civilian jobs, more than 1,000 contractors and up to 140 generals and admirals in an effort to save $13.6 billion between 2012 and 2016. Some predict the savings may not be seen, however, because, for instance, some personnel changes already appear to be in place. (3/21)

Planetary Exploration Suit Will Be Tested In Antarctica (Source: Space Daily)
University of North Dakota aerospace engineer and researcher Pablo de Leon is part of a unique mission to test a UND planetary exploration suit - the NDX-1 - at a remote military base in Antarctica. The team departed for the Antarctic base from an Argentine Air Force site earlier this week. The team is expected to spend seven to 10 days at the Marambio Station, Argentina's main Antarctic base, to conduct a variety of tests with the NDX-1 planetary exploration suit system. (3/21)

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