March 24, 2011

Earth-Orbiting Satellites Track Ballistic Missile from Start to Finish (Source: AIA)
Northrop Grumman says two of its low Earth-orbiting demonstration satellites have for the first time accomplished the "Holy Grail" of missile defense in detecting and tracking a ballistic missile launch from start to finish and through all phases of flight. The tracking is said to be the most significant achievement to date for the Space Tracking and Surveillance System spacecraft. (3/24)

Are You A Martian? (Source: Space Daily)
Are we all Martians? According to many planetary scientists, it's conceivable that all life on Earth is descended from organisms that originated on Mars and were carried here aboard meteorites. If that's the case, an instrument being developed by researchers at MIT and Harvard could provide the clinching evidence. In order to detect signs of past or present life on Mars - if it is in fact true that we're related - then a promising strategy would be to search for DNA or RNA, and specifically for particular sequences of these molecules that are nearly universal in all forms of terrestrial life. (3/24)

Atlas 5 to Carry Next WorldView Satellite From Vandenberg (Source: Lompoc Record)
A commercial Earth-imaging satellite will ride to space aboard an Atlas 5 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in 2014, the second nongovernment mission acquired for the West Coast booster in the past six months. Lockheed Martin, announced Tuesday that DigitalGlobe had picked Atlas 5 to launch that company’s next-generation, high-resolution Earth-imaging satellite, WorldView-3. The satellite is scheduled to launch in 2014 from Vandenberg. This will be DigitalGlobe’s fourth commercial imaging satellite to launch from Vandenberg with the previous spacecraft flying on Delta 2 rockets. However, that booster’s future is up in the air. (3/24)

SAIC Announces Financial Results for Fourth Quarter and FY-2011 (Source: SAIC)
SAIC announced financial results for the fourth quarter and fiscal year 2011, which ended January 31, 2011. Revenues for the quarter were $2.77 billion, up 3 percent from $2.68 billion in the prior year quarter. Full-year revenues were $11.1 billion, up 2 percent from fiscal year 2010. Income from continuing operations for the quarter was $132 million, up 7 percent from $123 million in the prior year quarter. Full-year income from continuing operations was $569 million, up 14 percent from $500 million in the prior fiscal year. (3/24)

Secretary Salazar Charts Future for Landsat Satellite Program (Source: USGS)
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced plans to make the Department of the Interior the permanent manager of the Landsat series of Earth observation satellites. Under the plans announced by Secretary Salazar and included in the President’s 2012 budget submission, the Department of the Interior’s United States Geological Survey (USGS) will become the permanent budgetary and managerial home for future Landsat satellite missions, a recommendation that was also endorsed by the past Administration. (3/24)

Editorial: Riding with Russia (Source: Florida Today)
Congress should stop the rhetoric and act to fund private US rocket firms. When NASA’s space shuttle fleet is soon retired, the US will have only one way to ferry astronauts to orbit: Hitching a ride to the International Space Station aboard Russia’s dependable Soyuz space taxis. And the price of those flights has just gone up —- again -- to about $63 million a seat. In all, it’s a 31 percent increase since 2007.

In the hyper-partisan climate in Congress, the announcement brought familiar criticism from Republicans that the Obama administration is ceding U.S. human spaceflight to Russia. That’s far from the truth. President Bush made the call to fly U.S. astronauts aboard Russian rockets as part of his decision in 2004 to end the shuttle program in 2010 without having a new American rocket ready to replace the orbiters.

The rhetoric accomplishes nothing, further poisoning the atmosphere when level-headed bipartisan leadership is necessary to steer NASA through the post-shuttle transition. The fastest way to end our dependence on Russia is for Congress to stop its endless fighting and reach a sensible compromise on a federal spending and deficit reduction plan. (3/24)

Studies Focusing on Shuttle-Derived Heavy-Lift Versus Saturn-Heritage Rocket (Source:
With a Shuttle Derived (SD) Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle (HLV) still leading the way via ongoing evaluations into the configuration of the Space Launch System (SLS), an evolvable vehicle – which can be delivered on time and on cost – is undergoing final refinements. It is understood that the only real competitor at this stage is based around a Saturn V heritage HLV. The effort is being undertaken by a large set of people, centralized at the Human Exploration Framework Team (HEFT) – now renamed to Human Exploration Architecture Team (HEAT).

Spread out over three teams, the RAC-1 team are tasked with studying in-line, LH2 core vehicles with Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB). The team is allowed to trade Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs) with RS-68s, while also trading SRBs with Liquid Rocket Boosters (LRBs), in order to ensure they have the best configuration to battle with the other HLV candidates. RAC-2 is evaluating a Saturn V-type vehicle, utilizing an RP-1 first stage and LH2 second stage. Like RAC-1, the team was allowed to trade different engine options (including SpaceX’s Falcon XX – a huge vehicle powered by six Merlin 2 engines).

RAC-3 studied vehicle designs based around several options, such as EELVs, with a large amount of latitude to study different tank sizes, including the evaluation of clusters of Atlas-sized tanks similar to how the Saturn IB first stage was built. Although RAC-3 is still in work, two specific vehicle configurations from both RAC-1 and RAC-2 are being noted as the two leading contenders at this stage of the evaluations – which has around six weeks to run. (3/24)

AsiaSat Shrugs Off Dip in China Business (Source: Space News)
Satellite fleet operator AsiaSat of Hong Kong on March 24 reported double-digit increases in revenue and profit for 2010 and said 2011 is shaping up to be another good year in the Asia-Pacific region. AsiaSat, which operates four satellites in orbit including an aging satellite leased to Israel’s Spacecom, said its results improved across the board despite the fact that its business among Chinese customers dropped slightly compared to 2009. (3/24)

Russia's New Angara Rockets to be Test Launched Before 2014 (Source: RIA Novosti)
Test launches of Russia's new generation Angara booster rockets will begin no later than 2013, a spokesman for the Russian Space Forces sa Alexei Zolotukhin said work to build on-ground infrastructure of the space complex for launches of Angara carrier rockets is currently in active stage at Russia's northern space center Plesetsk.

Angara rockets, designed to provide lifting capabilities between 2,000 and 40,500 kg into low earth orbit, are expected to become the core of Russia's carrier rocket fleet, replacing several existing systems. The rockets have a modular design similar to the U.S. Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV), based on a common Universal Rocket Module (URM).

The main purpose of the Angara rocket family is to give Russia independent access to space. The rockets will reduce Russia's dependence on the Baikonur space center it leases from Kazakhstan by allowing the launch of heavy payloads from more northerly sites such as Plesetsk and from a new space center in Russia's Far East. (3/24)

Mutant Microbes Test Radiation Resistance (Source: Astrobiology)
Early Earth lacked an ozone layer to act as a shield against high-energy solar radiation, but microbes flourished by adapting to or finding other forms of protection from the higher ultraviolet radiation levels. Now researchers have begun testing modern microbes to see if they could act as pioneers in the harsh conditions of extraterrestrial space and other planetary environments.

One such study from last year looked at Bacillus subtilis, a common soil bacterium which has become a model organism for experiments and holds the record for space survival after spending six years on NASA's Long Duration Exposure Facility spacecraft. The ordinary microbe proved capable of evolving a resistance to UV radiation of up to 3 times higher than that of the original ancestor or a non-UV-exposed group, after 700 generations lived and died in an Earth-based lab experiment.

By comparing the radiation-resistant mutants with their ancestor and the non-UV-exposed group, researchers could almost be certain that their adaptation to UV did not come from a UV-resistant specimen hiding among the original bacteria population. "The significance is that a single organism is actively capable of reacting and adapting to changes in its environment," said Marko Wassmann of the Institute of Aerospace Medicine in Germany. (3/24)

No Vision = No Innovation (Source: Blogging Innovation)
My son shocked my wife last night by announcing that he didn’t think the space program had anything to offer mankind. He had been assigned a paper in his middle school English class in which he needed to make a provocative point and sustain his argument with facts. He decided to examine space flight and whether or not NASA would contribute valuable insights and technologies to mankind. This from a kid who takes his telescope out on clear nights to look at the Moon, and Mars and Venus.

I was convinced by his argument. The problem that NASA faces isn’t that there aren't interesting things to learn and discover, it’s that NASA doesn’t have a clear objective or vision for what it is supposed to do. And I think that lack of vision is an incredible corollary for many businesses, who desperately want more innovation but just can’t seem to do innovation well. NASA lacks a vision and mission, and therefore can’t justify large investments. With small goals and small investments, we become familiar with the small achievements. (3/24)

NASA Begins Preparation for a Mission to Land Astronauts on Asteroids (Source:
Astronauts are lining up to be candidates for an extreme trip of a lifetime. In a press conference, NASA released the details of its plan to land astronauts on an asteroid by 2025. And while "planetary defense" is the most exciting of several reasons why NASA could be undertaking the mission, the agency says it isn't planning a Bruce Willis kamikaze mission.

That kind of drama and intrigue is reserved for Hollywood, said Dr Paul Abell, NASA’s lead scientist for planetary small bodies. “This is going to be an exciting endeavor but not quite that dramatic. It’s going to happen a little bit more slowly.” The mission is designed to garner new information about the potential to harvest resources from asteroids, as well as the origin of life as we know it.

NASA won’t be able to land a spacecraft on the asteroid directly however, as most asteroids have a very weak gravitational field. That makes things a little tricky, because asteroids travel at speeds ranging from 54,000 to 90,000km/h. The spacecraft is going to have to travel at the exact same speed as the asteroid while the astronauts deploy to and from it to collect samples and conduct experiments. (3/24)

The Budget: Beam Me Up, Scotland as Spaceport Hopes Rise (Source: Scotsman)
The prospect of space tourists blasting off from Scotland received an unexpected boost in the UK budget, which contained measures to facilitate plans to set up a launch site in Lossiemouth. RAF Lossiemouth in Moray has been earmarked as a potential launch point for Sir Richard Branson's proposed Virgin Galactic civilian space flights, but the project has been delayed due to restrictive insurance rules.

However, Chancellor George Osborne's Budget document set out plans to "alter the regulations" about insuring the scheme in "light of the Lossiemouth possibilities". The Budget document identified "the need for a change in regulation of insurance about satellite and space operations at Lossiemouth" and added: "Current regulations that permit insurance of satellite operations of over £100 million are excessively restrictive." (3/24)

Inmarsat Welcomes UK Chancellor's Budget for the Space Industry (Source: Inmarsat)
Inmarsat comments on the very positive endorsement for the UK Space Industry in the Chancellor's Growth Report to accompany the Budget, including changes to The Outer Space Act removing unlimited liability on operators to encourage companies like Inmarsat and Virgin Galactic to be based in UK, considerably reducing insurance costs, encouraging operators to base themselves in UK, and aiming to have a 10% share of a $400 billion global industry by 2030. (3/23)

More Science, Less Fiction at Moscow’s Space Tourist Center (Source: Globe and Mail)
Just a couple of hours’ drive outside Moscow, reality and expectation were breaching each other’s orbit. The tree-lined entrance to the space-age-sounding Star City looked decidedly low-tech, but like other space tourists before me, it was a thrill just to approach the formerly top-secret Yuri Gagarin State Scientific Research-and-Testing Cosmonaut Training Center.

The squat, brick buildings have seen better days. Weeds crack through concrete pavement, the paint is chipped, the shrubs overgrown. My guide, Marina, one of several hundred personnel left in a facility that once housed thousands, seems slightly embarrassed, as if she personally should have cleaned up. If I had a couple thousand dollars, I could pay for a spin in the world’s largest and most powerful centrifuge.

I might have been expecting a theme park, but Star City is a serious endeavour at the forefront of science, and the era of space tourism. Shown around the training facility, I might have been walking the assembly line of a Model T Ford factory. (3/23)

International Launch Services Blasts Rival's Subsidy (Source: Washington Business Journal)
Reston-based International Launch Services (ILS) is protesting a recent $318 million subsidy to its chief competitor by the European Space Agency. ILS is a subsidiary of a Moscow-based rocket manufacturer that has carried out satellite launches for companies like Sirius XM Radio, Dish Network and LightSquared out of the former Soviet spaceport in Kazakhstan.

ILS has cried foul over the “inordinate and direct subsidization” of rival Arianespace, the world’s top commercial launch provider. The latest in a string of subsidies, the European Space Agency voted March 17 to pump 240 million euros into the money-losing Arianespace so it can continue to use the company’s Ariane 5 rocket as its principle launch vehicle. The Ariane 5 launches from a spaceport in French Guiana.

ILS President Frank McKenna said that decision “dis-incentivizes cost reduction and efficiencies, prevents other launch providers from competing on a level playing field, deters new providers from entering the market and is detrimental to the long-term health of the commercial launch industry.” ILS said it plans to file a complaint over the subsidies with the EU’s governing commission and is evaluating whether to file suit through the World Trade Organization. (3/23)

Bolden Comments on Placement of Retired Shuttle Orbiters (Source: KTRK))
There is no way to make it easy. In the end, the four places that have an orbiter sitting there will be places that were very deserving, representative of a cross section of America," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. The choice will ultimately be made by Bolden. "If I were not the NASA administrator, I would say the places that should get an orbiter are Houston, the Cape (Canaveral)," Bolden told us. "Any place that played a vital role in the design, development and operation of space shuttle."

That said, Bolden is the NASA administrator and he says it's a difficult decision, one based primarily on: the number of people facilities can prove might see the orbiters; whether they can pay the $28 million tab to "safe" and house each vehicle; and an area's ties to shuttle and space flight. But there's only three shuttles left that have flown in space. There is actually a fourth vehicle if you figure in the Enterprise, a craft used for tests but one which never flew in space.

"Even if I use that as criteria, I don't have enough orbiters. I have four. I can think of six to 10 places that really ought to get one," Bolden said. He says his decision will be announced April 12 on the 30th anniversary of the first shuttle flight. (3/23)

Space Shuttle, Station Pioneer Remembers Exploration Dream that Faded (Source: AFSPC)
Dr. Hans Mark, former Secretary of the Air Force and Deputy Administrator of NASA explained the shuttle was originally conceived as part of a larger program of exploration, first articulated in 1952. "The idea was that there would be a space station that would be a staging base to go from the Earth to other places in the solar system," said Dr. Mark, who was director of NASA's Ames Research Center in 1968. "Then, there would be a vehicle to would go back and forth to the space station; that would be the space shuttle."

As the Apollo program was coming to a close, three groups made recommendations on the future of manned space flight to President Nixon in 1970. One group recommended the building of a space station and space shuttles for $24 billion over 10 to 12 years, about the same budget the Apollo program had received to put men on the moon. The President agreed with their proposal, but told NASA to, "do it for half," or about $12 billion, Dr. Mark said. With a smaller budget, NASA decided to build the space shuttle first, as it was the most technically challenging part of the program.

The original shuttle designs were very similar to the design we know today, but they incorporated jet engines to help the shuttle land. "No one thought at the time that we could 'dead stick' a big airplane back from Earth orbit," Dr. Mark said. The shuttle program suffered another setback in 1971, when Nixon cut the program budget to $6 billion. Soon after, the Air Force became involved and military requirements led to NASA changing their plans for a straight wing to the now-familiar delta wing, allowing the shuttle to land near its original launch site after only one orbit. (3/24)

Satellite Operators Boost Launch Competition (Source: Aviation Week)
The decision by SES to launch a medium-size geostationary communications satellite on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket marks another effort by satellite operators to add to their bottom lines by taking a tight-fisted approach to the prices they pay for launch services. SES has also entered a “framework understanding” with Sea Launch as the latter emerges from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection that could see the ocean-going Sea Launch Odyssey again lofting SES spacecraft.

In addition to assigning SpaceX what could be the startup’s first mission to geostationary transfer orbit, SES also suggested that satellite electric propulsion-—previously used for station-keeping in orbit-—could be added to the launch-cost equation. “You don’t need to have these large launch vehicles to launch mid-size satellites, but you can do it more efficiently by using smaller launch vehicles and combining the capabilities of these launch vehicles with electric propulsion [for transfer to GEO],” an SES official says.

“Falcon 9 ideally complements our roster of Ariane 5 and Proton boosters, as well as our framework launch understanding with Sea Launch,” Bausch says, adding that SES engineers conducted “extensive due diligence” before deciding to put the SES-8 spacecraft on the new rocket. 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. (3/23)

NASA Still Ordered to Waste $1.4 Million a Day (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Congress has again failed to rid a temporary spending bill of language forcing NASA to waste $1.4 million a day on its defunct Constellation moon program. Though Congress passed a new stopgap spending bill last week, the measure retained a leftover provision from the 2010 budget that bars the agency from shutting down Constellation, which Congress and the White House agreed to cancel last October.

This so-called "Shelby provision" -— named for U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-AL, who inserted it into the 2010 budget —- is expected to cost NASA roughly $29 million during the three-week budget extension through April 8. It has already cost the agency nearly $250 million since Oct. 1. Equally galling to budget hawks is that Congress has known about the mistake for months and has done nothing to correct it. "It's like a dripping faucet, eventually it will fill up the sink," said Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense.

More than two months ago, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., vowed to cut the language: "Given that every dime counts in our space program right now, we can't afford to be wasting money," he said on Jan. 13. He repeated the promise during a hearing last week. But the language is still there. A Nelson spokesman blamed "partisan politics." "There's no real opposition to Sen. Nelson's proposal to remove the language... except that lawmakers aren't able to agree on longer-term budget cuts. Still, Sen. Nelson is convinced the problem will be fixed, and soon." (3/24)

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