March 6, 2011

Next Up at the Cape: Delta-4 with Spy Satellite (Source:
A United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket will launch a classified spy satellite for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office. The rocket will fly in the Medium+ (4,2) configuration with two solid rocket boosters. Liftoff is scheduled for Friday, March 11. The launch time has not been released. (3/6)

Discovery Forecast: Landing Wednesday in a Florida Breeze (Source: Florida Today)
An early weather forecast for the planned lunchtime landing Wednesday of shuttle Discovery calls for windy conditions at Kennedy Space Center that nonetheless are within limits. Discovery and its six astronauts are scheduled to make the orbiter's final landing at 11:58 a.m. Wednesday -- 12 days, 19 hours and five minutes after their Feb. 24 launch. There will be a second opportunity to land at KSC on Wednesday at 1:34 p.m. (3/6)

Texas Lawmakers Dislike NASA Focus on Commercial Crew Development (Source: The Hill)
“I am concerned that the future of our space program is in serious jeopardy,” said chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX), noting the Obama administration's budget requests 31 percent less funding for manned spaceflight than mandated by the NASA Authorization Act of 2010. The request increases funding for the commercial spaceflight industry by more than $700 million, a 70 percent increase over the bill passed by Congress.

“Commercial crew was not ignored, but to be perfectly clear, it was not – and is not – Congress’ first priority," Hall said. "Yet the Administration’s FY2012 budget proposal completely flips the priorities of the Act, significantly increasing Commercial Crew funding while making deep cuts to the Human Exploration Capabilities accounts which Congress clearly intended to serve as our assured access to space.”

Hall was joined in his criticism by ranking member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), who said she was disappointed by the president's budget request. “I had thought that the Administration agreed with the compromise that was enacted into law, but I am afraid that I do not see it reflected in the proposed NASA budget request," Johnson said. (3/5)

NASA Scientist Claim of 'Alien Life' Draws Scrutiny (Source: Space Daily)
A NASA scientist's claim that he found tiny fossils of alien life in the remnants of a meteorite has stirred both excitement and skepticism, and is being closely reviewed by 100 experts. Richard Hoover's paper, along with pictures of the microscopic earthworm-like creatures, were published late Friday in the peer-reviewed Journal of Cosmology. Hoover sliced open fragments of several types of carbonaceous chondrite meteorites, which can contain relatively high levels of water and organic materials, and looked inside with a powerful microscope. (3/6)

NASA Reels From Climate Science Setbacks (Source: Space Daily)
A pair of costly satellite crashes have dealt a major blow to NASA's earth science efforts just as the US space agency faces scrutiny from Congress over whether climate science should be part of its focus at all. The $424 million Glory satellite to monitor aerosols and the sun's power plunged into the Pacific on Friday shortly after launch, just two years after a similar satellite to study carbon dioxide in the atmosphere met the same fate.

"The loss of the Glory satellite is a tragedy for climate science," said Bruce Wielicki, senior scientist for earth science at NASA's Langley Research Center. "The time to heal a lost space mission is typically three to seven years depending on budgets and how many spare parts remain from the last instrument builds," he said. Glory "was directed very specifically at the place where our knowledge was weakest," he said. (3/6)

Alabama Pols: Let Others Sacrifice to Reduce Deficit (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The Huntsville Times takes a look at the love-hate relationship that Alabama’s elected officials have toward the federal government which they are determined to cut back on while squeezing every possible cent out of it to benefit their own constituents. Despite their calls to make sacrifices to reduce the national deficit, they are determined to make sure their state doesn’t do so. The reason is fairly simple:

“There is no entity more important” to Huntsville than the federal government, [Rep. Mo] Brooks said, noting that the military and NASA support some 38,000 jobs in the area. “No city within a country mile” rivals Huntsville’s federal ties, according to Sen. Jeff Sessions. He added that Redstone Arsenal has a $2.9 billion payroll – nearly double the $1.57 billion General Fund budget for the entire state of Alabama.

“The federal government is very important to us. It’s a major part of our economic engine,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. In other words, the local economy would essentially collapse without massive federal spending that these guys otherwise profess to hate. They rationalize this position by saying that the spending is crucial to the nation. (3/6)

Kepler Finds Cohabitating Planets (Source: Sky & Telescope)
When the science team for NASA's Kepler mission released data last month on nearly 1,200 candidate planets around other stars, it set off a feeding frenzy among dynamicists eager to test theories of solar-system formation. Especially tantalizing are the surprisingly common multiple-planet systems: 115 doubles, 45 triples, 8 quads, 1 quintuple, and 1 sextuple. Since Kepler detects planets as they transit their host stars, most of its candidates have very tight orbits, taking only days to a few weeks to complete each revolution. (3/6)

Russia, U.S. Space Men Take Exams at Star City Space Center (Source: Xinhua)
Click here for a collection of photos of U.S. and Russian astronauts and cosmonauts as they train at Russia's Star City complex. (3/6)

On the Ultimate Mission to Mercury (Source: Guardian)
In a few days, a space probe the size of a fridge will fly over the surface of Mercury, the nearest planet to the sun, and slip into orbit round this baffling little world. The $450 million robot spaceship Messenger will then spend a year collecting data about the planet's surface, its thin atmosphere and its powerful magnetic field.

The encounter will be the first in which a probe has actually been put in orbit round Mercury and should transform our understanding of its geology and chemistry. Previous missions have merely flown past Mercury and collected data that have provided scientists with a tantalizing snapshot of a world of striking oddities and unusual features. (3/6)

Boeing Revival As Satellite Market Softens (Source: Aviation Week)
The return in force of Boeing to the weakening communications satellite market has rival manufacturers scrambling for the right response. Boeing’s return, after a long absence related to poor program execution, lack of a suitable mid-range product and over-reliance on the military market, is all the more significant because it straddles all three of the industry’s major segments—fixed satellite service (FSS), mobile satellite service (MSS) and broadband.

In late December, the company landed a $1 billion order to supply a three-satellite MSS/FSS satellite system to the Mexican government, primarily based on its big 702HP bus. The award followed a deal last August to build three Ka-band MSS units for Inmarsat’s new Global Xpress broadband network, also based on the 702HP, and a four-spacecraft sale to FSS operator Intelsat in 2009 that draws on a new medium-power 702MP Boeing developed to broaden its market reach. (3/6)

India's Next PSLV to be Launched Around April 10 (Source: The Hindu)
After a two-month delay, the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C16) will be launched around April 10 to put Resourcesat-2 and two other satellites into orbit. The PSLV-C16 was to have lifted off from Sriharikota in the first week of February, but the failure of the Geo-stationary Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV-F06) on December 25, 2010, and the S-band spectrum scam that hit the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) this year have cast a long shadow over it. (3/6)

Andrews Space Awarded USAF Reusable Booster System Study Contract (Source: Andrews)
Andrews Space has been awarded a contract by the Air Force (USAF) to study higher risk aspects of the Air Force's proposed Reusable Booster System. The USAF is studying Reusable Booster System (RBS) technologies and operations concepts to better define future risk reduction flight demonstration requirements. The RBS consists of a reusable first stage booster and an expendable upper-stage stack. The RBS is expected to reduce launch costs by at least 50% at a nominal flight rate of eight per year.

Under the RBS contract Andrews will evaluate the optimal staging conditions and approach for flying the reusable first stage back to the launch site. In addition, Andrews will analyze and optimize the staging maneuver and identify options for safely recovering the payload in the event of an abort. "In addition, we are currently under contract to NASA to evaluate Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle architectures and propulsion technologies," said Jason Andrews. "We are looking at possible areas for propulsion or technology synergy between the NASA and USAF efforts." (3/6)

Space Tourism Finally Lifting Off, But Prices Can be Sky High (Source: Palm Beach Post)
Over the past decade-plus there has been a burgeoning interest in space travel for the average Joe or Jane. Well, maybe not for the financially average Joe or Jane, but for the well-heeled traveler who wants a firsthand experience of “what’s out there.” Some of these opportunities rely on cooperative efforts with the governments of nations around the globe, including Russia.

Other programs are fueled by the imaginations of those in private industry with pocketbooks that seem as deep as black holes. All have a desire to create a space tourist industry on solid terrestrial ground. Private projects include those focused on supplying the International Space Station with supplies, getting U.S. astronauts to Mars or purely recreational space travel with the space tourist in mind. To that end, all that’s required is a dream of flying into space, plenty of disposable income and a body fit for the trip.

To be sure, none of the options available right now will get you to the moon. But if you’ve got the cash — ranging from $20 million or more to less than $5,000 — space travel, or at least a chance to experience the space-age charms of zero gravity, is no longer a fantasy. Click here to read the article. (3/6)

Senate Proposes $18.5 Billion CR for NASA, Takes Aim at Space Technology (Source: Space Politics)
The Senate Appropriations Committee released on Friday highlights of its proposed continuing resolution (CR) for the remainder of FY-11, a response to the House version, HR 1, that passed last month. Under the Senate bill NASA would get $18.539 billion, $461 million less than the $19 billion requested by the administration over a year ago and later authorized by Congress in the NASA authorization act.

That amount, though, is $412 million more than what the House provided for NASA in HR 1. ($298 million of the difference is the amendment approved by the House to transfer money from NASA to a community policing program within the Justice Department.) It appears that space technology will bear the brunt of the Senate’s proposed cut. “At this level, NASA will not be provided any funds for new long-range space technology research activities that have the potential to lead to new discoveries and new technologies that could improve life on Earth,” a committee release said.

A separate release by the Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) subcommittee also states that the proposed CR “Does not provide for requested, but new, long-range space technology research activities.” The administration had requested $572.2 million for Space Technology in its original FY-11 budget request and the authorization act approved $350 million for Space Technology. (3/4)

Space Mishaps, Past and Present (Source: Telegraph)
NASA's latest botched attempt to send the Glory satellite into space is just the latest mishap in the history of space travel. Here we look back at other recent blunders in the business of star-gazing. In another embarrassing launch failure, a NASA space balloon crashed into a car during takeoff in the Australian outback, narrowly missing a crowd of spectators. The balloon was intended to be carried to 25 miles altitude, where it would be used to conduct astrophysics experiments, and was carrying over £6 million of equipment.

A 1999 experiment designed to simulate the conditions of a mission to Mars had to be terminated after a Canadian astronaut complained that her Russian team captain had forcibly kissed her. She also claimed two Russian crew members had a fist fight that left blood spattered on the walls. Russian officials at the Moscow-based Institute for Medical and Biological Problems downplayed the incidents, attributing them to cultural differences and stress.

Ahead of the Soyuz launch in December 2010, Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli, who was the first European citizen to visit the International Space Station in 1997, criticized the over-boiled pasta he was served for breakfast. "The problem is that, as Italians, we have a very strict way of eating, and that breakfast broke every single rule that we have," Mr Nespoli said at the Baikonur launch site in Kazakhstan. (3/5)

Perminov: Russia Stands Ready to Help Make Space Tourism a Reality (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Roscosmos Head Anatoly Perminov said his country’s engineers stand ready to help commercial space tourism and station operators domestically and in the United States make their vehicles safe and reliable. “Roscosmos does not build space hotels. This is done by different commercial organizations supported by Roscosmos. As experts, we are in position to provide our assistance to the project funded not by the Government, in order to enhance their reliability,” Perminov said.

Within Russia, a consortium led by RSC Energia is pursuing the construction of a human-tended commercial space station that would be used for tourism, experiments and other purposes. This station would be serviced by Soyuz transports and Progress freighters. Roscosmos has suspended its space tourism flights to the International Space Station due to increased demand for its Soyuz spacecraft, Perminov said. The space agency will ramp up production of the transports so it can begin tourism flights to ISS in a couple of years.

A private Russian space station would further increase demand for Soyuz transports. However, by the time it is ready to launch, the U.S. is likely to have fielded alternative transports that will reduce the demand on Soyuz vehicles for ISS duty, resulting in excess capacity to accommodate commercial stations. (3/5)

Entrepreneurs Could Fire Up the Moribund Space Program (Source: The Daily)
Lunar colonies. Undersea cities. Intelligent robots. Mile-high skyscrapers. Flying cars. Read almost any mid-century sci-fi novel on life in the early 21st century and you’ll find stunning descriptions of a super-advanced interplanetary civilization that never came to be. We use technologies that our grandparents would find clever and convenient, and not much more than that. The Internet and wired mobile devices have tied us together in new and wonderful ways, but instantaneous communication has been around since the telegraph.

The main thing we do better than past generations is stuff calorie-dense food-like substances into compact microwavable packages, thus making it much easier for us to balloon in size. A time traveler would naturally assume that sumo wrestling had replaced baseball as the national pastime. And why has the future proven so underwhelming? Ask the good people at NASA, who’ve managed to deaden the pioneering spirit that made America great.

As Discovery shuttle astronauts putter around the Space Station, performing a variety of useless tasks best handled by primitive machines, one marvels at how our manned space program went from the romance of Apollo to this seedy debacle. Later this year, after the final launches of Endeavour and Atlantis, NASA will finally put the shuttle program out of its misery, and not a moment too soon. The three decades NASA has devoted to making these glorified deathtraps work have been a monumental waste of taxpayer dollars and a serious setback to the cause of space exploration. (3/5)

NASA Launches 2011 Nationwide Technology Space Competition (Source:
A do-it-yourself technology space competition sponsored by NASA's Emerging Commercialization Space Office kicked off recently. Make Magazine, a do-it-yourself publication for technology, is partnering with Teachers in Space to help develop space science kits that high-school teachers can build and fly on suborbital flights. The project's ultimate goal is to develop the next generation of technology leaders. For more information about the NASA-Make Challenge, visit (3/5)

Russia Sticks to the Basics as America Gets Spaced Out (Source: Times Live)
There's this joke that has been doing the rounds since the dawn of the Space Age, in the late '50s. It's about NASA spending a decade and $12-billion developing a pen for astronauts - the ink needing to flow to the nib somehow in conditions of zero gravity. The punch line is that the Russians saved billions on their space program by equipping their Cosmonauts with a pencil.

The joke has now acquired an unexpected layer with the announcement that NASA will be retiring its entire aging space shuttle fleet by June. One of the last scientific studies to be undertaken during Discovery's last voyage -- and one which, no doubt, will greatly benefit humankind -- is that Canadian researchers will tickle the feet of the six crew members on their return; they did this before takeoff, too, and the aim is to find out which skin receptors are "most influenced by weightlessness".

And here's where the joke comes in: from July, if the US needs to get its astronauts into space, it will have to bum a lift with the Russians on an updated version of the R-7 rocket - the same one that helped to launch Sputnik, the former Soviet Union's first satellite, in 1957. But things have changed dramatically in world politics since then, with the US's global influence waning steadily with the rise of China, Russia and India, and the shifting politics of the Arab world. And so it has come to pass that the R-7 is the pencil. (3/5)

South Africa, Australia Battle for the Stars (Source: Times Live)
As the South African and Australian cricket rugby teams prepare to do battle in the world cup this month, the countries are also competing for access to the stars. The two are bidding to host the 1.5 billion euro Square Kilometer Array (SKA) telescope, and on Friday Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor urged South Africans to get behind their bid to persuade a 16-nation consortium to build the core of the radio telescope in the Northern Cape, near Carnarvon in the Karoo.

South Africa was partnering with eight African countries to build the SKA. Australia had proposed Boolardy Station, about 800km north east of Perth as its core site. Scientists are now comparing radio interference at both sites, as well as the cost of building and operating the telescope. South Africa had been relatively quiet with its bid, while the Australians had been lobbying aggressively. (3/5)

U.S. Public Space Efforts Out of Whack (Source: IT Wire)
The U.S. government doesn’t seem to understand that successful space policy involves keeping talented employees working. With the space shuttle program on its last leg before retirement later this year, there are fewer opportunities for its astronauts. Many astronauts over the past several years have seen the “big picture” and have tendered their resignations. They are off to bigger and better positions.

Astronauts leaving NASA are not isolated occurrences. Contractor companies for NASA, such as United Space Alliance (USA), are terminating employment left and right as the space shuttle program is retired, and nothing is in place to replace it, at least not in the near term. In Houston, whole departments that were once hundreds of people are now down to a very few. NASA no longer needs these employees. (3/5)

U.S. Military's Mini Space Shuttle Lifts Off from Florida on Atlas-5 (Source: Reuters)
A prototype miniature space shuttle blasted off aboard an unmanned Atlas 5 rocket from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport on Saturday for a demonstration run that could last as long as nine months. The experimental vehicle, known as the Orbital Test Vehicle, or OTV, lifted off at 5:46 p.m. EST. It is the second ship to be put in space under the U.S. military's X-37 program.

The vehicles are 29 feet long, 14 feet across. They are solar powered, unlike the space shuttles, and are not designed to carry people. Like OTV-1, which returned from a 224-day mission on December 3, what OTV-2 will do in orbit, as well as any cargo or experiments that are aboard are classified. Minor tweaks include a reduction in the vehicle's main landing gear tire pressure by about 15 percent to help avoid repeating the blown tire that OTV-1 experienced upon touchdown at Vandenberg Air Force Base on December 3. The reduced pressure should better accommodate imperfections in Vandenberg's 15,000-foot-long runway, the Air Force said. (3/5)

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