March 7, 2011

Delta-4 On Track for Friday Launch (Source: Florida Today)
Less than a week after launching a military mini-shuttle atop an Atlas V rocket, United Launch Alliance says a Delta IV booster is on track to send a classified spy satellite into orbit at 5:57 p.m. Friday. The preliminary forecast at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station look good, with an 80-percent chance of favorable weather Friday and conditions even better over the weekend. (3/7)

Outlook Dims for Interplanetary Trips (Source: MSNBC)
Planetary scientists would love to have some samples collected on Mars for delivery back on Earth, and they're itching to get a closer look at Europa, a moon of Jupiter that may harbor a hidden ocean and perhaps life as well. But they might be stymied during the decade to come, due to the federal government's tightening financial circumstances.

The Mars and Europa missions have been mentioned as top priorities for interplanetary robotic missions, emerging from a big-picture scientific assessment known as the Decadal Survey. Over the past couple of years, the survey process has involved thousands of astronomers, and the final results were released today in the form of a report titled "Visions and Voyages." The whole idea of the survey is to let scientists weigh in on NASA's priorities for exploration over the coming decade. (3/7)

Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne Sees Crisis in U.S. Space Industrial Base (Source: Reuters)
The U.S. space industrial base is facing a crisis unless NASA soon unveils a plan for developing new spacecraft after its final space shuttle mission in June, according to Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne's Jim Maser. His company already had plans to close half its office and factory space over the next three years, and might have to lay off hundreds of employees unless NASA mapped out a shuttle successor plan within the next four to eight months.

The United Technologies Corp unit also winnowed its list of suppliers from 600 to 200 over the past year, Maser told reporters, underscoring his commitment to cutting costs and making space systems more affordable. Many analysts are worried about the U.S. space industrial base given expected declines in the defense and NASA budgets. NASA's failure to map out a successor program has left companies uncertain about future prospects. (3/7)

North Korea Jammed South Korea GPS Devices (Source: Space Daily)
North Korea used jamming equipment to block South Korean military communication devices last week, a report said Sunday, amid high tension over the joint drills between Seoul and Washington. Yonhap news agency said strong jamming signals sent across the border on Friday had caused minor disruptions to phones and navigational devices using GPS (Global Positioning System) at military units near the capital Seoul. The signals are believed to have been sent from the North's military facilities in Haeju and Kaesong close to the heavily-fortified border, it said, citing Seoul intelligence and military officials. (3/7)

China Details Ambitious Space Station Goals (Source:
China is ready to carry out a multiphase construction program that leads to a large space station around 2020. As a prelude to building that facility, China is set to loft the Tiangong-1 module this year as a platform to help master key rendezvous and docking technologies.

During the projected one- to two-year lifetime of Tiangong-1 — which means “Heavenly Palace” in Chinese — an unpiloted Chinese Shenzhou-8 spacecraft will first attempt to dock with the platform, to be followed later by two piloted Shezhou missions to further hone rendezvous and docking skills. China’s rendezvous and docking (RVD) project is the next goal of China’s manned space program, said Jiang Guohua, a professor and chief engineer at the China Astronaut Research and Training Center in Beijing. (3/7)

NASA Says 'No Support' for Claim of Alien Microbes (Source: AFP)
Top NASA scientists said Monday there was no scientific evidence to support a colleague's claim that fossils of alien microbes born in outer space had been found in meteorites on Earth. The US space agency formally distanced itself from the paper by NASA scientist Richard Hoover, whose findings were published Friday in the peer-reviewed Journal of Cosmology.

"That is a claim that Mr Hoover has been making for some years," said Carl Pilcher, director of NASA's Astrobiology Institute. "I am not aware of any support from other meteorite researchers for this rather extraordinary claim that this evidence of microbes was present in the meteorite before the meteorite arrived on Earth and and was not the result of contamination after the meteorite arrived on Earth," he said. Pilcher said the meteorites that Hoover studied fell to Earth 100 to 200 years ago and have been heavily handled by humans, "so you would expect to find microbes in these meteorites." (3/7)

Scientists Draw Up Wish List for Space Exploration (Source: AP)
A team of scientists advising NASA on where in the solar system to explore next has come up with a wish list. Among the recommendations: Begin a mission that will eventually lead to the return of rocks and soil from Mars, send a spacecraft to study Jupiter's moon Europa and fly a probe to analyze Uranus' atmosphere.

The wish list released Monday by the National Research Council also included independent cost estimates for the proposed missions. If NASA doesn't have enough money or cannot stay within budget, scientists said the space agency should focus on smaller, cheaper missions first. The report was sponsored by NASA and the National Science Foundation. (3/7)

Panel: Mars Should Be NASA's Focus (Source: AFP)
NASA should focus its efforts on a solar-powered rover mission to Mars rather than human spaceflight in the coming decade, but only if costs can be slashed, a science panel said Monday. The recommendation was part of a report by the National Research Council urging a series of planetary missions "that could provide a steady stream of important new discoveries about the solar system" from 2013 to 2022.

The report comes as NASA faces scrutiny from lawmakers over its proposed 2012 budget and pressure from the public to find a new way to transport astronauts into space once the three-decade old shuttle program ends this year. "The committee is concerned that, as demonstrated in the recent past, human spaceflight programs can cannibalize space science programs," it said, urging budget firewalls between science-driven space missions and human spaceflight. (3/7)

Senate Bill Would Provide $3 Billion for Orion, Heavy Lifter (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Senate is expected to take up a bill this week that would fund the federal government through the remainder of the current fiscal year, providing $18.53 billion for NASA including $3 billion for work on a heavy-lift rocket and crew capsule and a $350 million boost in space science spending over 2010 levels. The Senate measure differs from companion legislation passed in February in the House, which would cut U.S. domestic spending by $61 billion and provide $18.1 billion to NASA. President Obama requested $19 billion for NASA in 2011.

Congress last year passed a 2010 NASA Authorization Act that recommends $19 billion for NASA this year and directs the agency to start work on a heavy-lift rocket and deep space crew capsule. However, NASA, like the rest of the federal government, has been operating at 2010 funding levels this year, which for the space agency is $18.72 billion.

Although the Senate bill tracks closely with the authorization measure in key areas, it deviates in others. While the Senate language provides the authorized level of $1.2 billion for the “Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle,” for example, it adds $170 million to the $1.63 billion Congress recommended last year to initiate development of a heavy-lift launcher. (3/7)

Editorial: Commercial Human Spaceflight Safer, Much Needed (Source: Space News)
The space shuttle program has been an incredible achievement and demonstration of U.S. technical expertise. The shuttle also has served many useful civil, commercial and defense space purposes, inspired a populace, and was in many ways ahead of its time in terms of its range of capabilities. But the shuttle program’s record after 133 launches also includes two tragic failures. These accidents taught us many lessons that the shuttle program subsequently used to reduced its risks. Regrettably, however, these measures also contributed to higher costs, making progress in human space exploration ever more difficult.

Fortunately, concurrent with the shuttle’s retirement, several commercial companies have the ability to launch payloads — and, with relatively modest modifications, even human-rated vehicles — into low Earth orbit (LEO). These include Boeing and Lockheed Martin through their United Launch Alliance joint venture, SpaceX and Orbital Sciences, and one day not very far off might also include companies such as ATK, Sierra Nevada and Blue Origin.

These firms argue that their experience in delivering payloads to the international space station using proven launch vehicles like Atlas 5 and Falcon 9 can be extended in a timely way into a human transport capability to LEO at reasonable cost. We think they are right. We also think that commercial crew LEO transport has the potential (and, many believe, high probability) of providing crew transport at a far lower cost. (3/7)

Orbital: Launch Failure Not Expected to Affect NASA Taurus-2 Deal (Source: AIA)
Orbital Sciences Corp. says the launch failure of NASA's Glory climate satellite on Friday likely won't have a serious affect on other unmanned cargo delivery flights that the company has planned in a separate $1.9 billion deal with NASA. The Taurus XL booster rocket's nose-cone fairing failed to open as designed minutes after a smooth liftoff, and the booster and $424 million satellite apparently crashed into the Pacific Ocean, according to NASA. (3/7)

Tax Credits Urged for Arizona Aerospace Companies (Source: Arizona Republic)
Tax cuts recently enacted by the state Legislature are a good start, but they do little to immediately help aerospace and defense firms that want to move or expand in Arizona, a local economic-development official says. The Greater Phoenix Economic Council, working with some lawmakers, is pushing a bill called Invest Arizona that would allow businesses such as Honeywell and Boeing to take advantage of the same tax credits offered to renewable businesses and those in foreign-trade zones. Barry Broome, GPEC president and CEO, said the tax cuts signed by Gov. Jan Brewer last month to lure jobs take too long to kick in for capital-intensive companies looking to make investments now.

Senate Bill 1041 was approved 24-5 by the Senate Thursday, and awaits consideration in the House. If signed into law, it would give potential applicants the same tax credits and a property-tax reclassification enjoyed by Intel and others in foreign-trade zones. The bill would allow companies to take the credits so long as they invest at least $5 million in a facility and hire 25 employees. In rural areas, it would take investment of $1 million and employment of 15 workers. (3/7)

A Dark Future for Exploration (Source: Space Review)
The Planetary Sciences Decadal Survey is due out Monday, identifying the highest priority planetary science missions for the next decade. Lou Friedman warns, though, that tight budgets could jeopardize both those missions and future exploration in general. Visit to view the article. (3/7)

Debating a Code of Conduct for Space (Source: Space Review)
The new national security space policy does not directly endorse a proposed EU code of conduct for outer space activities, but it does support some of its underlying concepts. Jeff Foust reports on what some observers see as particular issues with the EU code, and the path ahead. Visit to view the article. (3/7)

Six Answers to 37 Senators (Source: Space Review)
Last month nearly 40 US senators signed a letter to the secretary of state, asking questions about US interest in a code of conduct for outer space activities. Yousaf Butt adresses the issues raised by the senators in their letter. Visit to view the article. (3/7)

What Future for Intelligent Life in Space? (Source: Space Review)
A joint DARPA/NASA study is examining what technologies it would take to send a spacecraft to another star in a hundred years. Stephen Ashworth argues that ultimate human exploration beyond our solar system will first require a firm grounding in living and working within it. Visit to view the article. (3/7)

Sea Launch and SES Plan Satellite Launches (Source: Sea Launch)
Satellite operator SES and Sea Launch are working toward the future launch of SES satellites on Sea Launch launch vehicles. Romain Bausch, CEO of SES, noted, “We have always considered the launch vehicle system provided by Sea Launch to be an important participant in the commercial arena of heavy-lift launch providers. Given our desire for a vibrant and competitive launch service market, we are pleased to see a new Sea Launch emerging and re-engaging.”

Under the framework understanding announced today, Sea Launch has agreed to provide SES with detailed technical information regarding its launch vehicle system on a regular basis. In turn, SES has agreed – based on the success of upcoming launch missions already on the Sea Launch manifest – to consider Sea Launch as an SES recognized provider for future launch missions. (3/7)

Discovery Heads Home After "Capt. Kirk" Sendoff (Source: CBS)
The crew of the shuttle Discovery, given a "Star Trek" send-off by actor William Shatner, undocked from the International Space Station early Monday to close out an extended assembly and resupply mission - the shuttle's 13th and final visit to the orbital outpost. With pilot Eric Boe at the controls, Discovery's docking system disengaged from the station's forward port at 7 a.m. ET, as the two spacecraft sailed through orbital darkness above the western Pacific Ocean northeast of Australia.

The crew got in the proper spirit for undocking with a 3:23 a.m. wakeup song from Houston that was voted the second most popular in a NASA contest: the Alexander Courage theme from the 1960s television series "Star Trek." As with the original, Shatner began with the familiar phrase "Space... the final frontier." But the rest was a tribute to Discovery, making its 39th and final flight since its maiden launch in 1984.

"Space... the final frontier," Shatner said as the music played. "These have been the voyages of the space shuttle Discovery. Her 30-year mission: to seek out new science, to build new outposts, to bring nations together on the final frontier, to boldly go and do what no spacecraft has done before." Click here to hear Shatner's sendoff. (3/7)

Nigerian Space Agency Sees Space Technology as Antidote to 21st Century Challenges (Source: WorldStage)
National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) has said that if Nigeria is to face the challenges of the 21st century, space science and technology must be given a pride of place. The Director-General/Chief Executive of the agency, Dr. Seidu Mohammed who made this statement in Abuja said that it is quite evident that technology is fast changing the global community and altering the pattern of business and society.

He added that space technology is fast becoming a driving force and foundation upon which the socio-economic developments of any nation are predicated. According to him, “there is no gainsaying the fact that the future of any country depends largely on how best the numerous windows of opportunities and benefits of Space Science and Technology could be harnessed and judiciously utilized for the benefits of her citizenry. As we all know, the world today is in deep space contest with determined competitions.” (3/7)

Black Holes on a String in the Fifth Dimension (Source: Discovery)
The Fifth Dimension is a very strange place. Last October an intriguing paper appeared on the arXiv regarding new computer simulations of what happens mathematically to black holes when you analyze them in five dimensions -- assuming that the fifth dimension is "compactified." Click here to read the article. (3/7)

NASA Issues Statement on Astrobiology Paper (Source: NASA Watch)
"NASA is a scientific and technical agency committed to a culture of openness with the media and public. While we value the free exchange of ideas, data, and information as part of scientific and technical inquiry, NASA cannot stand behind or support a scientific claim unless it has been peer-reviewed or thoroughly examined by other qualified experts. This paper was submitted in 2007 to the International Journal of Astrobiology. However, the peer review process was not completed for that submission. NASA also was unaware of the recent submission of the paper to the Journal of Cosmology or of the paper's subsequent publication. Additional questions should be directed to the author of the paper." (3/7)

GPS Chaos: How a $30 Box Can Jam Your Life (Source: New Scientist)
It was just after midday in San Diego when the disruption started. In the tower at the airport, air-traffic control systems malfunctioned. At the Naval Medical Center, emergency pagers used for summoning doctors stopped working. Chaos threatened in the busy harbour, too, after the traffic-management system used for guiding boats failed. On the streets, people reaching for their cellphones found they had no signal and bank customers trying to withdraw cash from local ATMs were refused. Problems persisted for another 2 hours.

It took three days to find an explanation for this mysterious event in January 2007. Two navy ships in the San Diego harbor had been conducting a training exercise. To test procedures when communications were lost, technicians jammed radio signals. Unwittingly, they also blocked radio signals from GPS satellites across a swathe of the city. Why would a GPS outage cause such disruption? These satellite signals now do a lot more than inform your car's satnav. GPS has become an "invisible utility" that we rely on without realizing.

"The problem is that the GPS signal is very weak. It's like a car headlight 20,000 kilometers away," says consultant David Last. In 2010, he conducted an experiment in the North Sea, aboard a 500-ton ship equipped with the latest navigation equipment. He used a simple jamming device that overwhelmed the GPS signal by broadcasting noise on the same frequency as the satellites. The ship went haywire. Even the ship's navigation backup – its gyrocompass – crashed, because it uses GPS to provide corrections. (3/7)

Surrey Satellite Takes the Small Route to the High Ground (Source: Flight Global)
Micro-satellites specialist Surrey Satellite Technology hopes soon to be preparing for launch of a new synthetic aperture radar payload that could bring a dramatic new capability to its Earth observation customers. A SAR-capable spacecraft has been in development by the company since 2009. SSTL made payload tests on an airborne platform last year and the payload and platform this February passed its preliminary design review, so a spacecraft could be available for launch in 2013. (3/7)

India: Enough Talent to Fuel Space Research (Source: Times of India)
"Educated youngsters in the country are second to none in accomplishing complex tasks in the fields of science and technology and they will prove their mettle if provided with right opportunity, goals and ambience," said former Isro chairman and Planning Commission member K Kasturirangan. He cited availability of enough creative minds in the country as the reason behind India's success in the field of space science. (3/7)

Forfeiting U.S. Leadership in Space (Source: Family Security Matters)
The shuttles will have flown for over 30 years, during which time it should have been expected that a replacement system would have been developed. But it has not been. Even the loss of "Challenger" in 1986 and "Columbia" in 2005 did not spark action. When the shuttles are retired this summer, there is nothing to replace them; indeed, there is not even anything close to being ready. Presidents George W. Bush (2003) and Barack Obama (2010) canceled shuttle replacement programs. The great lead that the U.S. has enjoyed in space since the first Moon landing in 1969 has been thrown away due to a lack of imagination in Washington.

NASA has put out its 2011 Strategic Plan. Its first goal is to "extend and sustain human activities across the solar system." As the lead civilization of the current era, it is America's duty to advance human achievement. Yet, there is very little in the NASA plan or budget to fulfill this noble goal. The NASA plan relies first and foremost on "expanding efforts to utilize the ISS as a National Laboratory for scientific, technological, diplomatic, and educational purposes and for supporting future objectives in human space exploration." But without the shuttle or a replacement space vehicle, the U.S. will be dependent on the Russians for access to the ISS. (3/7)

Alabama Lawmakers: America Must Protect Funding of Redstone Arsenal, Marshall Space Flight Center (Source: Huntsville Times)
Faced with a more than $1 trillion budget gap, a new, frugal Congress is contemplating cuts that were once inconceivable. Officials have proposed slashing federal assistance for home heating oil as energy prices rise, reducing Pell Grant money that helps send students to college, even overhauling Social Security, long viewed as the untouchable "third rail" of American politics.

If the federal government can't pay as much to fuel poor Americans' furnaces, can it afford to fuel rockets to Mars? Cutting-edge military research at Redstone Arsenal? The Huntsville economy? The answer, as many of Alabama's elected officials see it, is yes. Everyone's budgets will be cut to some degree, space and defense included, they say. But the high-tech, high-flying federal programs that Huntsville has built a reputation around are essential to vital U.S. interests. Washington not only can, but must, pay for such endeavors if America is to maintain its status as the premier global superpower, they say.

Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, said he thinks that Washington's power brokers recognize Huntsville as a "technological jewel." But analysts from Washington-area think tanks say the view of Huntsville from Capitol Hill, and the fate of its federal programs, may not be so clear. John Pike of said he has "no idea" what Congress may have in store for NASA's funding. "I would say that NASA's plans, at this point, are so completely confused that if I could prognosticate on that, I would be prognosticating on the stock market and the ponies," he said. (3/6)

Public Workshop Planned in Pasadena on Space Propulsion and Power, Mar. 21-24 (Source: NASA)
This workshop will examine potential road maps related to space power and energy systems, in-space propulsion systems, launch propulsion systems, and ground and launch system processing. The workshop will run from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day in Room 101 of the Guggenheim Building, California Institute of Technology, 1200 East California Blvd. For a complete agenda and more information, click here. (3/7)

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